Officials of Costa Rica Multilingual, a government initiative designed to assist Costa Ricans in learning different languages, hosted a preliminary meeting on Tuesday to receive public input about a new project that would teach English to Costa Rican citizens.
The Resident Volunteer Program, as it is called, would pair native English-speaking, resident volunteers with Costa Ricans to practice English in a one-on-one, conversational setting.
The program is one of the latest projects of the government’s National English Plan – announced in March 2008 – which is expected to provide English training to 35,000 Costa Ricans during 2008 and 2009.
As part of the plan, grants have already been issued to three private language institutes through the National Training Institute (INA). So far, approximately 2,270 Costa Ricans have been cleared to take advantage of these free classes.
The new Resident Volunteer Program would be funded by an international bank, although officials are keeping the name confidential, and also be free to both volunteers and learners.
Costa Rica Multilingual Executive Director Marta Blanco said a proposal has been presented to the bank and the money is “on reserve.” Blanco said she is “optimistic” that a grant will be issued within a month and a half.
Katherine Stanley, academic coordinator for Costa Rica Multilingual, said the program will rely on places such as public libraries, local businesses and unused classrooms to host the conversations.
Because of the dependence on donated space and volunteers, Stanley expects the program to be relatively inexpensive. Most of the money, she said, will be used to “spread the word” through publicity campaigns and advertising.
The money will be handled by Costa Rica Multilingual for an 18-month period, during which time the association will be raising funds to sustain the program through 2017.
Volunteers for the new program are expected to come primarily from the expatriate community within Costa Rica, but Blanco said that Costa Ricans with an advanced level of English are welcome to lend their time.
According to Costa Rica Multilingual research, Costa Rica hosts more than 33,000 residents from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Stanley said the goal is to attract 5 percent of those residents as volunteers, but she expects final numbers to be much higher. “I have seen a tremendous amount of energy for this program,” she said. “No one has ever said they think it is a bad idea.”
Several members of the expatriate community expressed interest and support at the meeting, as well as national organizations including the Education Ministry (MEP).
Doreen Walters, a national english advisor for MEP, said she was “very excited” about the program. Walters hopes to engage Costa Rica’s public school English teachers in the lessons so they are better equipped to teach the language.
“It is good in a very broad sense for Costa Rica,” she said. “It’s something we really need to embrace because it will be good for our teachers and good for our students.”
While in support of the project, Walters admitted that the plan lacks specifics. “We will need more preciseguidelines,” she said. “The participants will converse, but about what? What is the content?”
Blanco said that ironing out details such as these will be something that “we learn as we go along.” But she did offer some suggestions, such as using old text books from the United States that would cost less than buying new ones.
Stanley added that the organization will consult experienced educators for advice on how to best approach the sessions. She also said that two volunteers and two learners will be present at each site to encourage conversation.
Some in attendance feared that learning English outside of a formal classroom setting might be ineffective, but Blanco said the idea is to keep the program simple.
“This is not formal teaching,” she said. “We don’t expect the volunteers to be teachers. The idea is to learn by practicing and through practice we get better.”
Manuel Gómez, one of the meeting’s attendees and a Costa Rica native, began learning English when he was 17 years old. He agreed with Blanco.
“If I want to learn to play tennis, I can’t learn by playing basketball,” he said. Blanco added that the conversation pairs also create the opportunity for “a cultural exchange.”
Some at the meeting were not yet expatriates but still expressed interest as future participants.
U.S. citizen Chanteia Musgrove arrived in Costa Rica on Jan. 18 to volunteer as an English teacher until May. She finishes college next year inSt. Charles, Missouri, and said she would like to return to get involved in the program.
“I think I should give something back to Costa Rica,” the 21-year-old said. “People here have been very helpful to me in learning Spanish, and I can help give something back.”
Although the Resident Volunteer Plan focuses on English-speakers who live in Costa Rica, Costa Rica Multilingual has brought volunteers from the United States as part of the broader initiative.
On Jan. 30, five U.S. citizens arrived in Costa Rica fromKentStateUniversity to teach English to locals in Guanacaste. The volunteers are working with English teachers in public schools in five different Guanacaste communities. This particular program lasts for six months.
While Costa Rica Multilingual’s shortterm goal is aimed at 35,000 Costa Ricans, officials hope that it will have a long-standing impact on the country. By 2017, the plan guarantees that 100 percent of high school students will graduate with an intermediate to advanced level of English.
Stanley admitted the goal is ambitious, but ultimately holds that it is attainable.
“It’s doable,” she said. “We have the mentality of shoot for the moon and, even if we miss, we’ll land among the stars.”
Costa Rica Multilingual will host another meeting in April for volunteers interested in the Resident Volunteer Program. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to contact Katherine Stanley at email@example.com.