San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Learning Spanish breaks down barriers

Living in Costa Rica, it’s so easy to get by without speaking Spanish. One is able to spend a day without speaking the native language, communicating with only others of one’s nationality. This oblivion builds a barrier between locals and foreigners, preventing foreigners from experiencing Costa Rica’s hidden natural secrets: that one amazing surf spot, or the best casado in el pueblo for ₡1,500, fresh fruit drink included.

Learning Spanish isn’t such a big challenge, whether it’s taking classes or immersing oneself in local society. Being able to interact with locals really does help one to blend in, not only because one is able to communicate with others, but also because it shows one is interested in the Tico culture. When tourists are at local events such as carreras de cintas, topes and others, the locals are always the first to come and show you how to dance the cumbia or share their traditional wisdom.

Every Spanish-speaking country differentiates itself by its slang. Here, “dude” is “mae” or “mop,” whereas in Mexico they say “güey.” Language is a reflection of culture, so when one is learning to speak, one also learns a bit about one’s surroundings.

Common mistakes can cause embarrassing misunderstandings, and being embarrassed is definitely not the same as being embarazada (pregnant)! There’s always more to learn and discover, but once one is able to have “small talk” about when the next fiesta is or who’s going to be the town’s reina, a door for endless conversation opens.

Fortunately for us non-locals, Costa Rica is one of the most tolerant countries, where our Spanglish is understood by most and, even if not, always answered with a beautiful pura vida smile.

Bianca Javogue, 13, a French-American, is a student at La Paz Community School in Flamingo, on the northern Pacific coast.

Young Writers Submission Guidelines

The Tico Times welcomes submissions for the Young Writers column from writers 17 and younger. Submissions should be a maximum of 500 words and may be e-mailed to Weekend Editor Meg Yamamoto at Accompanying art or photos are welcome. Please include a brief bio indicating the writer’s age, nationality, school and place of residence.

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