Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Guests at Tortuga Lodge Help Local Kids Learn English. Meet the Kids.

Two of the comments on last week’s posts asked about the kids.

Ellen Sporn asked:

“Sounds like you’re developing a plan. Where will the children come from?”

MSK: The children will come from the village of San Francisco de Tortuguero.  San Francisco is a “suburb” of Tortuguero, which is about as remote as you can get. You can find a 360º panoramic view of San Francisco at this link:

Actually the first success I had with this project was finding the kids.  When I was feeling frustrated trying to come up with a methodology, I decided at least I would try to find some kids.  So I asked the staff at Tortuga Lodge for help. We decided to focus on San Francisco because it gets much less attention from visitors than Tortuguero gets. In early December I got a Word doc with the photos and statements from 8 kids. Two boys and 6 girls:

Here are two of them with statements translated into English.

My name is Evanny Maciel Bermúdez Jaén.  I am 11 years old.  I live with my parents and 10 brothers and sisters.  I want to learn English because I want to be a guide and lots of visitors come to our school.

My name is Héctor de Jesús Sánchez García,. I am 12 years old and I am in the fifth grade. I live with my parents and my four brothers. I want to learn English because it will help me with many things in the future when I am a grown up. I can teach other kids and when I get a job as a guide English is very important.

Shannon Borrego wrote:

Is there a plan to make this exercise fun for the children? If they see it as a game I think the attendance rate will remain strong; however, if it becomes tedious the kids will quickly lose interest.

MSK: From our first conversation Kathleen emphasized the importance of games.  I asked her to write up a couple for this post.

Choose simple melody to teach the student to sing the alphabet.  (Americans, Brits and Canadians have different nursery songs just as moms in Costa Rica.)

The Alphabet Song used in U.S. uses a melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”

To start the teaching of specificity of directio, I like the Stomp Shuffle.

  • Instructor starts with back to student, watching over shoulder.  Student will repeat the instructor with encouragement.
  • Stomp and shout ”RIGHT” with right hand thrown to right, open (five times)
  • Stomp and shout “LEFT” with left hand thrown out to left, open (five times)
  • Stomp and move to RIGHT in shuffle five of steps
  • Stomp and move to LEFT in shuffle five of steps
  • Lay head on shoulder on at a time
  • Shrug shoulders one at a time
  • Lift knee one at time
  • Repeat shuffle, faster
  • Children learn to say “My name is ___” They are put into circle and it’s a round robin.  One student turns to next student and introduces self.

Shannon continues:

Also, are you planning to try to catch these children under the age of 3 to optimize their ability to learn a second language or were you just showing us those 2 models as samples of a more extensive target group? It seems to me that I read somewhere that a child learns language in one part of the brain up until a certain point and then switches to another area around age 10? (not sure of that age–you all probably know better than I). My husband did not learn English until he and I were married (he’s from Mexico). Even after living in the U.S. for 30 years he speaks with a very heavy accent.

MSK: It turns out that the first group of kids chosen were between 10 and 12 years old.  I’ve always assumed that these were the kids who, when asked, expressed a strong interest.  Also, their attention spans are suitable for an hour session, and they are old enough to independently make and keep appointments.  As we gain experience we may very well see how it goes with younger kids, perhaps with the older kids helping out.

The goal is not for the kids to speak without an accent, but rather for them just to be fluent conversationally. (Some day Shannon’s husband and I can compete in a “Talk-off.  He speaks English; I speak Spanish.  Whoever has the strongest accent wins.)

To see this project from a slightly different perspective, you might want to look at a 6-minute interview with me that my friend Ron Mader from posted on You Tube earlier this month.

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8 Comments and 0 Replies

  • In fact no matter if someone doesn’t understand afterward its up to other viewers that they will help, so here it takes place.

      • Clean and hygienic restroom will help meet guests sanitation needs effectively. – NewLux

        • At May 25, 2010
          6:53:01 am
          Shannon Borrego said:

          I think your plan is a good one, Michael. Your open-mindedness in considering new ideas and your vigilence regarding keeping the needs of the locals in mind are commendable. I think the stomp-shuffle game sounds hilarious–count me in!

          • At May 24, 2010
            4:12:03 pm
            Alison Olivieri said:

            Hi Michael,
            Just wanted you to know that this longtime fan of yours and CRE is excited about this project. Our friend, Kathy Callahan, who is going to TL in August plans to participate. Philosophically I guess I am sorry that learning English is so all-important but pragmatically it’s going to be a great thing for them.

            • At May 24, 2010
              1:31:47 pm
              Kathleen said:

              I think you have some wonderful ideas and would be delighted to participate when next I have the good fortune to visit Tortuguero.
              Might you consider having a small selection of suitable books, such as Word Books and lesson books available for visitors to sponsor with donations? I tutored reading with the Vista program and many of our students were ESL. Many enjoyed Word books with pictures because they helped them acquire vocabulary.

              • At May 24, 2010
                12:48:26 pm
                Debbie Anholt said:

                I love this idea! I wish it had been functioning when we were at Tortuguero last year; I would have loved to participate.

                As an ESL teacher, I can see how this can work. It seems to me that you need a notebook of 1-hour self-contained lessons that untrained native-speakers can teach with simple instructions.

                I’m sure tourists would enjoy participating, especially with guidance on the lesson plans.

                • At May 24, 2010
                  11:07:02 am
                  Chris Parrott said:

                  Years ago, used to teach at the British School in Rio. The language of the school, as you might guess, is English. But the language of the playground was Portuguese, and many of the children were genuinely bi- or even tri-lingual.

                  Something I noticed was that if a new child joined the school before the age of 8, it was only a matter of months before he/she became fluent in Portuguese, regardless of overall ability level. But after the age of 9 or 10, even for the brightest and most-outgoing children, Portuguese was a second language, haltingly spoken.

                  I imagine there are exceptions to this, but as an overall observation, I’d say it’s pretty accurate.

                  I’ve no idea whether this is something to do with brain development, or whether it’s more physiological – larynx, palate etc. I guess there’ll be someone out there who’s done research into this.