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

Vacation Time Is Precious: Trip of a Life Time. Word!

Here you can read about Patty’s unique take on helping local kid’s learn English.

By Patty Chang Anker.

“Speak up,” Sheyla says.  She is addressing the children, but it makes me want to stand straighter and enunciate more clearly.  We are participating in the Words Adventure, a program Michael S. Kaye developed in Tortuguero, Costa Rica to teach English to local kids after school.  Sheyla is big-hearted, warm and commanding.  She expects a lot from her students.  When I marvel at their dedication for coming 6 days a week, Sheyla states matter-of-factly, “It used to be 7.”

Guests of Costa Rica Expeditions’s Tortuga Lodge can volunteer as many times as they like during their stay.  I had wondered if a revolving door of faces and regional accents would bewilder the students, but they (ranging in age from 9 – 14) are wholly accepting of us as we lead them through vocabulary exercises.

Thankfully, their materials are more up-to-date than the 1970s workbooks I used the last time I volunteered to teach English to Chinese immigrants.  It was back in the 1990s, but still, teaching Mr. Yang to say “Hey there Foxy Lady, what’s happenin’?”  seemed downright cruel.

Here it is simple enough, dialogue like “Is Howard fat?”  “No, Howard is thin.”  “Is Annie pretty?”  “Yes she is pretty.”  Cheryl brings gifts of Sillybandz, Jennifer offers Canadians stickers. We take pictures, everyone is happy.

Then it hits me.  These kids live in a remote village you can’t even get to by car.  All around is water.  Yet, through this program, they are exposed to people from all over the world.  And are told to speak up.

The first time I visited China with my parents it was as if my mother, who I always thought of as shy, blossomed into three dimensions in front of me.  In her own language she’s funny, witty, strong.  She lit up the room.

If these kids can speak up in a language not their own with strangers, they will light up every room they enter with confidence and grace.

So listen up.  In a rainforest schoolyard Genive, Hector, Maciel, Melanie, Darnely, Valery, Elgin and Pamela are studying their hearts out.  One day, they’re going to take on the world.  I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

Sillybandz, Universal Fun
If you are enjoying Patty’s posts and have not done so already, don’t forget to vote for her blog  on’s Top Mom Blog List. All you have to do is go to scroll down to “Facing Forty Upside Down,” and click on  .

Last Thursday Patty was number 33.  On Tuesday she was number 30.  She is now (Jan 6, 1:37 pm CST) number 28.  If just 60 of the people reading this vote for her,  “Vacation Time is Precious Nation,” will have busted her into the Top 20. I’ll be reporting on Patty’s progress in future posts. One other thing, they don’t say when the voting ends, so please vote right away.

In her next post,  Patty will tell you  how to face your fears while  flying in a small plane.  Hint: When the plane is taking off lift your feet.

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Comments and Replies

  • At July 27, 2015
    8:53:18 pm
    Juan said:

    Darlene Theriault – What a wonderful wendidg you had. Your bride is beautiful Craig and yes you are handsome. You make a beautiful couple. Just wish I could have been there to share it with you. The picutres are priceless and you will always fall back on them to enjoy that day all over again.Love & best wishes.Aunt Darlene and Uncle MoeOctober 18, 2012 9:23 pm

    • At January 06, 2011
      7:41:30 pm
      Jennifer F said:

      To me, the primary purpose of language is to communicate. If you’re communicating ,that’s all that matters at 1st. I taught French for 30 years and in my view, correcting each mistake in pronunciation will slow things down & make students lose confidence & enthusiasm.You have to be willing to become a small child again in order to learn a new “code”, not always easy for youngsters & teens to do.
      It’s good to have basic knowledge of grammar & structure,but sooner or later, you have to begin to speak.
      The best way is to be thrown into the deep end with total immersion! This happened to me in France a long time ago. No-one spoke much English & I just had to start using French to function.I remember how exhausting it was at first.
      Some people’s native language makes it very hard for them to pronounce French: I’m thinking here of students recently arriving in Canada from China & India & some parts of Eastern Europe.
      Here in Québec, we have “Welcoming Classes ” for new immigrants to help them learn French. It’s so uplifting to see how hardworking they are.They work so hard because they see that knowing French is vital for their future here.
      Others have an easier time – we had a lot of Central Americans fleeing war-stricken El Salvador-and pick up French more easily due to their Spanish .

      The children we met need people like their teacher Sheyla to act as a role model in showing how her knowledge of another language has opened up her mind & life & given her job opportunities.

      Sheyla’s a splendid example because she’s down-to-earth, energetic & likeable – & firm with the children.

      I’d also like to add that things shouldn’t be one-sided – it’s of great benefit for we “Gringos” to learn some Spanish before coming to Costa Rica!

      • At January 06, 2011
        7:32:29 pm
        Shannon said:

        Whether these kids realize it or not, they have already taken a big step towards a future filled with options. The option to work with tourists, or move to “the big city”, or perhaps become teachers themselves. Their dedication to learning English and interacting with Michael’s guests is awesome!
        Patty, your comment about your mother blossoming when she was able to be around other Chinese speakers, hit a chord with me. My husband spoke very little English when we married and, as a result, he was barely able to follow the basic conversation at social gatherings. Yet, when he was around other Spanish speakers, he was outgoing and funny. Learning a foreign language at a young age, not only enables the speaker to communicate about the world around him, but also to express his own personality and style. The kids at Tortuguero will soon be able to express their sparkling individual personalities in two languages! Now that the kids seem to have a basic grasp of the language, I hope the classes will include a segment in which everyone can speak off-script and formulate their own sentences. I just hope that doesn’t include, “Is Shannon ugly? Yes, Shannon is ugly!”

        • At January 06, 2011
          7:26:12 pm
          Cheryl Shnider said:

          In case anyone is wondering about the Silly Bandz, I brought them as gifts for the kids. I was hoping they might get a kick out of the fact that the elastic maintains its shape even after being a bracelet for awhile and that kids their age in the US collect them. To my delight, as we passed them out, the kids began identifying the shapes (in English), comparing what they got with each other and trading! Like Patty said, “universal fun”. I left many more bags of Silly Bandz with Shayla and am hoping the kids will continue to be entertained by them.

          “Word Adventure” is yet another example of Michael Kaye’s commitment to ecotourism. Most people think of ecotourism as travel to remote areas leaving minimal impact on the environment.
          The International Ecotourism Society’s definition of ecotourism also includes the principle of improving the well-being of local people by providing financial benefits & empowerment. Learning English is a path that will open so many doors to local children – maybe some day they will be working for Michael at Tortuga Lodge!

          • What an inspiration! Thanks for keeping us updated on the development of this training program.