By David Snyder
Learning a new language is hard. But entrepreneurs in the tourist community of San Pedro la Leguna, Guatemala, found out that teaching one can be just as demanding. As intrepid Spanish-language students came to the area, a little class time of their own showed Guatemalan teachers how to increase the value of their “instrucción.”
“People started opening schools with the idea that it involved only talking with foreigners in Spanish,” says Ramon Peneleu, the founder and head of the town’s San Pedro Spanish School.
The entrepreneurial jump to open language schools was understandable in a community intent on capitalizing on Guatemala’s increasing tourism. San Pedro la Leguna alone now has about eight of them. But many of the new instructors hadn’t quite done their homework on how to teach tourists.
“Many of our teachers studied different things before they taught here, like accounting or secretarial work,” said local teacher Lorenzo Sajquiy. “They didn’t really have an idea of how to plan and teach a course properly.”
Sajquiy was one of 25 teachers who participated in a 13-day workshop supported by Counterpart International that brought in a professional language teacher to provide detailed instruction on correct Spanish grammar, lesson planning and class structure. By educating instructors in effective teaching techniques, Counterpart hopes to drive more business to the community, improve student satisfaction and boost the qualifications of the teachers.
The workshop was a small part of Counterpart’s Community Tourism Alliance program, launched with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2006 to bolster Guatemala’s tourism industry at a grassroots level.
Counterpart has worked with the San Pedro Spanish School for years, providing promotional and website support. For teachers like Sajquiy, the lessons learned through the workshop will go a long way toward professionalizing future classrooms.
“We learned many things, like how to improve our work and how to motivate the students,” Sajquiy says. “It was really helpful.”
The effects of the training will trickle down in this small community, Peneleu expected, since students often come for several weeks at a time and stay with host families. If schools with better-trained teachers draw more tourists, teachers can remain employed full time, and host families can increase their income.