GoAbroad Interview

Gabriela Garcia - Spanish Program Coordinator

Gabriela Garcia - Spanish Program Coordinator

Gabriela has been part of the ICADs team for over a decade, but her career began long before that. She has a lifelong passion for teaching Spanish and sharing Latin American culture with students. Her dedication to this cross cultural teaching and learning is apparent in her work at ICADS. Gabriela is always looking to improve ICADS’ program so every student can become more fluent in Spanish, and everything else they need to successfully understand the world better.

What inspired you to get involved with ICADS?

The possibility to share my knowledge and professional experience in a renowned institute in Costa Rica, such as ICADS, was an inspiration to me. We work following top quality and highly demanding standards, to respond to serious and prestigious universities in the United States, through thorough and interesting programs focused on eye-opening opportunities for the students which create bonds between different cultures and widen levels of consciousness and social commitment. For me, working at ICADS was and still is an enriching opportunity and a very interesting challenge.

Woman standing at a podium
Gabriela during her thesis defense at UCR

How does your academic background in Latin American literature and Spanish help you in coordinating programs for ICADS?

Our students come to ICADS to learn Spanish, regardless of their very different levels of language skills. Some students need help to learn the basics - greeting and introducing themselves  - while others need to build a solid argument to defend their position regarding a polemic topic or to analyze and situate the context of a literature work. Hence, the person who coordinates the Spanish department at ICADS must be ready to teach at all levels and to design new courses according to the needs and expectations of students as well as universities.

Apart from designing new courses, the Spanish director has to put them into practice, hiring qualified and experienced Spanish professors, supervising teaching techniques, and evaluating on-going as well as finalized courses.

If I lacked the graduate academic background I have, I’d hardly be able to do what I do with confidence and assurance. In addition, I studied Spanish because I love the language and culture behind it, and I share this love at work with the youngsters that study it.

It is really a privilege to share what you love and to be able to see how someone starts to improve his/her communication skills with our help and guidance.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

There’s really not a typical day at ICADS, and I love that. For instance, there are times when I can teach or tutor, and there are days when I have to supervise the work of approximately twelve professors I have in charge. Therefore, sometimes I’m in a classroom and sometimes I spend more time in my office, checking the mail, reviewing class plans, making course and student reports, designing or reviewing different types of evaluations, organizing upcoming courses or cultural activities, coordinating with or hiring professors, visiting classrooms, assisting in other ICADS general activities, and meeting with my work colleagues. At ICADS, we have to adjust to different work rhythms and responsibilities; fortunately, this makes my job interesting and delightful. 

In what ways do you support students before, during, and after their program?

I really concentrate on the students while they’re studying and learning Spanish at ICADS. I have helped them before and after the program through counseling or video conference interviews to assess their Spanish language level. When they’re at ICADS they know the Spanish department is there to support them at all times with books, journals, and teaching materials, among others.

I sometimes personally converse with students to check how they’re doing in class and to verify their progress; I then tell them what they need to improve and how to do it. Sometimes students come to me to practice the language, ask something about their class, or find out something about Costa Rican life, which is something I really enjoy a lot.

ICADS staff with student
Gaby has made good friends over the years as a Spanish teacher and coordinator

You’ve been teaching Spanish for over a decade. What are your best tips for efficient Spanish language learning?

I have been working in this field for almost twenty years, ten of which I’ve been working at ICADS. When asked this question, I always say there are no magic or universal recipes to learn a language better or faster. Each student must want to learn, in the first place, and must personally commit and motivate him/herself to learning a language. Otherwise, no external aids will make him/her learn Spanish easily. Of course, personal skills such as good memory and a sharp ear and ease to learn rules or grammatical structures also help.

Likewise, a language student must have a positive attitude to face difficulties as well as respect and an open mind towards the culture that accompanies the language. He/she must cooperate with teachers and classmates and have patience to handle the natural frustration that might come up sometime during the learning process.

Learning a language is not an easy task; on the contrary, it’s a big challenge.

The following are some of the tips I share with the students:

  1. Learn a new word in the dictionary every day. Write it down, use it at least three times during the day, and review it again the next day before learning a new one.
  2. Listen to music in Spanish. Start with romantic songs first, because they’re slower. Little by little listen to other faster rhythms and to songs from other countries in order to listen to new accents.
  3. Read the news every day to discuss important national topics with friends and your local family. If you enjoy literature, read poetry first, children’s stories, normal stories, and then novels. Don’t hurry; reaching the goal is what matters.
  4. Watch movies initially with subtitles and gradually eliminate them. At the end, try to explain in Spanish what the movie is about, describe the characters, etc.
  5. Keep a journal in Spanish. Even if it is in a simple form, write down something every day, practice your vocabulary, make clear and complete sentences to build paragraphs, use connectors, etc.
  6. Make a native friend or find someone who speaks the language better than you do to practice a little every day. Find someone who can me a model and better yet if he/she can correct you.
  7. Write verbs and vocabulary in cards and carry them with you at all times in order to review them whenever you have a chance.
  8. Speak in Spanish everywhere and at all times; don’t stop practicing. Practice, practice and more practice! You have to jump into the pool to learn how to swim; there’s no other way!
  9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will definitively make mistakes as anyone who is learning a language does. It’s perfectly normal and you must continue learning from your mistakes in order not to repeat them. Don’t try to hide your mistakes; they’re indications of what you need to improve and reinforce.
  10. Establish specific goals, such as explaining your daily routine in a clear way or describing the kitchen in your house or at work in detail. Then, celebrate your achievements!
ICADS staff and students in the garden
Gaby and students in ICADS garden

Why is ICADS unique from other Spanish program providers?

ICADS is different from other institutes that provide Spanish programs as a second language since its very origin and founding purposes. In addition to being a Spanish school, ICADS was conceived as a center for Latin American studies, to better understand the region’s social, economic, and cultural context.

At ICADS, we believe that speaking Spanish and communicating with local people are the best ways to achieve the proposed objectives, apart from providing the students with new opportunities for personal and professional growth and for improving their communication and intercultural skills, among others. For us, it is also very important to integrate the social topics studied in other courses taught at ICADS, so that students can express in Spanish what they learn about economics, gender, migration, sustainability, and social justice.

In addition, at ICADS we make our best effort to keep a Spanish program with a practical communication approach rather than with a written theoretical proposal. Hence, we teach the language in small groups of students, in charge of university graduated professors who have solid experience in college programs, using a wide range of teaching materials and resources, and providing training workshops for our professors.

How do you help ensure students not only learn Spanish, but also gain other skills and abilities?

I think one of my answers to this question has to do with self-knowledge. Whenever one shares with different people in a new setting and in a different culture than ours, one inevitably starts to wonder about those new things, making comparisons and having an understanding that there are various forms to do things. In other words, the process of approaching others, of getting to know and understand them, leads to a better understanding of ourselves.

On the other hand, since language is a cultural vehicle, those who learn a new language definitively need to learn how people in that other culture live, feel, think, believe, and speak. The knowledge and understanding of a new culture generates a very valuable asset, not only because it’s important to learn the words that express something, but also because among other cultural things to consider, it’s important to learn when and how to say those words and to whom.

ICADS Spanish teachers
All Spanish teachers at ICADS have more than 10 years of teaching experience

What is the most rewarding part about your job?

The most rewarding part is definitively to see students learn, to accompany them in their discovery process, to watch them improve communication on a daily basis, to see how they gradually say things they were unable to say before, and to witness how proud and happy they get with their accomplishments.

For example, I love to hear them say that they spend hours conversing with their local family, that they made an interview in Spanish, that they watched a movie and understood it, that they have started to understand Latin humor or are able to tell their own jokes. Likewise, it’s very satisfying whenever they say they want to study the language in depth or even study to be a Spanish teacher.

Are there any new projects or program components in the works that you’ll be releasing in 2017?

The everlasting challenge at ICADS is to keep the achieved level of excellence in our work. Fortunately, we have achieved many goals, keeping loyal to our principles and helping hundreds of students in reaching their own goals, such as learning or improving their Spanish language skills. Therefore, my project is to keep up-to-date through training courses, workshops, and congresses, sharing said training with my colleagues and putting into practice the Spanish programs’ update I designed last year. Likewise, this year I want to work in improving the intercultural competence integration and evaluation.