Vacation in Costa Rica

Hi all,

In Spanish, I would say I’m at a high B1 in terms of listening, B2 in reading, but only an A2 or so in speaking. I mainly watch TV, listen to the radio, and read novels in order to learn Spanish. I understand about 95% of what I read in novels and 85% of what I hear on the radio or in TV shows. However, in a little less than two months I am going to Costa Rica with my family for a week. I’m not really planning on practicing my Spanish a ton because I can do that at home with Italki tutors and friends, but I definitely will practice if given the chance. I am a little nervous though. I am the only person in my family that knows any Spanish whatsoever, but I am lacking a lot of basic vocabulary, even though I know a lot of strange and uncommon words from reading.

My fear is that I will not understand the basics. If we ask for directions, I’ll have to understand completely and translate. But I’ve never really studied directions, and I don’t really want to. So should I try to go back to the very basics, even though it will be extremely boring so that I can learn things like directions? Or should I just keep doing what I’m doing (immerse with audio for 5-7 hours a day and read novels, putting sentences with new vocabulary into anki)? Should I also get a lot of Italki lessons a few weeks beforehand so my speaking can get better before I go? Maybe I could ask an Italki tutor I’m conversing with to help me review directions and other basics.

I’d love to hear your thoughts/experience.


You seem to be anxious about the trip., yet the level of your language achievement doesn’t seem to justify this… I understand that the Costa Ricans are a very relaxed and friendly people, so you should be well equipped to deal with any of life’s little adventures. My only suggestion would be to read up a little on Bachata (music and dance), which seems to be a major cultural preoccupation on the island.

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So sorry! Please ignore my comments about Bachata. I was thinking about the Dominican Republic. But, hey, maybe you could pay a brief visit there as well!

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You’ll do all right, don’t worry. We all feel anxious when we go abroad. Keep on doing what you’re doing and, if you can add some italki conversations, do so but don’t worry too much. Do try to take any opportunity to talk with locals. Maybe enrol in some activities for natives (I’m sure they dance a lot of bachata in Costa Rica, even if it’s not where it stemmed from):
As for basics and especially directions. Repeat what people tell you and don’t be shy to ask again and make you repeat it. Say you’re learning the language. You’ll get a bit more conversation time that way.
If I got a cent for every time I’ve asked for directions and felt lost about the explanation (in different languages) I’d be filth rich

¡Valor y al toro!

I think most of us overestimate our language abilities, until we get humbled by real real life situations. I lived in Latin America for six years, four of them in Costa Rica. I taught myself Spanish to a fluent level, but it has since fallen as I left six years ago and didnt keep up my practice. Im still very conversational though. Im even going to Spanish speaking club tonight heere in Ukraine where I live now. (I wish Russian were 3x harder than Spanish! Its 5X more!)
Be careful in CR. Dont let the fancy name fool you. Its no different than any other Central American country. Every friend, foreign and local, including me, has been robbed, stabbed, shot, or home invaded with weapons. Ive lived in 92 countries (not a misprint), and CR people are probably the most dishonest I ever met. Be careful there. EVERYONE is trying to get over on you there, from the taxi drivers to the waiter…

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10% of the population of costa rica speak english well or nearly well so you will find people that can help you out with directions if it is not obvious you can practice your spanish too but they are things you have too look out for when they speak their unique dialect of spanish

costa ricans use vos and usted instead of the second person tu .they also pronounce words diferently and a lot of their sayings and expressions are unique to them and don’t make sence to other spanish speakers

i they will understand you and will be encouraging when you speak to them in the spanish you know but it might be a challenge to understand them sometimes when they speak among themselves

Well, it seems in fact that Costa Rica’s “voseo” is (sadly) dying out (plus you get a taste of Costa Rica’s accent in this video):

Anyway, voseo is, in practice, not a big deal. In most cases there’s simply a change in stress: tomas vs tomás, eg. In the worst case there’s just an extra vowel: vení vs ven

As for changes in accent, you can get over it and I don’t even think it’ll be difficult. In general, if you just go around avoiding all difficulties, you’ll never learn. Everybody has an accent. By the same token I should’ve gone out of my way to find Spanish speakers (which is way easier than finding English speakers in CR) when I visited Californa way back, because my teachers had been Britsh so far. Rest assured that I’d be unable to understand American Englsh to this day if, had I followed that course of action.
Parker is clearly very interested in learning Spanish and this is a wonderful occasion to practice. Go around looking for the 10% that can tell him how to get to the beach is simply the opposite of the experience he seems to be hoping for

i was just pointing out things he might come across in costa rica when he goes there and the accent he will find from the perspective ofa person who has actually lived and work there