October 2016

Speaking English in Bolivia

In Bolivia, Spanish is the official language. Everyone speaks Spanish except Bolivians who live in the countryside. Their native languages are either Quechua, Aymara or one of the other 34 indigenous languages. The fact that almost no one speaks English is a problem for both Bolivians who wants to learn the language and for the tourists who cannot make themselves understandable due to the language barrier. So the question is: why is it not common to learn English in Bolivia?

By: Melanie Hazemberg
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Hilversum - Netherlands

Photo by: Melanie Hazemberg

One of the reasons why it is harder to learn English in Bolivia is because there are fewer educational possibilities. This is probably connected to the great amount of poverty in Bolivia. For most Bolivians, English is of minor importance. For the poorest – the indigenous people in Bolivia who are half of the population – their main concern is to first learn the Spanish language instead. This is because their native language is not Spanish but Quechua, Aymara or one of the other 34 indigenous languages. So, if they want to move to the "big city," they need to learn Spanish. In general, English is of little use for the majority so they do not learn it. Of the Spanish speaking population, most have only a little money and a small home. This does not fit well with the need to buy English textbooks, which are very expensive for almost everyone. In school, many kids use textbook photocopies as the originals are too expensive. Bolivians who want to learn English are generally university students or professionals. These are people who can afford to spend money to improve their English level.

Teachers' Experiences

Photo by: Melanie Hazemberg

Stephan is from Germany and in Cochabamba to teach English for a month. He has never taught English before but wanted to do something for the students here.

"Students who are attending my classes really want tolearn. They all know the grammar rules, but pronouncing the words is hard for them. There is one girl in my class who knows all grammar rules very well, but pronunciation is very hard for her." Stephan is not the only one who thinks pronunciation is the problem. Mary is a high school English teacher in the United States. She came here for a few weeks to teach English at the University and to give private classes. She arrives the same conclusion as Stephan. "Many of my students know the rules very well but it is hard to communicate. There are also other differences with the high school students I am teaching at home. Students here really want to learn. The classes I give in Bolivia are additional so they have to pay a certain amount of money. You know that the students who are coming are very motivated. That is much more fun."

"With basic English knowledge, Bolivians can achieve more"


Photo by: Melanie Hazemberg

Mary and Stephan are both seeing plenty of progress. Stephan: "It is nice to see when a student is so thankful because he finally knows how to pronounce a specific word after years of practicing. Mary also sees improvement and is sad that she has to leave soon. "I see so much improvement, but at the same time I know that I have to leave next week and that my students need to figure out on their own to continue with the classes. I hope they do not lose everything they have learned. That would be a shame.

Luckily, there are other opportunities at the University when there are enough teachers available. The students need to pay extra money, but this is how they can still continue with improving their English.

The start of a new experience

Learning English is the start of a new lifestyle for Bolivian students. Few of them will have the opportunity to leave Bolivia, but still people choose to learn; mainly for reasons of selfimprovement or prestige. With Basic English knowledge – what Mary and Stephan taught their students – they can achieve more. A student from Stephan's' expresses how much he appreciates the opportunity to learn English. "I always wanted to learn English since my teens, but I did not have enough money because an English course costs a lot of money. Now, I finally have the opportunity to improve my English through the classes of Projects Abroad. Stephan helped me to improve my speaking level so I can communicate with foreigners at my work. I work as a computer programmer so now, when I am learning English, I can communicate with the international people I meet at my work. In the past, I could never have conversations with them.

The Center that cares for malnourished infants in Cochabamba
Though every child should be a well-nourished and happy creature, not all are. When they are not, the Albina R Patiño Centro de Nutricion Infantil rises to the challenge.
read more ...

Archive Issues

2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016