It takes a lot of courage, planning, passion and dedication to lead Habla Ya's Academic Department. Thankfully our fearless Academic Director, Ericka Tapia, is perfect for the role and keeps everything in tip-top shape.
We create an environment in which only the best people fit and Ericka does just that to makes sure that our Academic Department is right on track every single day to fulfill our mission: "to provide the most amazing Spanish learning experience."
If you’ve ever ventured to learn a foreign language or have had an experience teaching your native language to foreigners, you can probably understand that it is not an easy task! I am so impressed by our teachers and their amazing ability to teach their native language to foreigners from all over the world. From what our students say, they seem to be doing a pretty outstanding job...
Ericka shared with me a few of her tips and memories from the past 8 years of teaching Spanish to foreigners. I hope you enjoy getting to know our stellar Academic Director a little better! Maybe if you come to Boquete you will actually get to meet her in person! She is a true joy.
In the photo below, Ericka is the one in the middle, surrounded by other Habla Ya teachers and authorities from the Instituto Cervantes. This was during the VI Worldwide Congress of Spanish held last year.
1. Ericka, where are you from? Tell me about your family.
I am from the city of David (35 minutes from Boquete) and I still live there with my husband and daughter. My husband and I have been married for 9 years and my beautiful daughter is 6 years old.
2. Tell our students and future students about your background teaching Spanish.
I first started teaching Spanish to middle schoolers as soon as I graduated from college. I was nervous at first, being a new teacher, but the kids were so excited and full of energy, I frequently lost my voice by the end of the day!
I started with Habla Ya in 2006 as an ELE teacher (‘Español como Lengua Extranjera’, an internationally-recognized graduate certificate for teaching Spanish as a foreign language) and a few years later I was promoted to Academic Coordinator. Now I am the Academic Director.
My time with Habla Ya has been very enriching. Working as an ELE teacher has allowed me to grow professionally and learn a new method of teaching my language to students from other nationalities who wish to improve and learn Spanish. Throughout my career, I have learned new techniques and methodologies to make teaching and learning our language a fun, entertaining and productive experience.
3. Why did you decide to become an ELE teacher? Why do you like to work with foreigners?
The truth is it was an accident! One day I was with a colleague and she asked me if I wanted to work for a school that teaches Spanish to foreigners. In the beginning I doubted it because I didn’t know English and I thought that was something fundamental in order to teach Spanish to people who don’t speak our language. But my friend explained to me that it’s not necessary to speak English. I decided to accept the opportunity to work with Habla Ya and to take on new challenges and goals in my career.
I like to teach my students everything about my language, culture, gastronomy, history and our idiosyncrasies. Throughout the time that I have been teaching in this position, I have learned to pick up on the individual differences of each student. Based on this, I work in a way so that the student can develop and improve the diverse general and linguistic competences, and also so that the process is the most optimal. There are many times when a teacher has to play different roles in a classroom, such as psychologist, mother, doctor, athlete, lawyer, artist, etc.
Through my students, I am able to learn about different cultures and forms of learning, which excites me and awakens my curiosity and desires to keep studying in this field of teaching Spanish as a foreign language.
4. Why is Habla Ya’s teaching method the best for foreigners?
Our methodology is based on the Communicative Method, which allows the student to develop communicative competence through the negotiation of significance, interaction or the exchange of information. The focus on communication is the result of a long process of searching and experimenting to find the best form for the student and the teacher to fulfill their task.
We teach so that the student learns to be more autonomous and this permits the student to think about the learning process, not just the language. They put into practice what they learn through real everyday situations played out in a learning environment.
Unlike previous methods, the communicative method emphasizes the functional and communicative potential of the language. The focus on tasks is part of the common communicative methodology for learning languages. This means that the student acquires abilities and skills through different activities with the objective for all of these activities to help the student achieve one overarching task.
Currently it’s the most widely used method when teaching second languages because of the optimal results that are obtained.
5. How does the whole school work together as a team?
Working at Habla Ya is like working in a family with good vibes. We are a big family and a great team because we worry about each other’s well being. We have all had good times and bad times in our personal and professional lives, but we have learned to endure and get up with the mutual help of those who we can always count on.
Everything that I have mentioned has influenced me to stay on this team, working enthusiastically and with dedication with the certainty to find help, solidarity, comradeship and a good atmosphere.
6. Do you remember some students who overcame problems or achieved specific goals with Habla Ya?
Two examples come to my mind right now.
We had a young family who came to live in Boquete with the idea of enrolling their children in local schools. However, the children didn’t speak any Spanish and so they had to prepare for an exam in order for them to be accepted at the local school. After a course with us, the children passed their exams and were accepted to the school.
I also remember another student who came to study with us not knowing any Spanish. Her goal was to become fluent and to pass the DELE C1 exam. Although it was difficult at first for her to adapt to our culture because she missed her home, family and boyfriend, she knew she had to meet her goal. She studied with us for five months and it was definitely worth it because she became fluent and passed the DELE C1 exam!
7. For different age groups, are there different ways of teaching? What methods do Habla Ya use?
Definitely! For example, children and teenagers learn much quicker than adults so we don’t need to cover things from different angles most of the time. They catch things very quickly.
For small children, it’s important that not all of their activities are focused on learning Spanish directly, but also a combination of using motor and linguistic skills. They need to learn to do things, such as with songs, games, stories, crafts, visual mediums, etc., and by doing these things immersed in the language, they pickup the language.
With older children we try to combine fun with grammar, but it’s important that the teacher is always attentive and knows the likes, preferences, needs and learning styles of each child.
On the other hand, working with adults is very different because they know why they are studying and therefore they require a distinct teaching system. They demand from the beginning (sometimes without being forthright) that the teacher attend to their personal and individualized needs and many have high expectations like achieving a high Spanish level in a short amount of time.
We also work with retirees and older adult students who have their own set of needs, which the teachers have to take into account. For example, in our Expat Course (mainly retirees), we cover topics such as using health services, giving instructions to gardeners or housekeepers, taking a car to the shop, learning about regional cultural activities, shopping at the supermarket or mall, how to be polite with your neighbors, etc. In these classes we do a lot of activities outside the classroom, putting into practice all of these situations.
8. What advice would you give to future Habla Ya students about their goal to speak Spanish fluently?
I would tell them that to learn to speak Spanish fluently, one needs a lot of perseverance, dedication and discipline. Enjoy the process, but you should make an effort to achieve your goal. Remember that to achieve it, you should have efficient communication and good grammatical competence. But above all, you should have confidence in yourself and this only comes from forcing yourself to practice, practice and practice. When in Panama don't miss the opportunity to become immersed in the language and practice with the locals every single day. Practice makes perfect!.
9. For you, what is the mission and vision of the Habla Ya Academic Department?
The Mission is for us to achieve that the student can fulfill his or her goals and proposed objectives in learning Spanish and that they have the best experience, both inside and outside of the classroom. This is why both Boquete and Bocas del Toro are the best places to learn Spanish as there are so many things to do. It's not only about learning the language: we also want our students to experience Panama and have an amazing vacation. We want our students to have fun and learn in a relaxed and enjoyable manner. This is why we offer so many extra activities.
Definitely my vision is to become the best group of schools in Latin America and put into action all the recommendations given to us by the Cervantes Institute so that our department can offer excellent quality teaching.
10. Are you working in something particular to better the program, or something for the future?
Of course! Currently we are working on:
- The creation of new ELE books (Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language)
- Redistributing the hourly load for our different courses, as recommended by the Cervantes Institute and the Common European Framework for Languages
- The plan of betterments to continue the process of reaccreditation of the school
- A training program for teachers who want to be ELE certified
¡MUCHAS GRACIAS, Ericka por tomarte el tiempo de contarme sobre nuestro Departamento Académico en Habla Ya!