I am now in San Gil, Colombia, working as a bike guide and mechanic for a couple of months. San Gil is being marketed as the extreme sports capital of Colombia. It is a beautiful little city surrounded by lush hills and close to amazing rivers, canyons and beautiful little towns. I was lucky to bump into a couple, one Brit and one American, who run a restaurant and bike company here - www.colombianbikejunkies.com They needed a bit of help with bike guiding and maintanance, and so I jumped at the chance to settle a little while in a beautiful part of Colombia, ride bikes and learn more about looking after them. It is hard work - our most common tour is 55km, mostly downhill, but factoring in preparation and putting away it is a good 13 hour day's work, and plenty of exercise. At the same time I have been continuing to take the time to work on my Spanish and think about where I want to head next in terms of life and career.
Spanish first - although living and working with mostly gringos is not helping too much, I am still picking up Spanish pretty well. I am probably between an A2 and B1 level on the Common European Framework now - can get by really well in most situations, but big groups, drunk farmers and new vocabulary is still challenging, and I still make plenty of gramattical mistakes when talking. I haven't taken any official lessons, but a combination of meeting and talking to as many people as possible, and working with a few great books seems if anything more effective for me than I think formal lessons would be. The best resources for me have been:
- duolingo, a wonderful free website with a combination of principles including Kahn Academy style lessons and a knowledge map, paid for by using elements of people's language learning to crowd source translation of the internet. There is an interesting TED talk by the maker of the site here.
- Practice makes Perfect: Spanish Verbs - a great textbook for practicing the bizarre intricacies of conjugating spanish verbs, but introducing vocabulary and other elements of the language along the way
- And Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish which is a really wonderful book for bridging the gap between the artificial Spanish you encounter learning grammar and vocabulary and how people really speak. I have lost count of the number of times this book has helped me with real conversations and idiomatic or colloquial speach. Really reccomended for anyone past the very basics - it might be a bit tricky to start with but will repeated readings will take your spanish up a great deal.