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Real Talk With Olga Pacajá, Founder of Easy Spanish ABC

olga pacaja of easy spanish abc
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Meet Olga Pacajá, founder of Easy Spanish ABC. She began teaching Spanish in Guatemala when she was just 17; disappointed with the school system, she left in 2012 to teach her way. Now she’s changing the world one Skype session at a time. Here’s Olga’s story.

Name: Olga Pacajá
Location: Antigua, Guatemala
Title: Founder of Easy Spanish ABC
Company: Easy Spanish ABC
What it is: Online language learning via Skype
Educational Background: DELE certificate from Instituto Cervantes of Spain

Tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Guatemala. My mother got married when she was 16, which was very common in Guatemala at that time. When she was 17, my father died. She was pregnant with me at that time, so I didn’t know my father. We grew up with my grandparents.

My mother didn’t have any kind of education. She was the oldest, so when she grew up, her mother said “because you are the oldest, you have to work. You have to help.” So she didn’t have the time to study, nor the money. They were really poor.

Then when my father died, everything changed. She worked in different bakeries and restaurants so that she could pay for my brother and me to go to private school. In public school [in Guatemala], students only receive one hour of English [lessons] per week, and that’s not enough.

You taught Spanish in Antigua for 15 years. Why did you leave teaching to pursue your own business?

Guatemala is really poor, and it’s very difficult for women to work in any field. They receive less money than men, and many schools pay [their teachers] only $1 per hour. That’s the reason I quit my last job. I worked there [at a school in Guatemala] for almost 15 years, and then I decided to quit because I wanted to help my friends [to get more work and more benefits]. Right now, I have two teachers who help me about five hours per week. I would like to have more hours for them, working via Skype, because I don’t want their kids to have the same future.

Spanish schools [in Guatemala] – I don’t know why – they can say yes or no to providing insurance. And if you work with them, you won’t receive any kind of vacation or any benefits. If you want insurance, you have to pay private and it’s about $60 per month. But the salary in Guatemala is $300-$350 per month. 40 hours per week. If you work an extra hour, you only receive $1 per hour. So that’s the reason I want to help my friends. I know a lot of Spanish teachers, and they want to have a fixed job because this is another thing with Spanish schools. They don’t have a fixed salary. If you work, you receive money. If you don’t work, you don’t receive anything.

What sets your language learning program apart from the rest?

It’s more personal. Here, you can have just one student and [they] can learn different kinds of vocabulary. We work with songs, games, and we have grammar [lessons]. For me, the most important thing is to [get the student to] talk in Spanish. Usually students don’t have homework, so we study grammar, and at the same time, we have practice during the class.

In Hemisphere Magazine’s article about you, a lot of the comments left are from long-time students of yours who have nothing but wonderful things to say about you. How do you form that relationship via Skype? And why is it so important for you to connect with your students?

At the beginning, sometimes it’s a little difficult – especially for the student. They’re nervous. But little by little, they realize that we are not only a teacher; we want to be friends. We want to teach and we want them to see that our job, it’s very important for us. Same with the students. They are very important to us, but we want them to feel comfortable.

Some of them don’t want to use the video. And at the beginning, they are very formal, but with time, they are wearing pajamas because they feel comfortable. They realize that we [both] want to be friends, and we want to talk about everything — like all the things that are happening around the world, so they can practice their Spanish in different ways. So Skype for us is very important because I like to see the people. I like to see their faces. I like to see if they are happy or if they are uncomfortable — but that happens only at the beginning.

Walk me through a typical work day. How many sessions do you usually have time for?

I start [teaching] at 7 o’clock in the morning. And I have one hour for lunch. And then I continue. So I have like 10-12 sessions every day.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I’m so happy when my students start talking in Spanish and even when they say different words, even bad words. When they say “I went to a restaurant and ordered in Spanish,” I feel really happy because I realize that my work is working.

What have been the biggest challenges in your career so far?

Sometimes the connection. The weather. In Guatemala, we don’t have tornadoes. But we have thunderstorms. In Texas, sometimes we have to cancel the class because they don’t have electricity and the connection gets really bad.

What’s next for you? What’s next for Easy Spanish ABC?

My vision, my dream, is to have more students. I have enough for me, but I don’t have enough for my teachers. So one of my goals is to have more work, more clients, and the teachers have insurance, a fixed salary, benefits. I can imagine a school online. That’s my dream.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to do what you’ve done and open their own business?

I think, especially women in Guatemala, women think they are only good at having babies or being at home, cooking, cleaning. I think a woman can do a lot more. And can have dreams. Women can reach all the things they want. And I think it’s not easy, but it’s possible to do it. So I encourage people to dream, to have a vision, to have goals in their lives.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

One student told me once, “Olga, you can do it. You can do it.” And he told me, “If you don’t quit, I am sure that you are going to leave in this building when your boss kick(sic) your ass.” He said, “I want to see that. And this time, your mind is going to change.” And he was right. Because when we didn’t have a lot of work at the school, I left. But they started treating the teachers bad. So in other words, they were firing a lot of teachers, but they didn’t say “you are fired.” So we had to quit and leave.

So the best advice is, “You can do it. Do it. Don’t be afraid.”

What’s the one thing you want people to know about you and your business?

I want people to know that I love my job. That I love teaching, and that’s the most important thing for me because if they see that I love my job, they are going to learn, and we will have more work.

Last modified on September 20th, 2016

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