Thinking of learning Spanish? If you are and you are looking to study somewhere abroad than I can’t recommend choosing Guatemala enough. Here is my guide to why you should learn Spanish in Guatemala.
After deciding to study Spanish abroad I did a lot of research into where the best place to study would be. I knew that I wanted to study intensively for several weeks so I could get a grasp of the language and fully immerse myself. I initially considered studying in Spain but decided against it for 3 reasons.
- It was out of my budget
- I would be studying in a class or multiple people
- It’s harder to get full emersion as so many people know English
So I widened my search to Latin America and two places continue to come out on top, as the best places to learn. Guatemala and Columbia. The reasons were that both were cheap and both had reasonably neutral accents. I ended up deciding on Guatemala as it ticked a few more of my boxes and it was also a better starting point being in Central America and from there I could work my way down through South America.
Choosing The Right Area
There are a lot of schools to choose from in Guatemala in two main areas: San Pedro and Antiqua. Antiqua larger with far more schools and students and as a result it’s not quite so immersive. At many of the homestays, there are several students meaning you can talk in your native tongue with the other students. I decided to study for 3 weeks in San Pedro at the Cooperativa Spanish School and stayed with a Guatemalan family. I chose this school as I had heard great things about it and they also do a lot for the local community. Not all schools do this so it’s something to watch out for as a responsible traveller.
The school itself was beautiful. Lessons take place in the garden in little teaching cubbies. Each cubby has a table, two chairs and a white board. There are water, tea and coffee on tap (you will need it) and you can choose how many hours you study for 1-6. I choose 5 which I regretted straight away. My advice would be to do between 3-4 depending on how long you feel you can concentrate for.
All teaching is done 121 unless you are travelling with someone, then you can request to have lessons together I think. Because it’s 121 it’s very responsive to your needs. That said it’s also really intense and at times it can be unbelievably frustrating. There is nowhere to hide! Having dyslexia there were times during the three weeks especially at the beginning I just wanted to cry. There are no lesson plans and no real structure. A big part in the way they teach is just chatting about your day and life in general and trying to use less and fewer words in your native tongue and more and more in Spanish. This way of learning really suited me, it was the more formal learning of the verbs and sentence structure that got me.
The Home Stay
I loved being in a homestay. I know it’s not for everyone and it can be a bit of a culture shock if you go expecting to be staying in luxury! My room was simple, the shower was almost always cold and mealtimes are fixed. I loved mealtimes with the family and the chance to talk with them and practice my listening and speaking skills. The first week was tough as I knew very little Spanish so I found myself nodding like an idiot saying “si” repetitively.
As the week progressed though I found I was at least able to understand more and more or what they were saying and slowly I became able to join in the conversations. One thing you should know is that most of the families in San Pedro are Mayan and Spanish is their second language. I did notice that the family spoke in Spanish around me most of the time which I appreciated. The only time they spoke in their language was when the grandmother was there as she spoke only Mayan. The food was really good (and there was lots of it) I’m a vegetarian and they even managed to cater for me which was great.
I have written a whole post on staying in San Pedro. But in brief its small, lively and the perfect introduction to Guatemala. It’s a great base to visit other villages on the lake, it’s cheap and there is plenty to do including hiking the volcano and kayaking on the lake.
The End Result
Ok, so I actually didn’t last the tree weeks. I stopped after two. This was 100% the right thing for me to do. I have written about my reasons for stopping here if you are interested, I won’t go into it again in this post! By=ut by the end of my three week (i staying in the homestay for the full time, I just stopped having classes) I have so many verbs I felt like my head would explode and I even had 3 past tense verbs…Although I’ve still yet to use them!
I noticed by the end of the first week I was beginning to understand much more. When I sat at dinner with the family I could follow along with the conversation. If someone asked me a direct question though I still went into panic mode and all of the words I knew left me! By the end of three weeks, I could read basic Spanish ie menus and signs. I could follow along with most conversations and answer simple questions (or at least understand the question even if I didn’t quite know how to respond). I also felt comfortable going into food and drink places and ordering in Spanish…how great my pronunciation was I’m not sure but I was able to get by without and problems. Conversations, however, are still beyond my grasp just yet! But I’m still practicing and planning on taking some more classes over the coming months.
If you are thinking of learning Spanish and want to do an intensive course. I would highly recommend Guatemala and especially San Pedro. For more information about planning your intensive language course be sure to read my post of things to think about before booking here.