Do you want to learn Spanish in Guatemala? One of the best things I did while traveling in Latin America was to learn Spanish. I can’t even tell you how many doors it has opened for me, not to mention how much stress and money I’ve saved by being able to communicate in Spanish. If you are thinking of learning Spanish in Guatemala then this guide will provide you with everything you need to know including where to study Spanish language in Guatemala, if you should choose a homestay, and some budgeting guidance.
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Deciding to learn a language abroad is such an exciting step! But before you go any further there are some key things you should consider. It’s not just about packing your bags and enrolling in a language school; there are some real-deal questions you need to ask yourself and decisions you need to make to ensure your language-learning journey is not just rewarding but also smooth sailing.
Trust me, as someone who’s been to foreign countries and tried to learn the language, a little preparation goes a long way!
So, let’s talk about some of the things you should think about before committing to learning a language abroad.
1. What you want/ need to get out of learning a language abroad?
Before you do anything you need to be clear about exactly what you want to get out of learning another language. Here are some tips to consider before going any further:
- What’s your end goal?
- Are you serious about becoming fluent, or do you just want to learn enough to get by in a particular country?
- Do you just want to learn to speak the basics or do you want to learn how to read and write well?
- Is it for business or pleasure? I.e. is you desire to learn just for you or do you need it for your studies/ work?
- Do you want to take exams?
All of these things you need to be clear about before contacting a language school. I learned the hard way how important it is to know before you start. When I embarked on an intensive Spanish course in San Pedro, Guatemala I wasn’t clear about my desire to just learn enough to get me by on my travels through Latin America.
I ended up spending 2 weeks learning more about structure and verbs than I did anything else. I ended up finishing a week early with a head full of grammar and unable to speak very much at all. I wish I’d been clear from the start my focus was on speaking and doing as much practical as possible.
2. What kind of learner are you?
As a dyslexic person, this is so important. But I think it’s important for everyone to think about before starting your language course. I’m a really visual learning and also learn much better by doing. During my two week course, there was little to no visual aids and the majority of my teaching was very didactic and one way. There was a lot of TTT (Teacher Talking Time) and little LTT (Learner Talking Time). I know I learn much better by doing and through games and making things ‘fun’ with role plays etc.
If you do a 121 course, which a lot of intensives abroad will be, it can sometimes become a bit didactic with the teacher doing most of the talking. I think I personally would have benefited from some 121 but also some group work. Clearly, communicate your preferred learning style to the school and your teacher before you start. If you would prefer learning in a group make sure this is available at your school
3. The best place to study?
This all depends on a few things including, time and money. I wanted to learn Spanish to travel Latin America. Therefore ideally I needed a school in Latin America as Spanish in Spain is slightly different from that in Latin America. In Latin America, there are two countries that come up on top for learning Spanish: Guatemala and Colombia.
Both countries have a neutral accent and are good value. I chose Guatemala initially as it was cheaper and they speak slower. I later also took classes in Colombia which was a great experience too. I would highly recommend learning a language in its country of origin ie french in France and Italian in Italy. You will learn from native speakers and also get an insight into the culture and place you are studying. Perfect if the course is your fires step in exploring that country.
4. What is your budget?
There is a huge difference in the budget for example in learning Spanish in Latin America compared to learning Spanish in Spain. When thinking about a budget consider how many hours you want to study and if you want a homestay or not.
I personally would advocate for a homestay for two reasons. 1 you get full emersion and 2 you know exactly where you are budget-wise.
5. How much time do you have? And how many hours do you want to study?
I foolishly decided to study for 5 hours a day 5 days a week for 3 weeks. I quit after 2 weeks and spent my last week studying on my own and getting out and about practicing as much as I could.
5 hours a day for 3 weeks is pretty intensive and not for the faint-hearted! In hindsight, I should have done 3 hours a day for 3 weeks. But 2 would also have been a good start. This will open the door to the language if like me you just want to know enough to get you by. After my first 3 weeks, I just took weekly 1-2 hour conversation lessons wherever I was until I felt like I had a good grasp. If you are traveling you will pick it up as you go along.
If your goal is to study until you have a decent fluency then I would recommend doing a maximum of 4 hours a day over a longer time. 4-6 weeks should be a good start. Also, I would recommend changing schools every 2-3 weeks. That way you get a slightly different teaching style and to also enjoy a new place while you are learning.
6. Gender of the teacher?
Now, this might not bother you at all. It wasn’t something I considered before my course, but I realized after my first week that I would have preferred a female teacher. Don’t ask me why, I have no reasoning behind this, but I felt so much more comfortable with a female teacher. If you think gender would be an issue for you then ask for a male or female teacher before you arrive.
7. To fully immerse or not?
For me, I knew the only way for me to learn was full immersion! When learning a language it is so easy to default into speaking in your native tongue. You will find you are able to understand what people are saying and even read and write before you are able to speak. I know this was the case for me, and most others reinforced this. You have to either force yourself or be forced to speak. Full immersion means also living with a native family. They will likely not speak your language, and even if they do they will be under instruction NOT to speak to you in it. This means after your lessons you need to use what you have learned to communicate with your “family”.
There are so many reasons to stay in a ‘homestay’ for me with was the best part. In San Pedro I stayed with the most lovely family, I got to know them, we laughed at my terrible Spanish and I got to eat 3 meals a day 6 days a week with them. You not only get to practice your chosen language but you also get a real insight into like that place. If it’s an option I would always choose full emersion.
Also, another thing to think about with this is the place you are studying. In Guatemala, there are 3 main places to learn Spanish. I chose San Pedro over the others as most of the local people don’t speak English and there are less English speaking people around. Somewhere like Antigua, it’s much easier to not speak Spanish outside of the school. In Colombia, the best place to learn is Medellín you can read about finding the best Spanish school in South America here.
Quick list of things to think about before learning a language abroad:
- What’s the end goal for you
- How do you learn best
- Where is the best place to learn your language
- What’s your budget
- How much time do you have
- How intensive to you want your course to be
- Do you want to visit more than one place/ school
- Gender of the teacher
- Do you want to stay in a homestay (Full immersion)
Why 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 Spanish language school in Spain but I decided against it for 3 reasons.
- It was out of my budget
- I would be studying in a class of multiple people
- It’s harder to get full emersion as there are so many people who speak English in Spain
- As I wanted to travel in Latin America it would be a tough adjustment as the accent is very different
Choosing to Learn Spanish in Guatemala
When I began to widen my search to Latin America there were two places that continued to come out on top as the best places to learn Spanish.
The reasons were that both countries are the cheapest places to learn to speak Spanish, plus both have reasonably neutral accents. I ended up deciding on learning Spanish in Guatemala as it ticked a few more of my boxes, and it was also a better starting point for my travels being in Central America and from there I could work my way down through South America, taking further Spanish classes in Colombia.
Choosing The Right Place to Study Spanish in Guatemala
When comparing San Pedro with Antigua there are a few things to consider. Antigua is larger with far more schools and students and as a result, it’s possible for it not quite so immersive. Many of the Spanish Schools in Antigua have homestay options, but often they are more like hostels, in fact, some of the schools even have their own hostels! The good thing about this is you will have several students in your accommodation that you can speak English with. The downside is it won’t be as immersive as it could be.
That said the school I recommend in Antigua is La Union Spanish School who offer a brilliant full immersion program where you will stay just outside of Antigua with a local family and ride the Chicken bus to school each day. It’s a great idea for serious students.
Learning Spanish in Lake Atitlan it is much quieter, the accent is very different as Spanish is their second language, and you will find a lot fewer people speaking English.
I’ve studied Spanish on four separate occasions in Guatemala, once in Lake Atitlan and three times in Antigua. Although I enjoyed my time in Lake Atitlan, I did find studying Spanish in Antigua suited me better.
My first time in Guatemala I decided to study for 3 weeks in San Pedro at the Cooperativa Spanish School. I chose to study for 5 hours a day and stayed with a local Mayan 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 traveler.
The Spanish Teaching in Guatemala
All teaching in Guatemala is done 121 unless you are traveling with someone, then you can request to have lessons together, but this is discouraged. 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 when I wanted to cry, especially at the beginning. I didn’t like my teacher at Cooporativa and he seemed more interested in filling me full of as many verbs as he could rather than actually making sure I was learning anything.
My experience in Antigua was very different, the teachers were much more patient, professional, and really checked in with me and went at a pace that suited me
A big part of the way you are taught in Guatemala is that they get you talking as much as possible. Chatting about your day, 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.
Heart of Travel are now offering an amazing online Travel Spanish basics course which I have been taking. It really is the perfect way to help prepare you to travel in Latin America. I wish I’d taken it before traveling to Guatemala to study at Spanish school as it really would have given me a jump start. They also offer Spanish immersion courses in many different countries. Click here to learn more about Heart of Travel and their Spanish language programs.
The Spanish School in Antigua
If you asked my opinion I would always recommend studying Spanish in Antigua over San Pedro. La Union is a far better school, they have great homestay options. The school is in a great location, classes take place in the garden and there is coffee on tap!
They also have plenty of activities from Salsa to cooking classes. My teacher was incredibly professional and patient. I can’t say the same for my teacher in San Pedro, which was the main reason I quit school a week early.
I also took private 121 classes in Antigua which is another great option if you just want a few classes a week and don’t want to study in a school.
The Spanish School in San Pedro
The school itself was beautiful. Lessons take place in the garden in little teaching cubbies. Each cubby has a table, two chairs, and a whiteboard. Again there is water, tea, and coffee on tap (you will need it) and you can choose how many hours you study a day from 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 on.
The Guatemala Home Stay Experience
I loved being in a homestay while learning Spanish. 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.
I didn’t stay in a homestay in Antigua as I was living there when I took the classes so didn’t need to. But the experience is pretty similar if you are staying outside of the city. Within the city, you will likely be in a hostel or a house with many other students.
How I felt at the end of my first 3 weeks of Spanish school in Guatemala
The first time I took Spanish classes in Guatemala I knew no Spanish at all!. I choose to do three weeks, but I had to stop 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!
But by the end of my three week (I stayed in the homestay for the full time, I just stopped having classes) I had so many verbs I felt like my head would explode and I had even learned 3 past tense verbs… Although it took me a while before I used 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 any problems.
Conversations, however, were still beyond my grasp.
My friend Julia is developing an incredible retreat center close to San Marcos. They have several places to stay, and I can’t recommend them enough! I stayed there—it was the most blissful I’d been in years. In Panajachel, I recommend PanaHouse or Selina Atitlan.
If you are thinking of learning Spanish and want to do an intensive course. I would highly recommend Guatemala.
For more information about planning your intensive language course be sure to read my post of things to think about before booking here. If you prefer South America check out this great resource with information about Spanish courses in South America.
You can book your Spanish school classes through GuateGo and choose from Spanish lessons in Antigua, San Pedro, Panajachel, San Marcos, or Xela. Their website is great for booking Transport and experiences in Guatemala. They are a Guatemala owned company that has painstakingly brought together all of the transport and tour options in one easy-to-use website. You can book transport in Guatemala with them here and Guatemalan tours with them here.