Spanish Schools

When I first started researching Latin American countries, I did not know anything about Guatemala, and had not considered it as a possible travel destination. The criteria for my trip was simple; I wanted to immerse myself in a Spanish speaking country for 5 months, and do it for cheap. My research quickly pointed to Guatemala. As I have said in my initial posting, due to the slow, clear accent of Spanish spoken in Guatemala, combined with the incredibly low prices, I cannot think of a better country to learn Spanish.

Spanish schools have been big business in Guatemala for over 30 years. The format is simple, 4 hours (or more if you are really dedicated) of one on one lessons a day; one student, one teacher. Most schools offer a home stay with a Guatemalan family, with 3 meals a day. For both a home stay and lessons, prices range from around $100-$200 a week. Lessons typically cost about $4 and hour.

I attended schools all over Guatemala. This is a very viable way to travel, especially if you like to stay in one place for a week or more, and really immerse yourself in the culture. Due to the abundance of schools, it often does not take more than a days notice to enroll. There are many factors to consider when choosing a school. Schools range from large, well established organizations with well organized activities, to small schools where you may often be the only student. I have done both, there are advantages to both. Organized activities are a great way to meet people, and experience the local culture as well. The one drawback to these large schools is you are guaranteed to be hanging out with groups of students. For some, this is a great way to meet interesting people from all over the world, to others, this may be a distraction. In the end, it all comes down to discipline, but in smaller schools, I have been the only student, and was forced to speak only Spanish.

Another factor to consider is what type of curriculum, or lack of, you would like to follow. Some like a very structured program, with homework and grammar lessons. Most teachers will try to do two hours of grammar a day. As my Spanish progressed, I tried to steer away from grammar and deal more with conversation. A more organized school may try to resist that approach, but the student is the boss, so you can provide feedback to your teacher.

Many people ask about quality of the schools. There are certainly some very high quality schools, and some pretty bad ones too. In the end, I have found that it all comes down to individual instructors, and the chemistry between the student and the teacher. While it certainly is good to switch teachers or schools to get used to different voices, I feel there is one thing I would do differently if I was studying for more than a few weeks. This is just my opinion, but if you get a good teacher that you work well with, stick with them the entire time. There are many inexperienced and just plain mediocre teachers out there, and it is no fun to spend 20 hours with a poor instructor.

I think one of the main things to look for is experience. Two of my best teachers had been teaching for over 20 years. Most of the most experienced teachers are in Antigua, since it was where Spanish schools first opened in Guatemala. There are some extremely well qualified instructors, and most of them can be contracted privately without the service of a school.

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