So you want to learn Spanish, to take a crash course as a novice, to brush up on some rusty skills, to pick up some business or health-care Spanish for your job, or simply to enjoy a cultural and educational trip. If learning Spanish quickly and affordability is your goal, studying Spanish in Guatemala may be the answer.
Guatemala has been a mecca for Spanish language study in Latin America for decades. Students are attracted to the rich indigenous culture, the colorful geography, and the affordable language classes in Guatemala. Its warm climate and mouth-watering food are bonuses. Many of the smaller towns in the western highlands of Guatemala are home to privately owned Spanish language schools. They vary widely in quality, with some less-than-reputable and others adhering to strict academic guidelines. Many are even accredited by U.S. and international universities. As a result, Guatemala has become a go-to place to learn Spanish quickly and affordably.
Once you become convinced that Guatemala is the right place for you to learn Spanish, here are a few tips to get the most out of your experience:
Research Schools in Advance
Reviews have their place in our decision making process, but they should only be one factor. Reviews are often indicators of the quality of an individual teacher, and more often are the encouraged product of the school itself. Go beyond the review and look as some independent indicators. Do they host U.S. university groups, do they offer credit, do they outline their academic mission or method on their website? These are good indicators of quality.
If you decide to take one-on-one lessons, request that your teacher be changed every week. Most schools will allow this. The reason is that skills of individual teachers in Guatemala vary greatly. Some have education degrees, some are college students on their break, some are local grandmothers. Arranging in advance to rotate your instructors will expose you to a variety of teaching experience and styles, without fear of hurting anyone's feelings. If you come across a teacher who really helps you learn, you can always request to retain that teacher. Overall, you stand to benefit from working with a variety of teachers, accents, and methods.
Request a Homestay for One
Some homestays will host more than one international student, so ask for a homestay for one. Full immersion in Spanish will increase your language practice dramatically. You will be forced to speak at home, and will not be dragged down by the talkative housemate who wants to speak English with you all the time. It also means your homestay will not be a busy, distracting home-hotel.
Carry a Notepad
Every time you hear a word you have never heard before, write it down. Look it up later and learn it. If you heard it, it is probably a practical word. And you may be able to use it again. Remember the rule to language learning: once you use a word correctly in a sentence, it's yours.
Focus on Conversation Learning
One-on-one classes in particular are conducive to learning through conversation. You will have plenty of time to dissect the parts of speech later — this is when you can focus on the flow of the conversation. When you learned English as a toddler, no one told you what an irregular verb was — but you still learned to speak the language. This is the same principle.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Put yourself in situations every day where you have to learn new words. Go to the bakery until you are completely comfortable ordering every type of bread and cookie — then change to the café. Haggle for a hacky sack at the market, ride a bus to a neighboring town, or talk to a stranger in the park. Every encounter becomes an impromptu Spanish class — only free!
Read Before You Go
Learn the basics about Guatemalan history, politics, and geography before you go. When you know the basics, it becomes easier to understand the culture; plus, you don't annoy the locals with questions that seem so basic to them.
Haggle For Tuition
This is an uncomfortable prospect for many students from the U.S. and Europe, but the majority of the schools will give discounts for multiple weeks, for payment in advance, or simply because you asked; you won't offend. Sharpen your negotiation skills first at the marketplace where you can haggle over prices. This is a necessary skill to learn, anyway: if you can't haggle at the market, you become a walking dollar sign to the vendors.
This is good advice for travelers everywhere but is particularly true in Guatemala, where the pace is a bit slower, the speech is a bit slower, and you will find yourself walking a bit slower just so you can enjoy the grandeur of this amazing place!
Go to FundMyTravel.com and set up a campaign. Be diligent and support your campaign with updates and invites. You may be surprised how affordable your trip will be with a little help.