Located in el Corazón de Sudamérica, Bolivia is the perfect place for language study in South America, and not just because of its landlocked location. Bolivia is home to the most extreme landscapes, the perfect “spring” climate, and the largest percentage of indigenous people who are proud of their roots and language. Language students will be in for a true adventure as they explore beautiful backdrops, ancient Inca trails, and wander colorful streets with Spanish and indigenous languages dancing in their ears. If this all sounds like your dream world, then you should start looking at language programs in Bolivia.
Bolivia is one of South America’s least-visited countries, but its majestic Andean peaks, lush Amazonian rainforests, and large salt deserts will not disappoint adventurous language learners. With many indigenous language and Spanish schools in Bolivia, spread out across the country, language students will be able to find the perfect language program in Bolivia to suit their needs, whether they want to spend a week seeking an adrenaline fix or months embracing the slow Bolivian lifestyle.
The nation’s capital, Sucre, is located in a valley in south-central Bolivia. This city screams history; it is the place where independence from Spanish rule was claimed in the 1800’s, is home to some of the oldest universities in the Americas, and is the site of some of the largest dinosaur footprints in the world. While the city’s focal point is learning, language students will have plenty of time to get out of the classroom and practice their language skills as they explore churches and museums, search out prehistoric remains, or hike through waterfalls and mountains that surround the valley.
While Sucre is the nation’s judicial capital, La Paz is the governmental capital and Bolivia’s largest city. With an altitude of 11,910 feet, it is one of the highest capital cities in the world. Language students will fall in love with the quirky beauty as buildings cling to its canyon walls and Mount Illimani looms in the background. While acclimating to the altitude, language students can practice with locals as they wander through markets, explore museums, and relax at trendy cafes. Thrill seekers can head to the infamous Death Road that twists through the mountains for 50 miles. With its influx of immigrants, travelers will not feel alone in the expat community, and it will be difficult to stay only a short time in this sky-high city.
Cochabamba is another great location for language programs in Bolivia. Despite its poor population, the city gives off a prosperous vibe, with its “eternal spring” air, new-town feel, delicious restaurants, and lively nightlife. The city calls out to students and young professionals with its cheap prices and constant energy. When you aren’t in class, feast on the city’s popular mama qonqachi cheese bread or hit the bars and share a round of chichas (a local favorite fermented corn drink) with new friends!
Language Programs in Bolivia
Bolivia has 30 official languages, but the most widely used are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. Spanish is spoken by over 80 percent of the population, and about half of the population also uses the most popular indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara. Cities throughout the country offer both indigenous and Spanish language classes. Whether you want to improve your Spanish skills or learn a new language all together, you will find it all through language programs in Bolivia.
No matter your language proficiency or trip length, you will find a language program in Bolivia to fit your needs in South America’s heart. Many students choose to take classes at language schools in Bolivia, or in university settings, where small group lessons are offered for four to six hours every weekday with fluent and experienced instructors. This atmosphere suits high school students on gap years, college students looking for credit, or backpackers wishing to improve their Spanish fluency.
For those looking for a more intensive language learning experience, jump into full immersion programs. Students of any level can choose to study one-on-one with a private tutor or live with a local host family. Teachers are chosen based on the common language they share with the student; so, if you’re an English speaker who has never heard a lick of Spanish (or any Bolivian indigenous language), you’ll have no trouble following directions in a beginner level class.
Since Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in South America, many language courses offer the option to learn Spanish alongside volunteer programs. This is especially common for indigenous language learners who can use their skills in rural placements. Practice your Quechua or Aymara in the classroom, and then head out to indigenous communities where you can volunteer in an orphanage, teach HIV/AIDS education, or lend a hand at environmental study.
Costs & Affordability
While the cost of language courses in Bolivia depends on the program and the amount of time you stay, it remains one of the cheapest destinations in South America. Over half the population lives on under $2 per day, and it is quite possible for students to live comfortably on $600 per month or less. Magically, $1 turns into 7 Bolivian Boliviano (BOB), and you can feast on a three-course meal with wine, stay in a nice hotel room with ensuite, or catch a 10 hour bus ride, each for under $10!
Language students in Bolivia can live cheaply. Expect to pay around $4 an hour for group classes, or about $7 an hour for a private tutor. Most language programs in Bolivia also include accommodation, excursions, airport pickup, academic credit, and some meals. If you opt for a volunteer placement, expect to spend a bit more for the added experience. And of course, for those in fear of the initial costs, explore your funding options; scholarships are available for those looking for academic credit and you can always create a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of coursework and flights.
Accommodation & Visas
The most popular living arrangement for language students in Bolivia is a homestay. Living with a local family is cheap and means you have a place to eat, sleep, and fully immerse yourself in the culture. Another option for language students abroad is group housing. While it’s a little more expensive and little less immersive, group housing is perfect for those looking for a bit more independence.
The visa process in Bolivia varies depending on your nationality. While Europeans are granted a 90-day visa on arrival, Americans will typically have to spend close to $200 for the same visa. No matter where you’re from, you’ll have to present your travel itinerary, sometimes a letter of invitation from the program, and expect to apply for a work visa if you plan to stay more than 90 days. Check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more information on the visa process.
Benefits & Challenges
Diving into language study in one of South America’s least-visited countries means embracing a new way of life. It is a land where time moves slowly. In fact, the clock on the National Congress building in La Paz runs backward to remind citizens to think differently about time. Adjusting to “Bolivian time” will truly test your patience, but will allow you to reflect on what is important.
In a country of extremes, safety can be a challenge in Bolivia. La Paz is the home of the most dangerous road on Earth, with nearly 300 fatalities every year. Ancient religions still make sacrifices to Satan (el Tio), and you can buy dead animal fetuses in all the local markets. Keep your wits about you, as you would in any city, but keep your mind open.
¡Jallalla, Bolivia! Bolivia is a country that celebrates every occasion and all people who take the time to learn their culture. If you want an adventure in a country with awe-inspiring landscapes, cheap prices, and people who will embrace you if you embrace them, then look no further. Language programs in Bolivia will make you fall in love with a country that honors its people, its roots, and its language.