Who says you have to study Spanish in Spain to have a valuable and effective language learning experience? Instead of hopping over to Europe, take a jaunt over to Mexico. Spanish was brought to Mexico in the 16th century, and has since been shaped by the nativos Mexicanos and other historical and sociological influences. The Aztec language of Nahuatl has lent many words to Mexican Spanish, and is credited with influencing the accent to include the pronunciation of all consonants (as opposed to many other Latin American accents). Clearly, the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country is calling your nombre and asking you to attend a language school in Mexico.
Not all international experiences are created equal: it’s all about location, location, location! While you may have zeroed in on a host country (Mexico), it’s time to dive a little deeper and find a city or region that will best serve your learning potential and goals.
Whether you prefer to study in a big city, a smaller city, a rural area, near the ocean, or in the highlands, Mexico has a language program to meet your needs. Some of the most popular places for language study in Mexico include:
Mexico City. This sprawling city may feel like a beast, but its colorful neighborhoods and intermittent green spaces have an extremely attractive energy. Individuals can even consider attending intensive language courses at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), which is home to one of the most concentrated and seriously taught programs in the nation.
Oaxaca. The smaller colonial city of Oaxaca will afford Spanish learners an experience sharp in contrast to Ciudad de México (Mexico City). Oaxaca offers a more intimate exposure to traditional Mexican culture (and, tangentially, one of the most biodiverse regions in the country) that have not been as worn away by the influences of modernity. With fewer tourists and expats in general, language students will have ample opportunity to practicar tu español.
Guadalajara. Mexican Spanish experts consistently cite the accent of Guadalajara to be the most neutral, perfect for beginner Spanish students. As the second largest city in Mexico, students will not have a shortage of cultural activities or interesting things to do on their free time.
Guanajuato. (This city had to be tacked on to the list just for fun) This small, makes-you-feel-like-you’re-living-in-a-postcard Mexican city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and would make the perfect backdrop for a more intensive Spanish language learning experience.
Other honorable mention cities that are also home to great language schools in Mexico include: Puerto Vallarta, Puebla, and Mérida. It is best for beginners to steer clear of language programs in the Yucatán, and other southern states, as their accents are considerably more difficult to understand and their dialect is considerably more influenced by Aztec and Mayan languages; but advanced speakers have at it!
Language Programs in Mexico
Students have a number of different options when it comes to Spanish language learning in Mexico. You might opt to do a short-term intensive language program at a language school in Mexico, with anywhere from four to six hours of class time per day. But, you can likewise choose to have classes with a large group of students (20 or more) or a small group (eight or less). Especially motivated students might even tack on a personal tutor for a few hours a week too. Private schools and public universities in Mexico also offer language programs for international students.
Ultimately, the choice of where to complete your language program in Mexico is a very personal one, and while one location or program works well for one person it won't necessarily work well for another. Take time to discern the type of experience you wish to have, and be sure to read program information, reviews, and contact different providers to get your questions answered before making your decision.
Of course, while the program and school you choose is important, equally important is what you do outside of class. Do whatever you can to speak only Spanish, and you language skills will improve more rapidly during your time in Mexico. Many language programs in Mexico even include excursions and cultural activities and require program components to support immersion even more. Students are encouraged to consider completing a course and following it with personal travel around the country (so they can really put their new language skills to the test, and see a bunch of really interesting and beautiful places!).
Scholarships & Costs
A number of academic scholarships are available to help finance your language program in Mexico. Lucky for you, life in Mexico is relatively cheap in comparison to life in most industrialized nations. Language programs in Mexico vary in cost, based on the length of time, the level of support you wish to have, what is included, and the location of your program.
Accommodation & Visas
As a language student in Mexico, you will have a number of accommodation options available to you. From homestays to private apartments to shared living spaces with other students, it is likely that you’ll find a language program in Mexico that offers your preferred living arrangement.
Visas are unnecessary for visitors intending to stay 180 days or less in Mexico completing unpaid activities. However. if you are planning on attending a language school in Mexico that lasts more than six months, you must organize a temporary resident student visa card from the Mexican Embassy in your home country prior to arrival.
Benefits & Challenges
Cultural Knowledge & Understanding. Beyond saving extra pesos on pesky flight costs, students will also be privileged to experience a brilliant culture, learn about fascinating indigenous traditions, and maybe even gain valuable insight about members of their own community back home.
Timing. The academic calendar follows the U.S. American schedule, making it convenient for U.S. American international students to take their studies abroad while still staying on track to graduate.
In the end, be realistic about your goals and don't be disappointed if you aren't speaking Spanish like a native speaker even after a year of intensive language study in Mexico. Learning a new language is one of the most difficult (and rewarding) things you can undertake. No matter where you fall on the fluency spectrum, participating in a language program in Estados Unidos Mexicanos will be the experience of a lifetime!