From the lush and mysterious Amazon to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, every inch of South America is begging for adventure. The home of pisco, tango, and Shakira, there is no better place to step outside of your comfort zone and learn about a new culture and language than South America. The people and languages are as diverse as the continent’s geography, so individuals headed to this region are sure to learn more than they bargained for. So, hurry up and brush up on your conjugations, learn the rules of fútbol, and pack both your dancing and hiking shoes, because language study in South America is sure to be an adventure!
Not to state the obvious, but South America is an enormous and diverse continent, so the location of your language program will depend primarily on the language you choose to study and the type of environment you wish to learn that language in! The most popular cities for language study in South America, whether for Spanish or Portuguese language studies, include:
Buenos Aires, Argentina. Known as the “Paris of South America”, Buenos Aires is every language aficionado's dream. The porteños, or natives of Buenos Aires, speak a complex and rich dialect of Spanish called castellano, which traces its roots back to Castile, Spain and is one of the more difficult, but nonetheless beautiful, forms of Spanish to learn. In between learning how to pronounce “ll” as “sh”, take some time to soak up the city’s unexpected European vibe, cheer on the Boca Juniors fútbol team, and show off your tango skills at one of the many underground milongas.
Santiago, Chile. What better place for language study in South America than the famous poet Pablo Neruda’s home? Santiago’s continuous economic growth over the last several decades has transformed the city into a bustling environment that currently boasts over 25 universities. Chilean Spanish is known for its heavy use of slang, and naturally the best way to learn local slang is by socializing! In between pisco sours, be sure to enjoy the surrounding Andes, the hopping Plaza de las Armas central square, and the many famous museums, theaters, and cultural centers throughout the city.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of the largest cities in the Americas, Rio is one of the main epicenters of Portuguese culture and considered to be the largest “Portuguese city” outside of Portugal. Rio is home to about 100 universities and institutes, and it is the second largest center of research and development in Brazil. Famous for its beautiful beaches and outdoor activities, students are sure to enjoy learning a unique language like Portuguese while surrounded by humongous mountains and white, sandy beaches.
Language Programs in South America
There is nothing more annoying than people who think that all of South America just speaks Spanish, right? Many individuals group all of Central and South America into the category of hispanic, but those who take their language learning to South America know this is far from the truth.
South America is linguistically one of the most diverse areas of the world, with 37 different language families; the most popular of all language spoken in South America, though by a small margin, is Portuguese. Regardless of the percentage of the population who speaks it, the following are the most popular languages to study in South America and the best places to study them:
For Spanish language programs in South America, take your pick of locations! Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina all have Spanish as their official language, and are home to a number of Spanish language schools.
Argentina and Brazil have surprisingly large populations of Italian and German-speakers as well, so many cities in these countries have both languages as co-official languages along with Spanish or Portuguese.
Other popular languages of study in South America include indigenous languages, and in almost every country, an indigenous language is the co-official language with an Indo European one. If you are looking for a more challenging language experience, Quechua (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador), Guaraní (Paraguay, Bolivia), and Aymara (Bolivia, Peru, Chile) are the most popular indigenous languages.
Since there are so many options for language study in South America, don’t rush into picking one without really thinking about not just which language you want to learn, but also which dialect of your preferred language is best for you. The Spanish spoken in Peru is very different than the Spanish spoken in Argentina, so take the time to research your preferred dialect and the subsequent language programs available.
For this reason, many students wanting to learn a language in South America study at a large university in a metropolitan area, so they can be exposed to as much as possible. Universities such as Universidad de Chile, Universidade de Sao Paulo, and Universidad de Buenos Aires are internationally-ranked schools with impressive language course options. Depending on the type of language program you choose and the amount of language skill syou wish to gain, you can either matriculate directly into language classes with locals or study alongside other international students.
Enrolling in a university to learn a language is not the only option though, and many students choose language programs in South America offered by private language schools, for their specialty in intensive classes, cultural excursions, and more flexible schedules. There are many different private language schools in South America, and each one has very unique course options and styles of instruction, including tango classes, mountain climbing excursions, and cooking classes. There are even family language programs in South America, so don’t hesitate to get your child or spouse in on the fun too!
Scholarships & Costs
To most people’s surprise, those who choose to pursue language programs in South America often end up saving money in the long run. This is because the cost of living in South America is likely more affordable than your home country, and chances are also good that the educational costs are less expensive too. Even in metropolitan areas, you can rent a nice apartment for $300 to $450 per month and live off of $50 to $70 per week in spending money.
While the majority of South America is very affordable, the cost of living does vary between countries. Cities such as Sao Paulo and Santiago consistently rank on the more expensive side, while Lima, Peru and Quito, Ecuador are very inexpensive. However, regardless of the location and how “expensive” it ranks, you will still most likely save money while studying a language in South America (in comparison to what you would have spent during the same period of time at home).
After you have chosen the right location for your wallet, make sure to do your research and craft an appropriate budget for day-to-day spending, and also seek out areas of your desired location that are cheaper than others. Even within the same city, neighboring barrios can have drastically different costs of living, so doing your grocery shopping in one store versus another can save you a lot of dough.
Lastly, if you want to save even more money, apply for scholarships! Both Spanish and Portuguese are highly valued languages, so many scholarships, fortunately, exist to assist students wanting to become fluent in either language.
Accommodations & Visas
Accommodation options for language students in South America are as diverse as the languages and programs themselves. Most language programs in South America include homestay or dormitory housing options, which are ideal for students looking to really integrate with locals, but many students also opt to rent their own apartment. Regardless of which option you choose, language students will have no problems adjusting to their new home for a fairly low cost.
In most of South America, students will not need to obtain a student visa to attend language courses prior to arrival, but rather they’ll need to physically apply for a visa in their host city upon arrival. Many private language schools in South America do not require students to have a visa at all, but most universities will not release your transcript unless you have proof of a visa. However, in some countries, such as Brazil, no visitors are allowed to enter without a visa, so be sure to check with your host country’s consulate or program provider for country-specific requirements.
Not to complicate an already difficult process, but gaining entrance into South America is unfortunately not only reliant on visas and passports. While most individuals will not need a visa to enter, some countries require specific vaccinations (and documentation in your passport) to gain entrance. Check with the CDC to find out what vaccinations you need to travel to your desired host country. Also, be aware that certain nationalities have to pay entrance fees at customs before being allowed to enter. For U.S. students, expect to pay (in cash) anywhere from $50 to $150 to enter countries throughout South America.
For the latest information on visas for South America, consult GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Beyond the academic and professional benefits of learning another language abroad, students will be able to integrate into a new culture through their language studies in South America and form meaningful connections with locals. This integration will ultimately be the most important part of your time abroad, as it will teach you more than you can learn in any classroom and challenge you in new ways.
Flexibility. Since most of South America has had its share of economic problems, there are still some infrastructure issues that may come up for language students from time to time. Those who spend time in this area of the world will be forced to quickly adapt to its laid back culture and learn to creatively problem solve when things don’t always go their way.
Empowerment. South America is home to people from all walks of life, and students in this region will quickly become exposed to both the beauty and hardships this societal condition offers. Real-world education is the foundation of all personal and social improvement, so students will not leave this region without a new desire to do something meaningful and really challenge preconceived notions.
Regardless of where you decide to pursue language programs in South America and what language you decide to study, you are guaranteed to have a wild ride. Between the amazing people ready to welcome you into their hearts and the landscapes just begging to be explored, you will definitely be learning more than just a new language during your time in South America.