Spanish instruction in Central America
October 19, 2011 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Learning Spanish in Mexico or Central American country for one week.

I am an American adult living in New Mexico, USA and currently taking Spanish lessons. I was thinking of going to Mexico or a Central American country for a week (either Thanksgiving or the week before Christmas) for a vacation and also to get Spanish Instruction. I'm thinking like 1/2 day instruction, then the remainder free to roam.

Two questions I guess:
- Are there any current hotspots in Mexico or Central American countries for an American to avoid?
- Can you recommend a school or other place of instruction?

I see this place in Oaxaca:
posted by allelopath to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people go to Antigua, Guatemala for this reason. There are a lot of schools there that specialize in this sort of thing, and have various package deals, and so on.

One thing to consider is how "standard" the dominant Spanish dialect is. Like, I live in Argentina. I have friends here who are native Spanish speakers from other countries, and they say that when they are away for a while and come back, it takes them a few days to get into the accent, it's that different. Or in Central America, there's a few countries where people use voseo, which isn't a big deal as far as people understanding you, but can be mildly confusing if you are memorizing a whole mess of irregular verb conjugations with tu but then everyone you talk to uses vos.

As for safety, You can always check on the State Department's Travel site (Mexico) (Guatemala), but I'm not sure how seriously to take these.
posted by jeb at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for pointing out Antigua, I had not heard of it. There are a lot of schools there, so many as to be overwhelming. It looks like the thing to do is to stay with a family there.
posted by allelopath at 8:08 AM on October 19, 2011

I went to Cusco, Peru and took Spanish lessons for two weeks 2 years ago. Ultra cheap, usually fairly cheap flights and some of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. There are language schools all over.

Their food is great and their language is very clear. And Macchu Picchu is just a couple hours away.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:32 AM on October 19, 2011

Peru, great idea! Flying there looks expensive though (at least $2000). Where do you see cheap flights?
posted by allelopath at 8:45 AM on October 19, 2011

Not in Central America, but close - Cartagena, Colombia.

What I would do: price out airfares to major Spanish speaking cities on a site like expedia. Find the cheapest one. Find an intra-country flight or bus to a smaller town in the area that has a language school. Get out of the major cities - they're not great to spend a lot of time in.

Agree that Cusco is a great idea. Lots of day / afternoon trips leave from there if you like outdoor adventure type stuff. Fly into Lima, take an intra-country flight to Cusco.
posted by valeries at 8:53 AM on October 19, 2011

Antigua is truly wonderful and flights to Guatemala (really, most countries in Central America) are inexpensive. For a more bohemian, small-town feel, there's also Quetzaltenango (nicknamed Xela) and the villages around Lake Atitlan, like Panajachel (I studied Spanish there, & stayed with a Mayan host family) and San Pedro La Laguna. I also studied Spanish for a week in Bocas del Toro, an archipelago in Panama -- the main settlement is Bocas Town on Isla Colon. If you're a beach-lover, it's a great place to go (there's this beach in the north of the island, Playa de Estrella, with thousands and thousands of starfish. *sigh*...) There are coastal Spanish schools in Costa Rica as well.
As far as places to avoid in Central America, you're usually pretty safe if you stay away from the capitals, excepting San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama. There's crime in Antigua, but it's mostly avoidable with some street-savvy; no wandering around alone at night.
posted by changeling at 9:05 AM on October 19, 2011

I attended a school in Antigua for a week and a half once - it was 4 hours a day of conversation with my instructor (I can't remember the name of the school right now - sorry!), and we spoke entirely in Spanish (even though I didn't have much experience with Spanish). Every so often she would let on that she actually spoke English very well, but mostly the conversation just really helped me with my comfortability with making mistakes/conjugating/making up words.

Antigua is awesome, and reasonable! Definitely a preserved tourist town, and I actually lived in a smaller town about half an hour away (and I learned as much Spanish from my homestay as my teacher, so that was valuable as well), but you'd definitely have fun and gain a lot in Antigua. Not so close that it's too similar culturally, but not so far that it's way pricey to travel there.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:51 AM on October 19, 2011

Oh, found the name of my school - La Union. The building and teachers were wonderful, and I had a great time.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:58 AM on October 19, 2011

I had the most wonderful 3 weeks in Cusco at the Amauta school back in 2003. Such a friendly bunch of people from many countries all gathered together. Seeing Macchu Picchu was a special treat I won't forget but really it was the cameraderie with the fellow students that made it special. It was expensive for me coming from the UK but worth the extra to me. I also paid extra to stay in the student residence which made mingling with others easier (I am quite shy and didn't want to homestay with a family). In comparison I went to Buenos Aires at Christmas the same year and there was just me and the teacher in the class, better for tuition but not nearly so enjoyable. I think there is a video of the Amauta school somewhere on Youtube.
posted by AuroraSky at 10:46 AM on October 19, 2011

As mentioned there are two towns in Guatemala that specialize in Spanish instruction. Antigua is more touristy than Quetzaltenango. I have heard that immersion is easier in the latter.

I believe all schools have the same basic model with one teacher and one student. You may learn what you like - lessons from the book or you can take your teacher to the market or cafes to learn Spanish that is more practical to the traveler.

I spent 11 weeks studying at Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín (PLFM) in Antigua in the 90s. I can't speak for now, but in my time I had an excellent experience from the staff to the teachers to the host family I stayed with. I do recommend staying with a family for the cultural and learning experience. I think it is a bit for expensive with other schools, but I chose it because it was a little more establishment and I was hoping that I might be able to transfer credits. I couldn't.

And while I can't compare it to learning in any other country, I was totally enchanted with Guatemala. It is beautiful and the people are wonderful.
posted by Duffington at 11:15 AM on October 19, 2011

Whoops! That was the Mayan language link. Here's English.
posted by Duffington at 11:18 AM on October 19, 2011

Guatemala is definitely the way to go. The Spanish spoken there is pretty "clear" apparently and the rates are ridiculously affordable. And definitely stay with a family.

I personally prefer Xela (Quetzaltenango) for Spanish study, as Antigua is so touristy that it would be easy to speak a lot of English.
posted by lunasol at 4:26 PM on October 19, 2011

I studied at the ICO in Oaxaca. It was a great experience, and as a result I've returned to Oaxaca several times. Christmas in Oaxaca is a good time; December 23 is the Noche de Los Rabanos, where giant carved mutant radishes are displayed in the zocalo and a fiesta ensues.

Continental has direct flights to Oaxaca from Houston, but a cheaper option would be to fly to DF and take a bus. First class buses to Oaxaca take about 6 hours and leave directly from the Mexico City airport.
posted by Wet Spot at 4:07 AM on October 20, 2011

Thanks for all the input.

There are 28 schools listed for Quetzaltenango:
Does anyone have experience with any of these?
posted by allelopath at 8:57 AM on October 20, 2011

I studied at Sakribal, which I liked. PLQE has the best reputation, but it was full when I went.
posted by lunasol at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2011

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