Spanish in a foreign land
May 7, 2013 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Where in Central or South America should I go to study Spanish?

I'm planning to spend two months studying Spanish in June and July and would like to go somewhere that I can really immerse myself. I speak basic Spanish right now, but can't really have a conversation. My hope is to stay with a host family and also do some volunteer work in whatever city I end up in. I'm trying to avoid places that have a lot of tourists or English speaking areas that I could escape to. Right now I'm leaning towards Ecuador or Columbia, but I'm not too sure.
I would love suggestions of particular cities to go to or particular language schools.
posted by metaname to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Guatemala is popular for this. I had a friend who studied Spanish in Quetzaltenango (Xela for short), although I do not know which school.
posted by cabingirl at 10:10 AM on May 7, 2013

My sister spent 3 months in Quito, Ecuador, and came away with conversational Spanish skills. She enrolled in a study abroad program at the Catholic university and stayed with a local family. I visited at the end of the summer and there were a few areas with tourists, but not many. We would not have been able to get around in Quito (never mind the countryside) without her language skills. People apparently speak a little slower in Ecuador, which she found helpful.
posted by esoterrica at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2013

I was just reading this about Antigua, Guatemala. At $120 for 32.5 hours of instruction per week, it's pretty damn affordable. However, may not fit with your other criteria.

Just anecdotally, it's often said that Colombians speak the clearest Spanish.
posted by saul wright at 10:24 AM on May 7, 2013

Grenada, Nicaragua, is an interesting small city. This language school was recommended by a friend. I've been to this area and really enjoyed it.
posted by mareli at 10:29 AM on May 7, 2013

If I recollect correctly, Xela, Antigua, and Grenada all have plenty of people with whom you can speak English. I'd imagine any large city would as well.
posted by aniola at 10:45 AM on May 7, 2013

Costa Rican Spanish is pretty well regarded as a standard and understandable accent without a lot of local dialects/vocabulary getting mixed in there. A lot of TV actors for Univision, Telemundo and other Latin stations are either Ticos or work on a Tico accent in order to make their Spanish more universal. Not all areas of Costa Rica are completely touristy, but, like any country, the places where the schools are tend to be in the tourist areas. At least you can use Costa Rica's infrastructure to get out of those parts for your free time/weekends.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:33 AM on May 7, 2013

I spent a summer in Granada about 10 years ago and while it's quaint, it was not the sort of place I'd consider interesting enough for that long a stay. It has a lot of tourists but it's still a small town and the locals weren't all that jazzed about more-than-perfunctory interaction. I spent as much time as possible traversing the rest of Nicaragua to stave off boredom. (It may have changed since then.)
posted by psoas at 11:35 AM on May 7, 2013

I'm not a Spanish speaker but I second what Saul Wright said because I have heard Columbians are used for voiceover in Latin America and in fact I find their Spanish to be so clear and slow that I can almost understand it myself!
posted by Dansaman at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2013

If you decide on Costa Rica, I recommend ICADS. They have short term Spanish intensives and internship options. In undergrad in the late 90s, I studied abroad in Costa Rica/Belize with them and was very happy with the program. Also, my host family in San Jose rocked!
posted by jilloftrades at 12:33 PM on May 7, 2013

In the last two years, I've been to Guatemala twice for Spanish school. I did a month of Spanish immersion in Quetzaltenango and another month in San Pedro la Laguna on Lake Atitlan. I cannot recommend these places highly enough.

Lake Atitlan had the added benefit of being the most beautiful place I've ever been. Guatemala generally is a great place to learn the language, as many schools are operated by indigenous folks who spoke Mayan dialects originally and learned Spanish in school; these folks know how to teach Spanish because they themselves were taught Spanish.

In most of the larger or more popular towns in Guatemala, it'd be hard to throw a rock and not hit a Spanish school. Tripadvisor has pretty good listings, plus ratings for some of the better ones.

Regarding the volunteer work aspect, I would advise you to reconsider unless you have a technical skill. Guatemala has more than enough unskilled labor and would benefit much more from your tourist dollars than from you laying cinder block (which goes for about 100Q (or $7) per day if you hire local. I applaud your goodwill, but it would be better applied as tourist dollars or as a donation to one of these two charities.

In the immortal words of Ivan Illich,
If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as "good," a "sacrifice" and "help."
tl;dr: Guatemala is awesome. Lake Atitlan is beautiful. Avoid voluntourism.
posted by The White Hat at 9:47 PM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I do not recommend Venezuela. Great place to visit but not to learn Spanish.
posted by Prayless at 5:57 PM on May 8, 2013

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