Study Spanish in Mexico
February 8, 2008 12:49 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a Spanish-language school in Mexico?

I'm trying to learn to speak Spanish, but classes, books, CDs and periodic Mexican vacations don't seem to be enough, so I'd like to try a two-week immersion crash course somewhere I'll be forced to speak it.

Mexico is the reason I want to learn Spanish, so I'm not interested in schools elsewhere.
posted by timeistight to Education (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I spent several summers in San Miguel de Allende (SMdA) studying abroad, and attended the now defunct SMdA branch of La Universidad del Valle de México. My professors were incredible, and I returned stateside after 18 weeks speaking Spanish with great proficiency. Though the Universidad is no longer there, there is another great language school called La Academia. I have had several friends study at the Academia, and all have had great successes in learning Spanish. Many of the schools can arrange for you to live with a host family (which I did, and which really forced me to interact often, and allowed me to practice what I had learned during my classes in the day; it did not hurt that their artist son was absolutely breathtaking).

A tip: I found that going out at night and having drinks with the kids of my host family and younger locals helped me build my vocabulary, and increased my conversational courage. I felt less inhibited about the mistakes I might make, and my conversational skills improved vastly because of the practice - so much so that I often credit mezcal with my learning of Spanish (gracías, mezcal!). So, if you get a chance, make friends with some of locals your age who don't speak too much English (or they may ask you to indulge them in their practice of English), and spend time talking. Seriously, talk until you are hoarse and blue in the face.

I dream of returning to San Miguel. If you go, be sure to take a camera; it is beautiful.

Otherwise, La Universidad del Valle has several locations scattered throughout Mexico (though I am not familiar with them).

Also, you may want to check out the Becari Institute in Oaxaca. I studied there on two separate occasions during my high-school years, and they will accommodate all levels of language proficiency. Oaxaca is also a beautiful area, but I don't think it holds a candle to San Miguel (though I am clearly speaking with an obvious bias).
posted by numinous at 1:25 AM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I lived in Queretaro and really enjoyed the city. It is about 2 hours north of Mexico City. I know it has several language schools. I quite liked the city and the mix of colonial and new.
posted by tarvuz at 1:30 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I found San Miguel to be lovely but overrun with snobby american artist types.
posted by tarvuz at 1:43 AM on February 8, 2008

I should have used the Becari Language School's official link.

Also, 2nding Queretaro. It is a beautiful city, and only about an hour outside of San Miguel (though it could, given the bus system there, take anywhere between 1-3 hours. One word of advice, though: PLEASE DO NOT EAT THE ELOTE OFFERED BY STREET VENDORS. I know it smells delicious. Mouth-wateringly so, I know, I know. And here's a story about how I know:
    After spending several weeks in Mexico without become ill (despite accidentally brushing my teeth with tap water without thinking twice about it), I thought that my body had acclimated to the bacteria down there. 'Ha!' I thought. 'I've spent enough time down here that I'm basically one of the locals! I will now do as the locals do.' (This was my first mistake.) So, on a day-trip to Queretaro, after getting off the bus famished - eating in Mexico as a vegetarian would occasionally prove to be an arduous task, though I certainly made do - I spied a vendor selling delightful, delectable roasted elote. 'Mmmm, perfecto!' I thought to myself. 'Being that I am now immune to gastronomic disaster, I will indulge myself. Anyway, even if there are any microbes present, the chili powder and lime juice will neutralize those suckers.' (This was my second mistake.) Cue 16 hours later: OH. MY. GOD. I have never - during the entire length of my existence - ever been as sick as I was from that moment through the ensuing weeks. Amoebic dystentary IS NO JOKE. I witnessed stuff coming out of my various orifices at speeds that I never imagined possible! I am not kidding. This was worse than the gastroenteritis I had after eating bad oysters. Worse x 12428798325. I couldn't stomach anything for longer than 5 minutes. My innards liquefied everything. I may or may not have destroyed my host family's toilet from the constant flushing. I lost 15 lbs. in less than a week. The doctors at the local hospital prescribed Flagyl, which wreaked absolute havoc on my immune system (I was sick in the following year more times than I had been during the previous 6 years). I continued to lose weight so rapidly, and was so severely dehydrated that my father (a physician) flew down to intervene. I was supposed to stay 20 weeks, but had to cut my stay by two. Looking back at pictures from that period, I am astounded by how downright skeletal I appear. Also, I was stung by a scorpion that was resting in repose upon my pillow, camouflaged by the loud paisley-print of the pillowcase. My elbow throbbed for days, but it was nothing in comparison to the excruciating experience of dysentery. Now, when I return to Mexico and smell the incredible aroma of elote roasting in the streets, I think wistfully back to the piquant flavors of chili and lime dancing upon my tongue, and remember what a TERRIBLE FUCKING IDEA IT IS TO EAT IT. So there you have it.

You should absolutely study in Mexico, though. It remains one of my most enriching experiences to date.
posted by numinous at 2:03 AM on February 8, 2008

I don't have any recommendations for immersion schools, but I did want to say in response to numinous that I ate tons of street food every day for five months and never got sick. I also regularly brushed my teeth with tap water. So it just depends. Watch where the locals go and avoid the street vendors that they do. :) Mm... elote

Actually, one of my favorite places that I visited was Morelia, capital of the state of Michoacan. It was a really cool city in a really pretty area of the country, and if you go there in the winter you can go up the mountains with a guide and see the millions of monarch butterflies that migrate there. It's incredible. If you can find a school there, just for the visiting/living experience I'd really recommend it.
posted by olinerd at 3:59 AM on February 8, 2008

Best answer: i went to the university of guadalajara. they have a summer immersion program (cepe) that's really pretty effective.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:37 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's where I went in Cuernavaca. I loved it and learned more in my four weeks there than in three years in high school classes. There was a huge variety of students there -- college students from the US, Canada and Germany, people working for the UN, a diplomat from New Zealand, executives, retirees. It was a great experience. The school is great and they have many after school and weekend social activities (and tours of cultural sites Teotihuacán, museums in the DF, Taxco, etc). Cuernavaca is close to Mexico City so weekend trips are easy. The way the school worked was on Monday mornings you would get your class schedule -- there were small groups with an instructor for half the day, the other half were classroom style courses to help with vocabulary and electives in various subject -- Mexican history, politics, literature. There were electives in Spanish for health care workers, businesspeople, educators, etc. At the school, English is not used at all -- and sometimes if you're having trouble learning something, the patient instructor will explain in Spanish again with simpler words, and your classmates will also help in Spanish. English is used as a last resort.

I loved living with my Mexican family but did spend a lot of times at night with other students.

Cuernavaca has perfect weather all year. Because of the altitude it doesn't get too hot, because of the latitude it never is cold. Cuernavaca gets a lot of well off Chilangos on the weekends as many in Mexico City have homes in Cuernavaca to escape the city. Also, because of all of the Spanish language schools there's a lot of English speakers in town. My classmates and I had a "no English" rule for our time there, but we would from time to time have "English happy hours" where we could revert back to English for a while.

I've been back to Cuernavaca a few times since my time there and am trying to figure out how to live there. I also want to go back to school for a few weeks to learn more Spanish.

My only piece of advice is to be keep using Spanish when you get back home. Read Spanish language media. Watch HBO Latino and Telemundo. Chat with Latinos you run into at the stores. The more you consume yourself, you'll forget less.
posted by birdherder at 5:17 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know several students who have studied at the CEPE program thinkingwoman links, and they had very good experiences.
posted by Forktine at 5:42 AM on February 8, 2008

Best answer: I highly recommend the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. I spent four weeks there a couple of years ago, it was a great experience. The program I was in had three hours of class in the morning, plus an hour of conversation. After lunch there are all kinds of activities to get you practicing the language: cooking, salsa dancing, craft making, more conversation groups. Cheap excursions to many of the delights of the Oaxaca valley - Hierve el Agua, Teotitlan de Valle, Monte Alban, etc. I was there in July during the Gueleguetza, an annual folk and dance festival which draws people from all over the world. Excellent instruction, nice people, great food, a wonderful culture.

The civil unrest Oaxaca had in 2006 is gone from all reports I've received.

Email in profile if you want to know more.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:54 AM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of language schools in Guanajuato, which is an awesome city. The whole central district is a World Heritage Site, and it's really lovely, and fun with a lot of college kids as well. Definitely check it out online, I had a great time staying there last year, and met several people who were there studying and doing homestays.
posted by allen8219 at 12:20 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations. I'll check these all out.
posted by timeistight at 1:04 PM on February 8, 2008

Best answer: Also, check out the Centro de Ensenanza para Extranjeros (CEPE). That's where I studied. And it's right next to the regular university, so you might even make a few native Spanish-speaking friends while you're there.
posted by mynameismandab at 10:38 AM on February 9, 2008

Best answer: Queretaro is nice, with a lot of nice architecture. I know there are universities and also dedicated language schools here that offer short and long term language learning. If you want more Queretaro-specific information, definitely let me know. I'll be happy to do what I can (my private Spanish teacher teaches courses at a university and also a private school and has a pretty good idea of the scene).

But, Qro is fairly expensive compared to the rest of the city. I'd say it's similarly priced in many respects to some places in the states. A coffee is 2.5 or 3 dollars, a bus ride is 50 cents (compared to 20 cents for the metro in Mexico City), a meal in a restaurant can easily run you 10 or 15 dollars. And I've also been to much prettier/nicer/neater/more interesting places in Mexico. Guanajuato is beautiful. The beaches are beautiful (and I know a lot of beach towns have language schools). I've heard great things about Oaxaca and Chiapas.

From what I can tell, there are language schools in every (even semi-) desirable location in Mexico. My recommendation is to choose a place you'd love to spend a two week vacation in (the mountains, the beach, the rainforest, an uber cool city), and then look into language schools there.
posted by mosessis at 5:23 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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