Learning Spanish in Latin America.

“First you need to find the motivation, then you need to find the opportunity for total immersion.”

For the majority of people I have spoken to, learning a foreign language can be a challenging experience. The (self) pressure to succeed can cause immense anxiety. For me, it’s also proved to be an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. Some days you feel like you are making huge progress, other days you feel totally useless and even consider giving up. It’s certainly a journey and NOT a destination.

Let’s go back a ‘few’ years.

It must have been extremely frustrating for my parents each time I brought home my end of year school report, they rarely made for good reading. I just didn’t get school. Apart from Woodwork, Metalwork, Art & Design, all of which I excelled in, everything else was pretty much a disaster zone. Personal ineptness excelled itself in languages; exam results as low as 5% and 10% were quite common in Latin & French. As with all my low grade subjects, the worse my results got the more demotivated I became.

When I finally got to leave school and entered into the world of work, a revelation occurred. In this ‘new world’, things made sense and had a point to them. I became motivated and inspired. So much so that I started to attend night school (studying various subjects) in order to develop and improve myself. This finally culminated in gaining a BA (Hons) degree in Business Management, something I thought, in my early twenties, that I would never, ever achieve. My mum was extremely proud of me.

Now we need to return back to languages.

When I started travelling in Latin America, in 2014, I quickly realised two things: Number one, the majority of people in Latin America speak the same language. Number two, you definitely need to speak a certain level of their language if you want to survive. These two key factors were just the motivation that I needed to start learning Spanish.

Learning Spanish in Guatemala.

Attending a school in Guatemala, normally on a ‘one to one basis’, is a great way to learn Spanish. It’s relatively cheap, and there are an abundance of schools – across the country. However, in order to make it all sink in, you also need total immersion. This is when you really start to learn the lingo; putting into practise what you have agonised over in the classroom. In Guatemala there are loads of opportunities for total immersion.

Over the past four years I have attended three different schools. None of them are perfect, there are elements of each of the schools that, if amalgamated, could possibly make the perfect one.

Attending a school normally includes a ‘family home stay’; a great way to push your language skills to their limit!

After 5-years of visiting Latin America I know I should be fluent. Sadly I am not. It all goes to ‘rack and ruin’ when I return home to the UK each summer, and start normal life. Sometimes I don’t speak Spanish for up to 8-months. I really need to do something about this!

So here goes, the positives and negatives of each of the schools that I have so far visited:

La Unión spanish school in Antigua.

Positives:

Antigua is a delightful town, with loads of restaurants and places to stay.

It has a nice vibe.

The climate is perfect.

La Unión is a well run school and the classes are held in a beautiful courtyard with lovely trees and plants.

Negatives:

Antigua is VERY touristy.

You may not get to practice too much Spanish as everybody here speaks English.

SISAI Spanish school in Quetzaltenango (Xela).

Positives:

Xela is quite a large city with loads of restaurants and places to stay.

SISAI is a small and friendly school.

The owners (Yaneth and Marivel) are very accommodating and EXTREMELY helpful and friendly.

Nice home stay opportunities.

Negatives:

The school itself is quite small, and everybody is ‘on top’ of each other during classes.

It can be very cold in Xela in the evenings and mornings.

I did not particularly warm to Xela, it has a certain ‘edge’ to it.

Too many activities going on at the school. I did not attend any. For those people wanting to keep on top of their work it might be difficult – with potential ‘peer pressure’ to attend the tours. The people who did go on the tours raved about them so this is only a personal comment.

Jabel Tinamit Spanish school in Panajachel.

Positives:

EXTREMELY well run, professional school.

Lessons are held in various locations inside the school, nice surroundings, relaxed, and friendly.

EXTREMELY good teachers, loads of patience and loads of motivation.

Great home stay opportunities.

Negatives:

Pannajchel is an EXTREMELY touristy location with WAY TOO MUCH. Traffic.

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About Richard Griffith

My first independent travel experience was a trip to Israel, in 1997, it was here that I caught the 'travel' bug! In 2001 I took an 8-month sabbatical and traveled around South East Asia. Since then I have managed to visit most of Eastern Europe along with India, Bangladesh, and a few other destinations in between. I love travel and I love meeting new people.
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