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Studying Spanish in Guatemala
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-07-19 21:30:00 | Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Keywords: Learning
Guatemala is a recognized destination to study Spanish and many cities throughout the country have many schools dedicated to foreigners. Not all cities are equal to study Spanish, some are a very bad choice in fact if you really want to learn and practice.

The locations

Not surprisingly, the schools are mostly located in tourists hubs. You will hardly find any school in the capital although it's a very large city.

The advantage of tourist hubs are that they have activities and sights to visit on your days off.

The main disadvantage is that there are plenty of tourists and locals are more able to speak English. In most cases when you begin in Spanish and stumble a bit, they will continue in English to rush things a bit and pass to the next customer in line. Another inconvenient of tourists hubs is that at night you'll often be more tempted to go take a beer with other tourists than studying.


Geography of the Spanish schools in Guatemala.


The six main locations to study Spanish in Guatemala are:

  • Quetzeltenango (Xela)
  • Cobán
  • Monterrico
  • Lake Atitlan (Panajachel and San Pedro)
  • Florčs
  • Antigua

I placed them from what I consider the best to the worst.

Xela is a large city with numerous schools, but because of its size the tourists still are a small minority. There are a few activities and sights to do in and around town and the weather is pleasant (just cold at night due to high altitude).

Cobán is a major transport hub for those visiting the site of Semuc Champey but few tourists actually stay in Cobán, which still has a nice feeling of an authentic Guatemalan city.

Monterrico is a nice small village by the Pacific ocean, a bit difficult to reach however. Also, although its great black volcanic sand beach is spectacular the location is only to get a tan, because the waves are very dangerous. Just getting far enough to wet your knees will put your life at risk. The village is in a large mangrove area so it's overcrowded by mosquitoes; that's the only place in Guatemala where I needed a mosquito net to sleep.

Lake Atitlan is a wonderful location to take pictures but not to learn Spanish. Panajachel is packed with backpackers while the other side of the lake is home of many ex-pats stretching their retirement dollars. Not only will the local businesses address you in English but you will also hear it all the time in the streets where most of the signs also display English.

Flores is a charming little island near Tikal but its small size, lack of activities and the facts it's a major destination makes it a bad place to study Spanish. Again, you'll hear English all the time, and you will cross path with another tourist every 10 steps you make.

Worst place at all for me is Antigua. Because of its proximity with the capital (and its airport) and its charming colonial city reputation Antigua is often a major stop on the itinerary of the tourists. Result, all the city is actually a huge tourist trap gift shop with inflated prices for everything. It's a nice colonial city, for Guatemala, but it lacks good preservation of its heritage. It's hugely overrated as colonial city and I've seen ten times better in Mexico. The city itself is quite small (1 sq km, or about 1/3 of a sq mile) and there are a few interesting attractions around it, but most of them are overpriced for their value.

Classes


One of the classes of the Cobán school.


Since the classes are aimed to serve tourists, they are available on a weekly basis (you can begin any day of the week usually, no need to begin on a Monday). Because of the short duration, you won't have time to go through a formal curriculum. The clientele makes it also difficult to have group classes, so it's usually private tutoring one-on-one with your teacher, which is nice and challenging most of the times. The daily schedule is usually a class of 4 hours (including a 30 minutes break) either morning or afternoon, depending of your preference (I recommend the morning, unless you like to party and need recovery time).

Because of the format and duration, don't expect to master the language in a few weeks, but it's a good way to initiate yourself or refresh your skills.

Guatemala is probably the cheapest place to get classes. You can get 20 hours (5 days at 4 hours/day) for about US$125 to US$150 and most schools offer you an option to stay within a family (with room and board) for about US$50 - US$75 per week. The lodging option is very interesting.

Experience

I studied one week in Monterrico (picture on top of the page), two weeks in Cobán. I also spent at least a week in each of the other locations. In my case it was especially to revise some concepts and force me to practice. I'd say the first mission was accomplished although I would have preferred to go more deeply in certain subjects. The second mission was partly accomplished because both teachers I had were finally doing most of the talking.

Warning

Be careful if you want to volunteer and find it nice that they offer you Spanish classes as incentive. I've seen many cases where you have to pay a lot to volunteer your time and energy. Volunteer opportunities should be free of charge, at most you'd have to pay for your room and board (a maximum of US$75 per week). I've seen many charging about $100 par day!!!! They use the Spanish classes as incentive to close the deal. You know know the prices for the classes, so if you want to study, you don't have to pay with your money in addition to your time and effort. Besides, most schools also offer you volunteer opportunities (FREE of charge) to give you more occasions to practice with an organization within the community.


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