Kevin and I just completed 3 weeks of Spanish School. We´re here to tell you about it however during these weeks there was no need to exercise our brains with Suduko, Scrabble or crossword puzzles as our brains were already on overtime.
In general, we have been told that Guatemala is an excellent place to study Spanish, I’m not sure why but if it’s a cost based opinion, there’s no question about it. Based on American dollars, it is dirt cheap to study Spanish in Guatemala. In the larger cities or tourist areas, Spanish schools are abundant and they are significant contributor to the national economy. A by-product is the thousands of volunteer hours provided by persons who are enrolled in school. Students, volunteers, retirees (like us) or others interested in advancing their Spanish allocution use Guatemalan schools to do so. Most schools include a homestay, which means you live with and have meals with a family and thus learn even more about the culture in general and how a specific family lives. This also forces the student to practice Spanish as most families cannot hold a conversation in English.
Week one: Antigua
Academia Colonial is in a beautiful old convent (there are so many of these beautiful old religious buildings which are being used for office or retail space). For our 4 hour per day 1:1 class, we sat at small tables on the patio. Since this was the first Spanish for either of us, we started right at the beginning with verbs and a small vocabulary. Both of our teachers spoke some English, and honestly I can’t imagine a first week class without a maestro who speaks English. In a nutshell, the week was tough – I had no idea that it would be so difficult.
Our homestay was with a woman and her 3 teenage children. It was really a boarding house with about 15 students. We ate in 2 shifts. At meals we were required to speak Spanish, which meant we understood and said almost nothing. Whew, I’m glad that week is over.
Cost: For 2 persons and four hours of lessons per day, 7 nights and 3 delicious, almost gourmet meals per day and a huge serving of humble pie we paid $460.
Week two: San Pedro, Lake Atitlan
For our second week Kevin and I chose beautiful San Pedro which is on Lake Atitlan. Some say this mountain lake, which is surrounded by volcanos, is the most beautiful lake in the world. San Pedro is one of a handful of indigenous communities around the lake. This town is also heavily populated by people from the US and Europe, but that doesn’t stop the natives from retaining their way of life. It’s rather heartwarming to see natives and foreigners so well-integrated.
We ignored the warnings of those who said learning Spanish is more difficult “around the lake” because Spanish is the second language for many of the teachers. OK , so we didn’t heed the advice. My teacher’s primary language is T’zutujil, which is a Mayan language, and which made it more difficult to understand her Spanish – or maybe that’s just an excuse. Nevertheless we both learned a lot at San Pedro Spanish School and we thoroughly enjoyed the setting; our 1:1 classes were held outside in small cabanas with a lake view. What a spectacular setting.
Our homestay was immediately across from the school, with a woman and her 13 year old daughter. We ate huge amounts of well prepared authentic food – fruit, vegetables, chicken, beans and of course, fresh tortillas. T’zutujil was also this family’s primary language, Spanish second and nada English.$
Cost: for the same services as in Antigua, $300.
Week three: Quetzaltenango or Xela for short.
You know when you’ve walked uphill in this city in the western highlands as the elevation is 6600 ft. It’s the second largest city in Guatemala and has a language school on nearly every corner. We attended ICA for 5 hours a day and again it was very difficult though lots of fun. My maestro spoke very clearly and I still couldn’t understand him (not really surprising as I now have a vocabulary of about 500 words)but he was great at showing me the word and translation in a dictionary.
Our homestay was with 3 ladies in their 50′s or 60′s and again we had great food and accommodations and no conversations in English.
Q. What did we learn?
A. It seems that we learned a lot and yet it seems like nothing – if being fluent was the goal. We can both struggle to create a sentence probably with words out-of-order and which isn’t usually understood by the intended on the first try. Understanding someone who is fluent is out of the question but I can pick out a few words. Oh, so far to go. On the other hand, reading billboards and signs goes pretty well. In addition, I have a notebook which I am quite proud of.
Equal to the language accomplishment, big or small, was the knowledge of and appreciation for Guatemalan history, culture and current events. This is a stated goal of most of the schools and is a great privilege to learn about another culture in such an intimate way.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, and maybe I will.