What it’s like to learn Spanish in Guatemala
Our Spanish School day began at 8am and finished at noon, Monday to Friday. I was allocated the same teacher for the week, who gave me 1:1 instruction in a little hut in a well-tended garden, where hummingbirds visited and squirrels played in the trees.
This intense learning was broken up by an official morning tea break around 10:30am, where tea and coffee and a snack was provided, which was often a traditional Mayan food. To me the break was a welcome relief after 2 ½ hours of concentration, and an opportunity to socialise on the terrace with the other pupils and teachers. The 15 minutes always went by very fast!
In my case, having already spent a considerable amount of time trying to learn Spanish on my own in Australia, we started with the basics but moved through content quite quickly. My teacher was adept at discovering where the gaps in my knowledge were and it was a process that clarified and revealed many answers to aspects of the language that had previously confused me. I spent hours talking to my teacher – in Spanish of course! She would ask me questions to initiate a conversation and interrupt gently (and often) to correct my errors. Sometimes I did written exercises or tests and we also spent a lot of time learning grammatical and other rules, especially for verb conjugations. I took many notes for later revision, including all rules studied and all new words. At the end of each day’s class she would give me homework to bring back the next day – usually ten long sentences using the verb conjugations we had studied that day.
The benefits of Spanish School for us
The benefits went well beyond improving our understanding of and ability to speak Spanish – although that also improved! Firstly, I think it gave us all more confidence to have a go at speaking Spanish to native speakers – something that seems to be a big hurdle for many people. I am now confident that I can make myself understood – so long as the other person is patient!
Attending Spanish School was a great opportunity to meet other people and start to feel part of a community again. After being an isolated family unit for so long we really enjoyed spending time in a small town where we bumped into people we knew virtually every time we left home. Our Spanish School offered daily extra-curricular activities, which we usually participated in, either free or at a very low price.
We also learnt the basic steps for salsa dancing. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there are no photos!
I think we all enjoyed the challenge of studying Spanish and the opportunity to exercise and focus our brains. Spanish classes for the kids involved lots of fun art and craft activities – the kind of activity they haven’t had much of since leaving Australia.
What the kids thought about Spanish School
In short, both kids loved it and are keen to return for more classes – once Mum and Dad have saved the necessary cash to return to Central America!
How we chose our Spanish School
Guatemala is well known as a great place to learn Spanish, partly because Guatemalans speak Spanish slowly and clearly and partly because there are many different schools and it’s very affordable. One week’s tuition at our school, the Cooperativa Spanish School, cost us a total of AU$585 for 4 people, with 3 teachers. It would have been cheaper if James and I had shared a teacher.
We could have attended a school in Antigua, but we wanted to spend more time at Lake Atitlan. I actually chose our Airbnb accommodation before selecting the school, which narrowed the options to San Pedro La Laguna – although there were still a lot of schools to choose from! In the end cost was a factor, but so was the cooperative structure of our school – where more of the profits go back to the community – and the great reviews our school receives.
What we would do differently next time
We loved our Airbnb ‘Hummingbird Heaven’ and our delightful host Nancy, but next time I would study for longer (4 weeks would be great) and include a home stay for at least part of the time. If you want to, the school will organise a very affordable homestay with a local family, that includes meals. The advantage of a homestay is a deeper immersion in the language, with plenty more opportunities to practise your Spanish!