Learning Spanish in high school is TRASH. There, I said it. A big reason of what I wanted to accomplish on my backpacking trip through Central America was to pick up Spanish. The goal was not to become super fluent in it, rather understand more than what high school Spanish 101/102 has taught me. Which was basically nothing. Ok, it taught you how to ask where the bathroom and library is, but outside of that how much did I retain? Zero, cero, zilch, nada.
Learning Spanish in a Spanish speaking country just hits different. This is how I did it when I found myself in Guatemala.
Where To Learn
You can pick any Central or South American country to start your Spanish learning adventure. The classes range from incredibly cheap to extremely affordable. I ended up picking Antigua, Guatemala to start my Spanish language journey. Picking a location you vibe with can be important to the overall experience. You wouldn’t want to spend a week upwards to a month in a location you don’t feel safe in, can’t have fun exploring, or have exposure to local cultures. The latter was important for me as I am an extrovert, stimulation outside of the school was an important factor in choosing where I wanted to learn.
Antigua fit the bill nicely. Known as the old capital it certainly has its charm. Plenty of cobblestone streets to walk down, food ranging from cheap to fancy, street to sit down. A lot of backpackers hawk here soon after they land in Guate City and you can really tell. Not to mention there are three volcanoes nearby, one which is active, sets the background into your foray of Spanish learning beautifully.
What Can You Expect
Antiguena Spanish Academy made it incredibly easy to accommodate me with lessons for the duration of my time in Antigua. A few emails between myself and Julio the senior and before you know it I was situated with a teacher, Eloisa, and a home stay, Marta and family, for the time I was to be learning Spanish.
I chose to stay with a home stay family because I wanted to really immerse myself with the local culture. This would be a great opportunity in helping me practice what I learn during class at home with the family. Not to mention that there would be three home cooked meals a day, minus Sunday, you were really getting a good deal. The meals alone were worth it. Marta, my home stay host, cooked the most amazing dishes that I am still dreaming of today. I really enjoyed my interaction with my host family because their son, Andy, would be a joy every day to be around. You’d be surprised at how much a four year old can teach you.
Between the home stay and a week’s worth of classes it came out to be about Q1,720 or roughly $220 (at the time of this writing.) The schedule usually are 5 days a week with 8AM-12PM/8AM-1PM time slots. There are of course other school’s that are cheaper, but come on $220 for lessons and a place to stay with hot meals it was a bargain! And there is Andy! There are afternoon sessions too in case you aren’t an early bird (12:30PM-530PM.)
From my home stay to school each morning was a lovely seven minute walk to which I enjoyed with the back drop of three volcanoes.
Location, Location, Volcanoes … ?
If you choose ASA don’t expect to be sitting in a boring old classroom with every other student. They don’t do that shenanigan here. Let’s talk about having every student paired with their own tutor on for size! We skipped the old boring classroom to learn in a beautiful courtyard among Guatemala’s lush vegetation in our 1:1 lessons every day. I couldn’t think of a better teaching method or location. Not to mention if you venture to the rooftop during breaks (30 minutes every day) you can view Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes in the distance where eruptions are highly likely.
P.S. don’t worry about packing a snack, if you chose the morning session there will be local ladies selling a variety of snacks to quell that belly of yours.
How Much Spanish Do You Know?
Very little as I responded to Eloisa during our first hour of lessons. My Spanish was corralled to just simple hellos, goodbyes and que? I had lost everything I’ve learned during high school, which wasn’t taught well to begin with I might add, so we had a fresh baseline. She assessed what I did know and quickly surmised an entire lesson plan for the time I would be at ASA (two weeks.) Every teacher will do this and go at a speed you are comfortable at. However, if the match isn’t great you can always speak to Julio and see if you can change out to another maestro(a). The goal is to get you speaking Spanish!
Eloisa wasted no time in getting me into the thick of it. We jumped into all the basics of the language, the deep end came on the very first day. Her methods were simple but incredibly effective. Within the first four hours of lessons I had already remembered two years of high school Spanish. My brain was a sponge soaking up every verb and their conjugations. Was it mush by the end of that day’s lesson? You bet it was. Also, after the first hour she primarily only spoke to me IN SPANISH. English was forgotten unless it looked as if I was truly struggling. And at times I was. Mi caebeza es caput.
The school hosts a few after school activities that you can partake in! I found myself making kites during the Dia de Los Muertos festival. We learned about traditional foods, sweets and what the celebration was truly about. They offer excursions to local farms of various kinds not to mention salsa lessons too!
Hablo Espanol? Un Poquito!
My brain certainly couldn’t handle two weeks of these intense sessions, could it?! Truly felt like getting thrown into the deep end of the pool with no floaties. A baptism of language by fire. That eureka moment came when I started to be able to understand, albeit only better than before, conversations I would hear in passing on the streets. By now my brain has acclimated to the everyone around me. I can understand their tongue! Mas o menos, ha. The lessons worked, but not without having to put in the work on my end. This meant staying up on my studies, learning outside of lessons, practicing vocabularies and speaking in the tongue as often as possible. I would always choose to speak Spanish over English whenever I have the opportunity. It would throw people off, an Asian American diligent in speaking their tongue.
I understand more Spanish than before because of these lessons I took. A small accomplishment in my journey as a person, but by no means an easy one. My plan is to continue studying Spanish during and after my travels, the goal is to become conversational. With a bit of hard work and maybe a sprint back to Antigua in the future this can be a reality.
Don’t be on the fence about pulling the trigger on learning Spanish. The lessons themselves are great, but the experience, especially the people I met through class and my home stay truly made this adventure memorable!