I want to learn Spanish in South America. Any ideas for immersion programs there?
There’s no shortage of language schools in big Latin America cities and popular
tourist destinations, says Eliot Greenspan, a veteran travel writer who has penned guidebooks for Frommer’s on Guatemala, Ecuador and Costa Rica (frommers.com). Most involve immersion programs that combine classroom work with outings to cafés and museums, and many offer the camaraderie and intimacy of small-group learning. (Which, he says, are preferable over one-on-one classes. Also, this way you’re not forced to sing solo, as I was in Italian school, as you chop your way through old popular tunes.)
So it comes down, as so much travel planning does, to where you really want to go.
What destination is on your dream list?
Ideally, you can stay long enough – two weeks? A month? – to let the language settle in. In Ecuador, for instance, consider
Cuenca, Greenspan says. “It’s a beautiful small city, with great architecture, a couple of good museums, several excellent restaurants, and a vibrant college and expatriate scene.” And, he says, “In Cuenca, you can’t go wrong with Simon Bolivar Spanish School [bolivar2.com] or Nexus [nexus.edu.ec].”
If you’re considering Central America, Antigua in Guatemala is “a fabulous city – a living museum, with loads of things to see and do, and dozens, if not more, language schools.” Here, check out Spanish school San Jose el Viejo (sanjoseelviejo.com) or Centro Linguistico Maya (clmaya.com).
And in Costa Rica, where Greenspan has lived for the past two decades, he recommends skipping the capital in favour
of a language school near the beach or in the mountains.
CPI Spanish Immersion Schools (cpi-edu.com) has sites in the urban college town of Heredia, the cloud forest region of Monteverde and in the beach town of Flamingo. “And they make it easy to spend some time at one location and then switch to another.” (As for costs, classes in Guatemala and Ecuador are a bargain compared to Costa Rica, he says.)
What else do you love doing?
Surfing? Horseback riding? Diving? “Many language schools complement class learning with extracurricular activities like dance classes or cooking lessons,” Greenspan says. Find the right match, and it will surely motivate your grammar studies.
Where do you want to sleep?
The majority of schools offer home-stay options. Expect simple accommodations (usually a private room) and meals.
“Staying with a local family really increases the immersion nature of any study program. On the downside, students will have to be willing to adapt to the generally conservative and provincial cultural mores and standards of the local family,” Greenspan warns. “If you’re looking for more independence, more nightlife and more dining choices, you should probably stay at a local hotel.”
Some schools also offer accommodation within the school premises. In Antigua’s San Jose el Viejo, for example, this includes mini-apartments or the tempting “Castle Room,” which is reached by a spiral staircase and features a four-poster bed, terrace and views of the gardens and distant volcano. Sounds like a lovely place to study tenses – and the views.