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With hundreds of schools to choose from, I was overwhelmed with how to choose a Spanish school. I knew I wanted an immersion program, forcing me to practice round-the-clock so I was guaranteed to improve my skills but beyond that it was hard to narrow schools down.
After trying six different Spanish schools in Guatemala (and 1 in Mexico), I can finally say that there is definitely a strategy on how to choose a Spanish school that works for you.
Choose the Right Accent
If you’re new to Spanish, you may not realize how many variations there are in dialect, accent, and slang between different regions. Mexican Spanish differs from Puerto Rican Spanish in many ways and Castllian Spanish from Spain is a whole different animal.
If you want to learn how to speak Spanish for a specific need, such as working with people in your community, get as close to the original source as possible. For a more generic approach, choose a Spanish school in Guatemala or Colombia for clear accents and slightly slower speech (which makes it easier to learn).
Find a Location That Fits Your Travel Style
Most Spanish schools require you to spend a minimum of one week in a single city, so you might as well find a location that fits your needs. That means different things to different people, so think hard about what you’re looking for.
- Do you want a city that has lots of tourist attractions to explore during your spare time?
- Do you want somewhere with a great restaurant to try every night?
- Do you want to volunteer for half days?
- Do you need somewhere with excellent wi-fi to work remotely?
- Do you want somewhere without distractions so you just practice your language skills?
Mythbusting on How to Choose a Spanish School!
Before my studies, I was warned that Spanish immersion programs in touristy destinations (like Antigua, Guatemala) aren’t the best option because it’s too easy to fall back to English when you’re struggling.
This comes down to your personal discipline. I loved Antigua and think that’s where my Spanish improved the most! Locals loved to practice Spanish with me because it was a refreshing change from the other travelers who only spoke English. They were encouraging, friendly, and happy to spend time coaching me.
In addition, since many locals were studying English in order to get jobs in tourism/hospitality, they were more than happy to try an intercambio, where I helped them with English in exchange for Spanish practice.
Think About Your Goals
My goal was conversational Spanish, with a focus on speaking and listening. Being able to read and write were secondary skills that I figured would improve a little no matter what, but frankly I didn’t care much about them.
The good news for me is that conversations often include informal Spanish, rather than 100% perfect grammar or complex structure. The bad news is you can’t go back and re-read or re-write a second time, so you have to constantly pay attention.
Most schools can coordinate to your preferences as long as you’re upfront about your intentions in advance.
How to Choose a Spanish School: Private Tutors or Group Learning?
I have zero patience to waste time on lessons that I’ve already mastered or that are irrelevant to me, so I knew it would be worth the splurge to have one-on-one classes with a private teacher. For other people, they know that having other students would help motivate them.
Not all Spanish schools offer both options, so make sure you’re factoring this into your decision.
Look at the Extra Services a School May Provide
I saved a lot of money by choosing programs that were 3-4 hours of formal instruction daily instead of a full day of classes. Many schools supplement with free optional field trips, discussion groups, and social activities where you can practice with other students, teachers, and locals.
Many schools, particularly in Latin America, also offer homestay placements for a more immersive experience without having to seek a family out on your own. In those cases, you know the family home is located near the school and that the family is used to hosting other students.
You may also find value in schools that are willing to arrange transportation or tours for you, although in many spots it can be advantageous to do that independently.
Consider Your Budget
There’s a wide range in costs for attending Spanish school dictated by location, facilities, class size, extra services, and office administration. Quality of instruction, in my experience, is strangely not always correlated to cost of school!
I chose Guatemala as my primary base because lessons are extraordinarily cheap while still being a relatively comfortable place to “live”. That said, I paid about double the rate for a week in Mexico and still found it to be great value for my goals in that particular week.
More Tips for Learning How to Speak Spanish
Don’t commit to more than your first week: Unless you’re going to an uber-popular school or visiting over a holiday, Spanish schools rarely sell out in advance. By all means, get a reservation for your first week of studies, but don’t plan too much after that. Trying it out for a day or two will shed a lot of light on what you like or don’t like about your teacher, homestay, and the city you’re in. Then you can reach out more specifically to lock in your second week.
Does it sound scary to not plan all your school/travel in advance? It did for me! Here’s the best of both worlds: try out two days of classes at your first school. That’s long enough to get a feel for what you like and likely 5 days before you need to pack up and move. That’s plenty of time to email your next school(s) to commit for week 2.
Don’t burn out: If you plan on studying for an extended time, switch things up after two weeks so your brain doesn’t fry. Either switch destinations (for a change of scenery, chance to meet new people, and new teaching style) or better yet, take a week to travel and practice independently before resuming classes.
>>>>> Read more: My Complete Guide to Guatemala to Plan Your Trip
Opt for the homestay: Living with a local family means you have lots of chances to practice with your housemates throughout the day. As a bonus, their homes are usually in local neighborhoods (rather than the tourist center), so you’ll be bumping into neighbors and running errands at the corner store instead of an English-speaking souvenir shop.
Go all-in: You will make mistakes and embarrass yourself at some point during your studies. The quicker you come to terms with that and laugh off your mistakes, the bolder you’ll get with your practice, which will help you learn faster!
>>>>> Read more: Why I Wish I Learned to Dance Before Attending Spanish School
Don’t be Afraid to Be Specific: If you have a recommendation for a specific teacher, specific host family, or specific goal or learning style — ASK for what you want! And if something doesn’t work out for you, ask the school if you can switch teachers or schedules until you are set up for success.
Study Spanish in Guatemala
I attended two Spanish schools in Antigua: Spanish School Sevilla and Ixchel Spanish School. My instructors at both were great, though I found Sevilla to be a little more flexible in customizing my coursework. I’d go back to Sevilla for that reason alone, but I also enjoyed the social atmosphere they foster. Most students wanted to hang out after class to practice Spanish at restaurants, tours, etc.
I tried one Spanish school in Xela for a single day before deciding it was WAY too formal and structured for my learning style, so I switched to Utatlan and couldn’t be happier. My 4-hour classes usually included ~45 minutes of “fun” activities, like Spanish Scrabble or conversation groups to keep me excited about learning. Plus their extracurricular activities were a great mix of local sights and short side-trips.
The first place I went to study Spanish in Guatemala was at San Pedro Spanish School, on the shores of Lake Atitlan. It’s an excellent school, but I didn’t like Lake Atitlan so I left after my Friday morning class (even though my homestay ran through Sunday). Thankfully it was cheap enough that I could afford to do so!
For reference, I also spent a week living and studying with a private tutor (not affiliated with a school) and had mixed feelings on that experience. It was an intense Spanish immersion program in Guatemala City. When you live with your instructor, you have no opportunity for a mental rest. That’s efficient but challenging.
The Bottom Line on How to Choose a Spanish School
No matter which school you choose, picking a Spanish immersion program is the best way to hone in on your language skills and it’s easy to switch to a different school after a week if you decide you want something different.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to study Spanish in Guatemala and recommend it to anyone with the time and interest!
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For the rest of your trip, check out my Guatemala travel guide.