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Did you know that Spanish is the native language of 400 million people on four different continents? You’re very likely to come across someone who speaks the language, especially whilst traveling. After having to use mostly hand gestures and solely relying on google translate throughout Mexico, it was evident that I needed a basic understanding. I completely underestimated how many people don’t speak English in Latin America and found myself in some awkward situations. However, I was told by fellow backpackers that Guatemala is a hotspot for Spanish immersion programs and the best place to learn Spanish.
Why is Guatemala the best place to learn Spanish?
- Guatemala is one of the cheapest places to learn Spanish.
- They speak the language at a much slower and clearer style than a lot of other Latin Countries.
- They have a range of schools across the country. Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Xela are amongst the most popular
- They have interesting Mayan culture along with plenty of activities to keep you busy.
Choosing a Spanish School & Homestay
Things to consider when choosing a school;
- School Facilities
- Teaching style/enviroment
- Class Sizes
- Student Demographic
- Extra-Curricular Activities
Why choose a homestay?
- It’s the fastest way to learn a language.
- Although you may feel like your throwing yourself in the deep end, you will feel more confident speaking the language int he long run
- You get to learn about the family’s culture and lifestyle.
- You can put into practice what you learned that day.
- You’ll have an authentically unique experience
- You’ll feel like a local.
My first dilemma was to decide where in Guatemala I was going to study Spanish. I was debating between San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, or Antigua. However, there were too many distractions for me in Antigua and I knew I would be suited to a smaller place where it was easier to get to know people. Although I had been doing some research into the Spanish Immersion Schools in San Pedro, I decided that I wanted to check them out myself. As I walked along the main street I happened to see a sign for a The Community Spanish School right on the Lakefront. A friendly gentleman invited me in to look around and find out more information. But as soon as I explored the grounds I was completely sold! I decided I wanted to stay with a host family and take afternoon classes for the upcoming week.
Why Community Spanish School is the best place to learn Spanish on San Pedro?
- The school is in an idyllic spot right on the lakefront and had all outside style learning facilities.
- The staff and teachers are super friendly, patient yet professional
- Extracurricular social activities and optional weekend outings
- They have different learning options available
- Community Spanish School donates, helps and supports local community projects
- Their homestay options give you a very authentic experience
After paying a deposit, I was told to be here on Monday to meet my host family. I could then get settled in my new home before commencing my first lessons in the afternoon. I was paired with the Gonzalez family. There was the mum Maria, Dad was called Ventura and they had a son Juan age 3 and daughter who lived on a neighboring island of
Before getting to my new home, my expectations were very low. Getting off the boat I had seen locals washing in the Lake and the more we walked up to the hill to where the locals lived, the more shacks there seemed to be around us. Was there going to be a functional toilet? Would they have their own shower? I had built an image in my head that I was going to be living in a shack during my time with my host family.
It was such a great surprise when I got to the house. A beautiful colorful building with picturesque views of the Lake from the top floor. It even had a ‘functional’ toilet and shower and better yet Wi-Fi! The bedroom was basic but had everything, including a desk and chair to study and do homework. I was also living with two other students, one from France and the other from Japan.
Things to keep in mind;
- Most students will be given a key to their accommodation so be sure to lock up when you leave.
- It is your responsibility to keep your room clean and make your bed each day.
For me, food was a big concern as I am a very fussy eater. Included in the homestay was three meals per day. As I had my lessons in the afternoon, Breakfast would be at 8 o’clock. Lunch was at 12:15 and Dinner at 19:15, a rarity for me to have everyone around the table for family meals. Maria was very accommodating when it came to meal times. Throughout the week, there was a variety of traditional vs non-traditional meals. However, I can pretty much guarantee that you will have tortillas accompanied with every meal (a Guatemalan tradition).
It was at the dinner table, where we were encouraged to engage and communicate with our host families about our day. I’m pleased to say that it got much easier throughout the week. I was fortunate enough that Ventura would go over some of the basics of Spanish words. Days of the week/months, kitchen appliances, body parts, and even came up with a game. This involved the whole family and other students and really showed his passion for teaching and ensuring we got the most from our homestay.
Things to keep in mind;
- It is up to you to inform your host family of any allergies or dietary requirements.
- You are responsible for your own meals on Sundays as this is the host family day of rest.
There were various options available but I chose one on one instruction for 4 hours a day for two weeks. A local to the island, I was paired with Manuela. She was such a sweet woman who showed so much patience and understanding. Our conversations went far beyond the curriculum as I learned about her family, hobbies, and chatted about the traditions of both our home countries. On day one, Manuela discussed my goals and what I wanted to achieve by the end of the week. As I already had an understanding of the basics, my goal was to learn enough to get by while traveling Central America and to be able to make small talk with my homestay family. This ranged from many topics and we focused more on putting sentences together but also covered grammar and pronunciation.
Due to me being there only for two weeks, it was pretty intense and we even had homework assignments every night! It was like being back in school! There were also after school activities from 5-7 pm in Spanish which was a great way to meet other students. These ranged from salsa dance classes, chocolate making classes to traditional Guatemalan cooking classes. It was a great way to enhance my knowledge of Guatemalan culture and traditions.
Things to keep in mind;
- It helps if you can determine beforehand what type of learning style is the most effective for you.
- You will make mistakes but that’s the whole point, it will help identify where you might need to go over things again or try a different method.
Did I achieve my goal?
On my last day with my host family, they kindly took me and the other students to a local football match which was a great experience in itself. Football to the locals of San Pedro was like a religion, being raised in such a football fanatic household (which is the same for my family). It was very touching to see the whole community come together to watch and cheer their local team, singing and chanting. Overall my homestay was a very humble and culturally immersive experience. There is no better way to learn a language than to be living with those who speak the language daily.
In terms of learning Spanish, I can confidently say that I know enough to get by when traveling. It made such a big difference to the rest of my trip when asking for directions, buying tickets, ordering food, and general small talk with locals. To become fluent, you need around three months of studying and doing a homestay. I wish I had the time to do this. It makes you look at your own life from a whole different perspective and makes you re-evaluate what’s important.
Tips to pass onto others;
- Be sure to do plenty of research prior
- Visit the school and meet the teachers first before making a commitment
- If your not happy with your teacher, don’t be afraid to ask for someone else.
- It takes discipline to learn Spanish
- Remember your WHY
- Bring a gift for your host family
While traveling, I continued to learn Spanish by using apps and podcasts. Check out my list of the best Spanish resources HERE. I have certainly come a long way since the beginning of my travels and feel truly blessed to have had such a wonderful experience. Overall, I would highly recommend this to any traveler wanting more of an authentic experience. That being said, I truly believe that Guatemala is the best place to learn Spanish.
Have you ever done a homestay? Tell us about your experience!