Why take classes while traveling?
No one wants to waste precious travel time sitting around for hours a day in class, but this really was not a waste of our time. I got a great refresher (I took five years of Spanish in middle/high school) and Logan learned enough to travel around Central America with much more confidence.
Outside of super touristy areas people in Central America DO NOT speak English. If you are taking local transport or plan to shop at local markets I think it is essential that you learn at least some Spanish.
How does it work?
Most schools offer a certain amount of hours per week and within that you can chose how to split up your lessons. We chose to do 20 hours during the week and we split that up over all five weekdays, meaning our lessons were four hours per day. Some people do five hours in a day and do it in four days and some spend even longer per day in class (and pay a bit more for the extra instruction).
I REALLY recommend spending no more that five hours a day in class. Four was really even too much for me personally.
Along with picking how long you want to spend in class per day, you can often choose what time of day your lessons will take place. We chose afternoon classes (from 1pm-5pm). You are paired up with a teacher and receive one-on-one, individualized instruction based on where you are with the language.
Will I be sitting inside all day?
Not necessarily. I don’t know if all schools do this, but Antiguena Acadamia usually holds its classes outside in a garden (weather permitting obviously). The school sometimes offers trips with other students to nearby towns to practice. My instructor offered to take me to the market so I could practice with vendors. I didn’t do it, but I really should have.
What did we learn?
Logan spent the majority of his week learning vocabulary and present tense verbs. He learned simple sentences, largely focusing on asking and answering questions, time descriptions and using “ser” and “estar”. He is naturally gifted at picking up languages and in five days he was able to learn enough for him to feel confident asking questions and understanding the answers while on the road.
I spent my week reviewing things I already knew, which was extremely helpful at first but ended up going a bit too slowly for my liking. We reviewed present tense, irregulars, and vocabulary my first three days, then I skipped one day because I was so sick. On my final day we reviewed the past and future tenses in one intense session.
How do you learn so much in such a short amount of time?
Logan’s lessons were not strictly Spanish-only since he was starting from scratch, but once my teacher figured out that I knew basic Spanish conversation, my classes were ONLY in Spanish. If I had a question, I had to try to ask it in Spanish. If I didn’t understand something, I had to try to clarify in Spanish. It was hard, but very effective.
It is worth the cost?
For most people I would say absolutely. For around $200 (depending on what school you pick) you get 20 hours of ONE-ON-ONE teaching per week, plus room and board. And you learn A TON.
Logan knew absolutely NO Spanish before we got to Antigua and he left only a week later being able to carry on a basic (admittedly very basic) conversation. I think he probably learned more in a week of intensive classes then I did in a year of high school Spanish. I did not progress nearly as quickly, but this was mostly because I was SUPER sick and I didn’t do a good job expressing where I was when I started lessons, meaning I spent more time than was necessary reviewing (especially the present tense).
I only say “for most people” because just like anything else you are trying to learn, if you are not willing to put in the time you won’t get as much out of it.
Tips on getting the most out of the experience:
This may seem obvious, but it is really easy to finish your lessons and then chicken out when trying to talk to people, giving your husband who knows far less Spanish than you an opportunity to practice. That’s great for his skills but not so great for yours. Not that that happened or anything.
Do Your Homework
I mean this literally. They give you homework to reinforce what you learned that day. You are paying good money to learn from your instructor, so suck it up and put in the work.
Let Them Know Where You Are
I did not do a good job of making it clear what I wanted to learn. I really was there to brush up on what I already knew, but I did not need to spend three days re-learning present tense. My time would have been much better spent working on past tense and future tense, which I only kind of learned during my senioritis-riddled final year of high school.
Stay for Longer
I wish we had felt like we had more time to spend working on our Spanish. Maybe someday we will go back with the specific goal of conversational fluency.
Choose to Homestay
Most of the language schools in Antigua work with a network of homestay families, giving students the opportunity to live with a Guatemalan family for the duration of their lessons. Living with a local family means that you are “forced” in the best possible way to practice what you are learning (or re-learning) during your lessons.
I HIGHLY recommend doing a homestay. The school we did our classes through charges $85 per week ($110 is you want a private bathroom), which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, PLUS free conversation with locals who willingly let you into their home. That works out to just $14 per day for accommodation AND food AND a new Guatemalan branch on your family tree.
I obviously can’t speak to the comfort of all homestays, but we had a wonderful experience with our family. The house was large (and full of people to talk to), our room was very comfortable and the food was delicious.
Dollars and Sense
20 hours of one-on-one instruction per person- ~$200 (including room and board), ~$125 (no room and board)
*We paid Q2,720 ($375) for one week of lessons, including a homestay for both of us.
TIP: Bring a notebook.
TIP: You don’t HAVE to eat all meals with your homestay family. You can venture out to experience the delicious food elsewhere in Antigua. BUT, in my opinion it is far more adventurous to just trust your homestay mother (or father or grandmother or sister) to feed whatever their family is eating. This is a cooking culture so food is likely to be as fresh and better prepared than what you would get in a restaurant anyway. Plus you already paid for it…
TIP: If you are traveling as a couple, a family or in a group, see if you can get a discount on the homestay. More people means more mouths, so the discount won’t be huge, but we saved a bit by sharing a bed.