Guatemala Feature

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Getting the Most from Your Spanish Study

Some 100 language schools in Quetzaltenango, another 80 in Antigua, and many more scattered around the country make Guatemala one of the world's premier destinations for learning Spanish. With so many options to choose from, how do you select a program? We've culled suggestions from students and instructors, both inside and outside Guatemala:

1. Use the Internet, but recognize its limitations. These institutions are businesses, and put their best feet forward in their promotional materials. Don't decide based solely on a flashy Web site.

2. Check online evaluations of programs. We like the Web site www.123teachme.com for student evaluations of about 80 Guatemala Spanish schools.

3. Choose location carefully. Guatemala offers you Spanish study in big city or small town. If you want to be where the action is, then Antigua or Quetzaltenango are for you, but their huge student population is precisely what turns some off. You'll be more isolated in another locale, but survival may be precisely the motivation you need to get out there and learn the language.

4. Don't ignore schools' other offerings. Some schools can teach you to cook, dance, or even basics in a Mayan language. Many organize travel outings with other students. Some are affiliated with volunteer programs.

5. Arrive in Guatemala in advance. If your schedule permits, arrive at your desired destination a couple of days early and visit a few schools. We understand the reassurance of arranging everything in advance, but courses normally start each week, giving you flexibility to make last-minute decisions.

6. Verify what is and is not included in the price. The quoted fee may be for tuition only, or may include books and course materials or room and board with a local family. Some schools also levy an inscription fee to cover costs of processing your registration.

7. Be wary of long-term discounts. Most schools discount tuition if you sign up for a month or two at a time, but if you discover early on that the program isn't for you, refunds are difficult to impossible to obtain. Don't lock yourself into anything long-term unless you are certain you'll stick with it.

8. Consider a homestay. Living with a host family increases your out-of-class practice with the language, and most schools can set you up with one. Ask to meet two or three families to find the right fit.

9. Practicar. Hablar. You study Spanish in Guatemala to immerse yourself in the language. If you spend all your time outside of class at Reilly's bar in Antigua—we like Reilly's, honest, but it's expat central—your progress will be minimal. Get out there and talk to Guatemalans.

10. Be realistic in your expectations. You won't come away from a typical two-week beginner's course reading the original text of Don Quixote. It will be survival Spanish on which you can build.

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