Help choosing Spanish course - Mexico / Guatemala?

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Jan 4th, 2013, 09:27 AM
  #1
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Help choosing Spanish course - Mexico / Guatemala?

Hello,

I want to got to Mexico / Central America to do a Spanish course, leaving at the end of January 2013. I don't have much time to plan it, and can't decide: a) whether to got to Mexico or Guatemala, or: b) Where in Mexico or Guatemala I should go. I have 3 or 4 months so am free to travel around a bit as well. And advice, especially from anyone who has done one / both of them would e greatly appreciated. Ideally I want full Spanish immersion and intensive learning but want to have some fun at the same time. So far I have looked into studying in Puebla (Spanish Institute of Puebla and LIVIT immersion program) and Merida (Spanish Institute of Merida and HABLA) in Mexico, and Antigua and San Pedro in Guatemala. My worry with Guatemala is that it is too touristy so I won't learn that much, and my worry with Mexico (esp. Puebla) is that it won't be that fun at this time of year!

Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Emma
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Jan 4th, 2013, 12:32 PM
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How lucky to be able to take 3-4 months off to spend in Central America! First, whichever school you pick I suggest only signing up for a week at a time. You may find once you are there that the school,location, teachers, etc are not to your liking, so I wouldn't commit myself to more than a week at a time at the outset.

Secondly, Antigua is a very popular place for learning Spanish, and gets thousands of students every year. Personally, I think you can still learn a lot there, but it's a matter of personal opinion as to whether it's too touristy or not. It will have more English speakers than other places in Guatemala, so it may not be the immersion experience you are seeking. It's also a popular tourist town whether you are learning Spanish or not, and is a bit more expensive than other places in Guatemala. I'm not as enamored of Antigua as some people, but I think it's a good jumping off point to get acclimated to Guatemala.

If I had 3 months to spend in Guatemala, I would probably study in Antigua for a couple of weeks, then move on to Quetzaltenango (Xela), and then somewhere on Lake Atitlan. San Pedro is a good choice, although I like Panajachel better. Just a matter of personal preference. Actually, with 3-4 months you could take classes in both Mexico and Guatemala. Travel in Cental America is fairly cheap, and it would be awesome to experience both countries.

This is a good site for narrowing down your choices in Guatemala: http://www.guatemala365.com/

Here's a school in Xela that I am considering. Haven't been there, so can't personally recommend it:
http://www.casaxelaju.com/cex/

A few schools in Antigua I looked at:
http://www.donpedrospanishschool.com/
http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com/
http://www.ixchelschool.com/

Good luck to you!
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Jan 4th, 2013, 12:35 PM
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This question is right up my alley because I study Spanish in immersion programs every summer and often have groups in tow. I'd definitely pick Guatemala and agree with walkabout that Antigua can be a good landing spot but I wouldn't commit to much time there. That's true of any setting - why commit to months if you don't know how good the fit is? Because I get asked for recommendations a lot, I've put my opinions and experiences together in the bit below. Hope you find just what you're looking for!
________________________

You can search for schools by country or city using
http://www.123teachme.com
but take the ratings with a grain of salt. Specific to Guatemala, try
http://www.guatemala365.com
but keep in mind that they haven't added schools for many years so some terrific ones (like the Cooperativa, below) aren't listed.

For bang for your buck, Guatemala leads the list of Spanish schools in CA, followed closely by Honduras. In both countries 1-on-1 instruction is the norm; in other CA countries and México it's hard to find and you pay dearly for it - sometimes 3 or 4 times what you'd pay for the same offerings in Guatemala. I HUGELY prefer 1-on1 instruction because I want my own strengths and needs, learning style, and desire for a break or a change of pace to drive the curriculum and instruction. Even in a small group - 2 to 4 people, that's unlikely to be the case as we're no 2 alike in this challenging language learning process.

In Guatemala Antigua, Xela, and the villages around Lake Atltlán are all popular choices. Antigua has the least effective immersion environment because there are dozens of schools and thousands of tourists at any given time so the infrastructure is largely English speaking. I'm not over fond of Xela; it's chilly at that higher altitude and it's a big (not so attractive imo) city and I'm just not a city person. The surrounding area is interesting, though, and here is a link to information about that area: http://xelapages.com/ . The lake is where I prefer to head.

In Honduras, I think Copán makes an excellent base for study - cute town, lots to do including museums, the ruins, a bird park, a butterfly place, hot springs, caving, and hiking. Although it gets a lot of visitors because of the ruins, they seem to be mainly day trippers or stick to their hotels and surprisingly few locals speak English (a good thing for Spanish acquisition). La Ceiba is a city and HOT so I haven't headed back there; the immersion factor is decent (though it's better in small towns imo because the locals get a kick out of helping you practice) and there are great outdoor activities in the area. The islands (and in general popular beachy places in all countries) make poor immersion environments but have their own appeal.

In any school, ask for what you want; if you're not pleased with your teacher or host family, fix it instead of going on week after week in a situation that doesn't fit your needs. I wouldn't commit to more than a week or 2 until you know the school and town is a good fit for you. Teachers in quality schools are so good at assessing your level and learning style that moving doesn't "cost" as much as you might think. If it feels right - don't move.

If you're interested in university credit for Spanish immersion study or volunteer and cultural learning projects, check out
www.liveandlearninlatinamerica.blogspot.com

Here's a link to my photo collections with blog and travelogue links on the main pages; I'll refer you to collections below.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections

The following are schools I’ve attended and can recommend personally.

Academia Antigüeña is a good school in Antigua, Guatemala - strong teachers, cool activities, interactive host families, though I had 3 add'l students in mine which was common. Prioritizing homestays is really important in Antigua where many schools offer stays that are more like boarding houses than family stays. Several people have complained about staying with Olga, the secretary of the school, so I'd avoid that. Familia de Cesar Sactic is wonderful. Antigua isn't a good immersion environment but it's a good place to start if you haven't traveled in CA much. Guatemala 2009 collection http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com

Cooperativa is my home away from home - I really love that place. Gorgeous garden setting overlooking Lake Atitlán in Guatemala - young, talented teachers, culturally important activities, interactive families (though a bit more humble lodgings than in the others), and heavy community investment. I have life-long friends there who have helped me start a non profit: http://www.becaproject.org
2007 and 2009 collections for study, 2010 and 2011 for more local photos - I'll be at least visiting there every year and usually studying for a few weeks. http://www.cooperativeschoolsanpedro.edu.gt

Ixbalanque in Copán Ruinas, Honduras is another great school you could consider - beautiful new school building, cute town, great staff and families. I've enjoyed their weekly activities, too, and there's lots to do in the area. 2005 and 2008 collections http://www.ixbalanque.com

Central American Spanish School with bases in La Ceiba and on Utila and Roatán is a good school; in La Ceiba my teacher and host family were really amazing. La Ceiba is HOT and I'm not much of a city person, though. The islands are poor immersion environments as English is widely spoken; lots to do though (I'm a diver). 2006 collection http://www.ca-spanish.com

Instituto Jovel in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico - beautiful school, well run, good staff and families. I enjoyed San Cristobal and surrounds but it's MUCH more expensive. 2010 collection http://www.institutojovel.com

If you contact any of them, please tell them hi from Stacey.

Let me know if I can answer more questions!
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Jan 4th, 2013, 07:35 PM
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Another vote for Ixbalanque in Copan. The 1 on 1 instruction is intense but effective. I studied in the morning when it was cooler ( Feb) and went on excursions in the afternoons. I tried a combination of homestay and quaint hotel lodging at Posada del Belssey.
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Jan 4th, 2013, 08:58 PM
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rivet - Glad you had a good experience at Ixbalanque - I've got to get back there someday. La Posada de Belssy is a great budget place, good location. I'm a huge fan of 1-on-1 instruction which is one of the main reasons I keep heading back to Guatemala where - like Honduras - it's the usual way schools set things up. In other CA countries and Mexico classes are the norm. Happy New Year!
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Jan 4th, 2013, 10:07 PM
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I didn't take a Spanish course in Honduras, but I also stayed at La Posada de Belssy. For $16/night I thought it was a good bargain. Also highly recommend the Picame Restaurant just down the hill from the hotel.
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Jan 5th, 2013, 04:11 AM
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While I live in Esteli Nicaragua, I have been in Panajachel Guatemala for the last month. I agree with those expressing concern with the Pana/Atitlan and Antigua areas as being too touristy. While my Spanish is decent and I try to speak it whenever possible, I am regularly spoken to in English by even 10 year old street vendors.

My feeling is Xela (been there) or a place in Nicaragua are better options if immersion is your goal. Or a smaller village on Lake Atitlan. That said, for amazing beauty, and perfect weather, Lake Atitlan can't be beat.
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Jan 5th, 2013, 07:21 AM
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My go-to school now is in San Pedro La Laguna. There's a very gringo/touristy strip down by the lake but English is rarely spoken in the upper, more traditional part of town. It's not hard to stayi away from the gringo places, especially if you're living with a local family. I find it much harder to avoid English in Antigua (where I've studied Spanish) and Pana (where I haven't).
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May 30th, 2014, 07:31 AM
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I'll put in my vote for Xela because, frankly, no one speaks English, and as Guatemala's second city Xela has all of the amenities you could ask for..its a great place to improve your Spanish.

I spent about 3 months this spring at Casa Xelaju (http://www.casaxelaju.com/), and I would recommend this school to anyone. There are lots of schools to choose from in Xela and they all cater to different segments of the Spanish student/backpacker market. Casa Xelaju is well organized, with university trained instructors (my teacher had a Masters degree), and structured curriculum.

Hope this helps!

Eric
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Jul 10th, 2014, 06:31 AM
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I have lived in Guatemala for a year, studying Spanish and doing the research for my masters thesis. I also have a background in teaching English as a second language at a very good Canadian University. La Escuela Juan Sisay in Quetzaltenango (Xela) is a wonderful school to learn Spanish. The teachers are all university educated, are extremely professional, well-prepared and incredibly warm and friendly. The school administrators will do anything they can to ensure that you have the best possible learning experience. They are also engaged in the socio-economic issues of the country, and students have an opportunity to participate in local community development projects if they desire. There are daily optional excursions and weekly evening activities that are usually filled with fun, music and laughter. Since there are fewer foreigners in Xela than in other popular destinations, students have a more intensive immersion experience and tend to develop a deeper understanding of the country and culture. I highly recommend La Escuela Juan Sisay.
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Jul 10th, 2014, 06:41 AM
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Email address for La Escuela Juan Sisay is www.juansisayspanishschool.org (see above post).
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Feb 5th, 2015, 07:49 AM
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Central American Language School.

Located in Roatan Honduras. STAY CLEAR

The website looks inviting. However, it is at least 6 years out of date! Apparently they were thrown of the island for not paying their bills so don't expect any groups classes, the school has closed down. I have had some private one to one lessons with this company but never managed to get a fixed price. They charged me for weekend lessons despite saying I didn't want classes at weekends. So far I have had three different prices for the course and the office in La Ceiba has very little interest in sorting out these issues. I have been to language schools in Lima, and various parts of Colombia as well. This is by far the worst set up I have experienced which is a shame because the island is beautiful and if they sorted out their business model it could be great. Personally, I would not recommend the school and as I mentioned the website is completely inaccurate. The site quotes classes at $10 an hour ($200 dollars) for 20 hours but actually the rate is 400 or maybe $550 since the company won't confirm the actual price. There is no free pick up from the airport as the site claims and the free textbook is actually a poorly photocopied workbook. As for the pictures of group activities - there are none probably because there isn't actually no school!
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Feb 6th, 2015, 07:20 AM
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In Guatemala the best place to study Spanish is Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela. In comparison with other places such as Antigua and San Pedro, there are less tourists. For this reason the locals speak less English. Xela is also a ¨popular¨ destination for travelers who want to work as a volunteer.

It is the second city of Guatemala and it has many Spanish schools where you can take one-on-one classes. The school I recommend is Sol Latino Spanish School. The school is run by a Guatemalan family who do their best to make your staying a memorable experience.

The staff is organized and professional, they handle their e-mail fast and answered all my questions correctly. Five days a week they have an activity for the students. For example I did a hike to Lago Chicabal, visited the hotsprings Fuentes Georginas and had Salsa classes.

The teachers of the school all folowed special education to teach Spanish and have at least 8 years of experience. You first have to make an exam to determine your level and then the teachers make a study plan. I had 3 different teachers and they were all great!
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Feb 6th, 2015, 09:46 AM
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Rachel - It doesn't seem right to name 1 location as 'best' because what is best varies from person to person. Some of us like the climate better elsewhere, have other preferred schools, or prefer small towns to big cities. I respect that Xela was your best fit but it isn't for me.
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Feb 8th, 2015, 02:18 PM
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Hopefulist - I think everyone is allowed to give his or her opinion, so do you about the locations and Spanish schools you like.

I agree with Rachel that Xela is a good base to study Spanish. It's the second city of Guatemala but for me it felt like a small town, especially the charming "Centro Historico" where most Spanish schools are located. In Xela you find many restaurants, bars and markets. The surrounding area of Xela gives you the opportunity to visit some interesting villages and do some adventurous hikes.
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Feb 8th, 2015, 05:13 PM
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I don't find any exception at all with folks preferring to study in Xela or in giving their opinions. I don't care for people stating their opinions as fact; it feels like attempts at brainwashing instead of the sharing of opinions. Using words like good and fun and great, work. Words like best and only, not so much - makes the post lose credibility.

Your post is a perfect case in point, TravelForlive - "Xela is a good base to study Spanish" is far more palatable than "the best place to study Spanish is...Xela". Just my 2 quetzales' worth, mostly given because I think it will help Rachel's posts have more credibility in the future.
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Feb 8th, 2015, 05:23 PM
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I have not studied Spanish in Mexico, so I can't comment on that aspect, however I did have a great experience travelling and studying Spanish in Guatemala.

Antigua, though quite touristy as mentioned in other posts has alot to offer. I took lessons from a local teacher who not only took me around Antigua to see the sights, but took me to various locations, excursions, cultural activities that I would have never gone on otherwise. It was really a unique and memorable cultural experience to take this type of lessons. Marcos from www.marcosspanishlessons.com was who I took my lessons from, and was able to achieve an intermediate level of Spanish.

These types of lessons are flexible as well, so it is possible to take side trips to other spots in Guatemala while using Antigua as your hub.
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Mar 16th, 2015, 01:35 PM
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I spent 2 weeks at Celas Maya language school in Xela in August of 2014. It was a wonderful school with excellent teachers. They have a central location with several different rooms, and a courtyard, a kitchen, a DVD viewing room. It was a very nice atmosphere and the other students were very friendly. There were optional activities every afternoon.

Many of the students there had spent time in Antigua and at other schools and they all loved Celas Maya. I had a great homestay experience too. I would highly recommend the school.
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Mar 27th, 2015, 09:14 AM
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Selecting the right Spanish school can be a big challenge. There are dozens of schools in Antigua. Think about how you learn; you must choose a school that best suits your learning style. Not everyone studies in the same way. For example, my wife and I study in two different schools because we do not have the same learning styles and because we have different ways of achieving our academic goals. No school is right for everyone.
Different schools have different educational philosophies. Some schools are highly structured with formal lessons and fixed textbooks that they use; they tend to give you homework. People who love this type of structure will love this kind of school. This approach often utilizes tests for assessment purposes. This is ideal for those who plan to study Spanish for several months and wish to take a final exam that will certify their level of language skill.
The second approach is to adapt the instruction to the student with a dedicated program of study. Some people would have only a week or two to study and want to study specific aspects of a language, for example basic vocabulary for travel, medicine, law, or other specialty. The teacher will focus on what is important for the student and facilitate conversation around certain topics as a result. These courses will be less formal and more fun. Students learn at their own pace; the teacher adapts to the knowledge and desires of the student.
All the schools in Antigua offer one-to-one instruction; this is a huge advantage in terms of efficiency! The teacher can easily keep track of student progress in this way, and guide the student to more challenging material when the time is right to move on.
Personally, I prefer the second approach. I wanted to improve my conversational skills. I did not want to spend two weeks studying the difference between 'por' and 'para'. For me, I made the right choice. In my class, we spent the first four hours studying grammar, verb conjugation, and vocabulary. The final two hours, after lunch, was spent just making conversation, pronunciation practice, reading, and playing games like Scrabble. I loved my class and I thought that my teacher had done a fantastic job.
The choice of the city is also important. I fell in love with Antigua the first time I studied there; it is a wonderful, colonial city with romantic ruins and cobblestone streets. I felt as if I was living in a museum when I was there; the whole town exudes a very romantic and peaceful ambience. There are many churches to see, and it is a great town in which to walk. It is a safe place as well, and security is good as there are especially trained Tourist Police to keep visitors safe. Antigua is called the Land of Eternal Spring because of its moderate climate; it is never too hot there, nor is it too cold, even at night.
The homestay is very important too. I requested a comfortable homestay with few other student guests, where the family shared some of their time practicing Spanish with the students who were their house guests. I specifically said that I did not just want a simple guest house with meals, but rather a place where I could interact with a family. It was more expensive, but it was worth the extra money and I was not disappointed. I lived in a traditional colonial house where I had a bedroom with a private bathroom, cable TV in the room, wi-fi. It was very comfortably furnished. I discovered that watching Guatemalan TV is an excellent and enjoyable way to improve my listening skills in Spanish. My family always ate with me and always spoke Spanish during the meal; we had some very interesting conversations.
Most students elect to study for four to six hours per day, which is a perfect amount of time to study. If you study only in the morning, you are finished by lunch time and have time in the afternoon to relax, volunteer, shop, or go sightseeing around Antigua. Many schools offer local trips in the afternoon, or dancing or cooking lessons. Local excursions might include a visit to a local village craft market or a coffee plantation. Some schools offer to place you as a volunteer with a local charity; the best schools will offer this service for free. Beware of the schools that want to charge you to help you find a place to volunteer.
There are many good schools in Antigua. My favorite school is Don Pedro Spanish School.
http://www.donpedrospanishschool.com

Choose the one that best suits your needs and your philosophies, remember that no one school is right for everyone. On this site you can find the majority of addresses of the Spanish schools in Antigua. Good luck, and good study! http://www.123teachme.com/search.php...93&relCityID=2

Andre Marti:
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Aug 20th, 2015, 11:56 AM
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I realize the OP asked the question in 2013...but in case someone clicks on this resurfaced post with a similar query, I wanted to say that I loved my time at the Ole Institute in Queretaro Mexico. A handsome colonial city, cool summer evenings, delightful entertainment in the plaza, terrific teachers, a good variety of restaurants, my level was advanced intermediate and they placed me very well. The group size was quite small... ranging from 6 classmates (kind of nice to have a larger group for the conversation) to no classmates. This said, I'm sure there are many choices of great Spanish schools out there!
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