There is no real secret to learning a foreign language – you just have to practice – but that doesn’t mean you should sit in your room with your face buried in a conjugation book all day. If you really want to practice, you’ve got to get out in the real world, have drinks with locals, and immerse yourself in a bit of on-the-fly, real-life language learning. At least that’s what worked for me when I was learning to speak Spanish in Central America.
A bit of in-class learning is certainly important – you have to figure out the nuts and bolts of a language before you can really learn to use it. I’d taken a few weeks of Spanish classes in Mexico with International House, so my Spanish was at the “get by” level. I wasn’t fluent, or even conversational, but I knew enough to get by. I still needed more practice and Mundo Spanish Language School in Antigua Guatemala invited me down to check out their one-on-one teaching style where typical classes consist of one student and one teacher. These kinds of classes are ideal for just about everyone, whether you need extra help with learning verb conjugations, or you just want to practice your conversational skills. So, I hopped a series of chicken buses from the frontera and eventually made my way to Antigua.
Antigua is a fantastic city. It was originally the capital of the Spanish Empire in America, but when an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1773 the capital was moved to the current location of Guatemala City. Since then, Antigua has flourished and become a major tourism destination in Guatemala, and beyond that, one of the best places to study Spanish in Central America. The city is modern, but it retains it’s old-world charm, with Spanish colonial buildings and walkable cobble-stoned streets. It’s along one of these streets where you’ll find the unassuming front door of Mundo Spanish School.
Ring the bell, they’ll buzz you in, and as soon as you step through the threshold, you’ll you’ll find yourself in a lush, green courtyard, flanked by bright flowers and a burbling fountain. Scattered across the green grass of that courtyard are about 10 small, umbrella-shaded tables, each with one professora and one estudiante. It’s a tranquil setting for soaking up the sunshine, as well as the language, and it feels a million miles away from the touristic bustle of Antigua city, outside.
Classes are typically one-on-one, so you get full attention from your teacher, something I wasn’t used to in my other Spanish classes. The best part about learning in this way, is that the teacher can cater each class to suit your needs exactly. If she sees that you keep stumbling over a particular conjugation, you can spend an hour working on it. If she can tell that you’re nursing a wicked hangover and having trouble focusing, she might suggest a trip to the market where you can work in your Spanish haggling skills, or have a refresher course in the names of fruits and vegetables at the market stalls. You can really utilize your class time in whatever way you want, and it’s good to take advantage of that.
During my time at Mundo Language School, we had market days and we had study days, and we had days of long-winded conversations about my strange and wonderful experiences at Burning Man – I shared stories that both shocked and enthralled my professora, and she shared a bit of her life with me as well. One day, she even helped me to clarify a particularly complicated romantic situation with a Spanish-speaker via Facebook chat. But no matter what we did together, it was always fun, and it was always in Spanish. And whether we were flipping through flash cards or sharing laughs, I was learning Spanish.
By the end of my time at the Mundo, I was much more comfortable having conversations in Spanish. I hadn’t just learned the language, I’d learned how to use the language. How to speak and listen in Spanish. When I left Antigua, my whole outlook on travel had changed. I was no longer relegated to hanging out with gringos and English-speaking locals. Instead, I was able to go out to local bars and meet local people and have real conversations about real things in their native tongue. This newly aquired skill has since made my travels in Latin America much more authentic, and exponentially more interesting.
My Spanish is still far from fluent, but, at least now when a particularly complicated romantic situations arises, I have the Spanish skills to handle it on my own.
At Mundo, classes are typically 4 hours long, held Monday through Friday in the courtyard, or inside the well-appointed classrooms. There are computers and free wifi and there is free coffee and tea and there is a welcoming and friendly vibe that makes Mundo a comfortable and fun place to learn Spanish in Antigua.
[This article was brought to you with support from Mundo. For more information about their programs, prices, and studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala, visit their website www.mundospanishschool.com]