I spent two weeks learning Spanish in Guatemala, taking one-on-one Spanish classes in a little village sitting next to a beautiful lake. Here is my experience of learning Spanish in Guatemala and tips for you too!
Throughout school I hated languages. To put it into perspective, I wasn’t a bad pupil in my younger years, but in year 8 (8th grade) I had double French on Tuesday mornings, my attendance at the end of the first term for Tuesday mornings was 82%. My attendance for the rest of the week? Around 96%. I hated languages, but my avoidance as a result only made me substantially worse.
Travelling through Mexico only highlighted to me, my want to not learn languages was trumped by my desire to not be one of those travellers ignorantly going along expecting locals to understand me and not vice versa.
I decided to study Spanish for two weeks in Guatemala and stay with a local family there. I would go as far to say this is the best country in the world to learn Spanish for two main reasons:
- They have an abundance of language schools and as a result the quality is very high.
- It is extremely cheap compared to the rest of the world, for accommodation, lessons and food it is £24/$31 a day. Well under the general $50 a day many budget travellers allow themselves.
Where to go to when learning Spanish in Guatemala:
There are a few options of where you can do your lessons:
Antigua: A beautiful place to study that is a UNESCO World Heritage city, it is wired with fast internet and has more tourists so is a choice many make.
(Quetzalenango) Xela: The second largest city in Guatemala, it provides students with a more authentic experience of sterotypical Guatemalan city life.
San Pedro La Laguna- Nestled next to Lake Atitlan, in the Guatemalan highlands of the Sierra Madre Mountain. This is what I went for.
Which School to choose when learning Spanish in Guatemala?
Do not book in advance and provide the booking fee, there are many schools- I turned up to San Pedro, Spanish school on Sunday at 6pm and they could fit me in the following afternoon.
I have been recommended a few in other areas:
School: Antigüeña Spanish Academy
School: ICA Spanish School
San Pedro: I decided on San Pedro on a friends recommendation, he has been to many a Spanish school and is now as a result a Spanish teacher. I decided on San Pedro because I wanted outdoor activities, a bit of down time and to really be immersed in the Spanish language and culture. With my back drop of a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, I was pleased with my choice.
San Pedro: San Pedro Spanish School: I chose San Pedro Spanish School, as the leading Spanish language school in San Pedro. It’s a slick operation run by Ramòn who can himself speak five languages at least to a conversational level. There are a few options and lots of extras the school gives but the one thing I found with this school is that everyone is just so content; employees, boss and students included. It was a nice feeling to walk into each day.
San Pedro Spanish School:
You have many options with the classes, 2-4 hours a day, 3-5 times a week for all ages. If you are looking for your children to learn spanish this would be an amazing place to do so, they cater well to them and offer a ‘Spanish for Children’ course. You can change teacher and location (they also have schools in San Marcos and Xela) from week to week but I decided to stay with my teacher, Andres in San Pedro, as he was great. My favourite bit about the whole experience is that you are learning in what I could easily describe as almost Garden of Eden like. Little meandering paths lead to small individual patio areas overlooking the lake surrounded by beautiful plants and trees. Obviously to Andres, my teacher, this was were he worked but the first day, he spent chuckling away at me, I was in awe at the beauty of it all. In a one-on-one learning environment for £80 a week (this depends on season and how many weeks you are here for) with 10% of my money also going to charity. It absolutely beat any language class I’ve ever sat in.
Learning Spanish in Guatemala:
The one-on-one learning environment is not obligatory but I would thoroughly recommend either that or going in pairs. It allowed me to ask questions and stop at things I wasn’t understanding. My teacher was professional and personable, the way they teach includes; games, exercises, daily homework and even going out on the street to find words and give directions. Because of the interactive manner of the teaching for me it was so much better than any classroom or app. If you are worried you are terrible at languages don’t worry- this is the place for you to learn.
By the end of the two weeks I was definitely not fluent, I could hold conversations in the evening with my host family fairly easily although I was on occasion laughed at for my pronunciation by the lovely girl in my homestay, Melany. It turns out the word for years and arse are very similar in Spanish.
Each evening they have something different on to aid your Spanish or understand the Guatemalan culture. Examples include; conversations club, Spanish movies and documentaries, salsa classes, Spanish discussions. All led by one of the teachers at the school.
Niños Del Lago, the charity San Pedro Spanish School supports provides heath, nutrition and education to the children of Lake Atitlan. By going to the school you are indirectly helping this cause (10% of the cost goes to the charity) but if you so wish you can get involved by volunteering your time as well.
They offer lots of activities including; hiking the surrounding volcanoes, visiting Chichicastenango market, the largest market in Guatemalan and visiting the thermal baths.
Where to stay?
You have many options when your learning Spanish in Guatemala.
A homestay experience
This is what I went for and something I absolutely recommend. You can organise your homestay through San Pedro Spanish School, they have many families all within easy walking distance that meet certain requirements of the school (internet, hygiene, comfortable family to interact with etc). This is what the majority of students do as it helps so much to be fully immersed in both the Spanish language and the Mayan culture. I stayed with a family recommended to me by a friend because I’d heard stories of host families hosting ten or so at the time and as a result no one learnt or practiced there Spanish outside of school. I’m so pleased I went with my choice. My host family were lovely and so accommodating, they managed to make me but on a hell of a lot of weight in the two weeks I was there but the food was incredible especially for the budget. My family did not speak english, so if we were to have a conversation, we would be speaking in Spanish. Choosing homestay is cheap, completely immersive in the culture and really aids your Spanish skills. You can see here a piece I wrote on all the reasons a homestay should be on a travellers itinerary.
There are plenty of hostels and hotels in the areas where schools are located, but I can’t imagine a hostel is the best place to help with learning Spanish, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Hotels would be suitable but are only to the ones with a larger budget.
You will probably struggle in places like San Pedro but in Antigua and Xela, this could be a money saving idea and you’ll still be practicing your Spanish with your host.
Things to do while learning Spanish in Guatemala.
Hike Volcan San Pedro
The San Pedro Volcan, part of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range is one of 22 volcanos in Guatemala, you wake up at 2am to be able to see the most amazing view of the sunset by the time you reach the end of your trek at 9,900 feet.
Guatemalan coffee while weaker than in the west is none the less delicious and a very big deal. Particular to the villages on the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range, the soil is perfect conditions for coffee plantations. I have to say, I felt like a tourist but was thoroughly impressed with my coffee tour.
While my homestay was outside the hustle and bustle of ‘Gringoland’ when I went there I found there was plenty to do to make sure I had a good time; bars, restaurants and cafes were around every corner. While it is a small town, it is densely packed with things to keep tourists occupied. I liked the fact all the tourist-y services were all in one tiny area, it meant for the majority of San Pedro it is still a small authentic Guatemalan town.
Kayaking on Lake Atitlan
There are Kayaks for rent dotted along the shore of the Lake. Kayak out to get a real view of the many little towns dotted on Lago de Atitlan. Enjoy this before late afternoon to avoid cooler temperature and a clouded view.
This is by far the main thing I did here, I strolled the streets, became a tortilla with the quantity I ate, learnt Spanish and just relaxed. It was so nice to breath, travelling is hectic and this is a perfect place to recuperate if you need.