This article is from the April 2001 The Mexico File
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Questions and Answers, Mexico's Spanish Language
by Ron Mader
Ron Mader is a leading
expert in and exponent of ecotourism in Mexico.
He is the author of Mexico: Adventures in Nature (Santa
Fe: John Muir Publications, 1998. ISBN number: 1562613405). Ron contributed
an article on Mexican Ecotourism in the June 2000 issue of Mexico File.
Traveling to a foreign
country where you don’t speak the language can be a scary proposition, but
it’s also a great adventure. Many travelers opt to learn Spanish abroad.
Here's a quick review of some of the most frequently asked questions about
Spanish Language Schools.
What is a Spanish
There are many schools in
Latin America and Spain that not only teach foreigners the Spanish language but
they provide an immersion experience as well. Some are run in conjunction with a
university. Others are less formal. Reservations can be made ahead of time or at
the door. Note that some countries and cities have more schools than others. For
example, Spanish language schools play a great role in Mexican cities such as
Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende, San Cristóbal de las Casas and Merida.
What are some
characteristics of a good Spanish language school?
Personal attention. You
don’t want to be treated like a number. The better schools offer cultural
outings as well as a library or book exchange and bulletin board. In other
words, they offer immersion into the local environs as well as the language.
Some of my favorite schools
donate a percentage of their income to social projects and offer the students an
opportunity to volunteer or link up with projects in the host country. Another
good sign is original study materials, which the student can use to learn as
well as brush up on the language after returning home.
What should I expect to
This depends on your
commitment and eagerness to learn the language. At least, you'll be a better
prepared for your travels. If you want to devote more time, you’ll have a
greater command of the Spanish language. As with other things in life, you'll
get out of the experience what you invest.
What do I need to take
If you are combining
education with travel, make sure you cover the bases. Bring the appropriate
clothes, travel necessities (camera, guidebooks, medicine) and a bilingual
Where do I live?
Many schools offer home
stays with local families. You can also arrange your own lodging or choose to
live in an apartment or hotel. Consult a guidebook to get a good idea of what
lodging typically costs.
How do I know if a school
is right for me?
The best bet is to select a
school on prior recommendations. A school’s word of mouth reputation is worth
more than all of the advertising in the world. If you have any doubts, don’t
commit yourself to more than a week of classes. If you can, visit the school and
talk with the teachers and students. The best advice is to let the director of
the school and your teacher know what you’d like to accomplish – whether
it’s survival Spanish or if you have more specific goals. They will be happy
to accommodate your needs if you let them know what your needs are.
Can I get university
credit for classes taken abroad?
Many schools offer credit
transfers. Ask your college first.
How long are typical
Courses can last from one
day to several months. Most schools encourage students to take at least one week
of classes and preferably two or three weeks for maximum benefit. As always, it
does depend on your abilities and needs.
(Ron Mader hosts the
Planeta.com website, which features a Directory of Spanish Language Schools and
an Education Resources Collection. Details are online at
A Select List of Spanish
Baja California Language
Ensenada, Baja California
Centro Bilingue Language
San Cristobal de las Casas,
Instituto Miguel de
San Miguel de Allende,
Instituto Mexico Americano
Centro de lenguas y
ecoturismo de Patzcuaro (CELEP)
Intercambio Bilingue y Cultural
Cuernavaca Language School
CETLALIC Escuela Alternativa
de Español/ Alternative Language School
CICE _ Centro Internacional
para la Cultura y Enseñanza de la Lengua
Amigos del Sol Spanish
O.L.E. _ Organización
Linguistica de Espa±ol