|Posted on April 3, 2009 at 2:56 PM|
Selecting the right Spanish school for you can be a bit of a challenge. There are a number of web sites that rate and rank the different schools. None of them are very scientific. Most do not describe how the ratings are made. Some, I suspect, are forms of paid advertising. And finally, none provide a complete listings of all the schools.
I will try to explain how I believe students should pick the fit. I have limited experience with schools in Guatemala but I some ideas I would like to share.
First, there are many excellent schools in Guatemala. Many will provide a great experiences for most students. Most of the instruction is provided one on one. This means that the most important factor in your happiness is your specific teacher. Personally, I favor teachers with years of experience. They have seen it all and they will most likely be able to help you too. I recommend you ask to meet your teacher, if possible.
Different schools have different educational philosophies. Some schools are very structured with formal lesson plans and set textbooks they use. People that like structure often like this type of school. It is also great for those planning to study Spanish for three or four months. This approach will often has tests. It is more thorough. The nuances are covered in more detail. The second common approach is to tailor the instruction to the individual student. The teacher will focus on what is important to the student. This approach will more likely cover a broader survey of the language. There will be fewer if any tests. There may not be just one text book.
I personally like the second approach. I planned to be in Guatemala for two weeks. I wanted to improve my conversation skills. I very much wanted to get out of the present tense. I did not want to spend two weeks studying the difference between ser and estar. For me, I made the right choice. In my class, we spend the first hour just conversing. We then spent time with verb tenses and their usage. Everyday we worked on vocabulary. We practiced pronunciation and reading. Then we spent the final hour in conversation. During the conversation part of the class we talked about everything. I loved my class and thought my teacher did a fantastic job.
The size of the school is another variable. Some like larger schools with more facilities. Some like smaller schools with a more friendly atmosphere. My school had about 15 students. We all became friends. To me the size of the school was not very important.
The quality of the campus is important to some students. There are some very nice school campuses. Some are fairly poor. The quality of the campus often is related to the cost of tuition. My school was in a pretty garden setting. The instruction was outside under a roof that provided shade from the sun and protection from rain. Our restroom facilities were basic but were clean and did the job. Wireless Internet service was available. Coffee, tea and water was served. Cold beer was available for purchase. Some schools have a more modern feel. Others are quite primitive.
Most schools offer after class activities. At most schools, the activities are for an additional fee. Do not expect lots of activities for free. Some schools will provide some free activities. At my school, salsa dance classes was offered for free two afternoons a week. A sample of the for-fee activities included trips to a coffee farm/museum and trips to a macademia nut farm.
The choice of the city can also be important. The most popular city for studying Spanish is Antigua. It has about 80 different schools. The whole city is geared towards teaching Spanish as a second language. The city has many amenities for students. There are lots of after school activities and options. There are great restaurants. It is close to the airport. And it is relatively safe. The problem with Antigua is the large number of tourists make it easy to speak English after school. There are schools in other cities with fewer tourists. Students are forced to use Spanish more often. That is a good thing. The down side can be that may Guatemalans speak Mayan as their first language. In my opinion, there is no right choice or bad choice. I studied in Antigua. I found that I used as much Spanish as I wanted. In the park and in the market, I talked to many people in Spanish. At home, all the students agreed to talk Spanish whenever the family was present. I also heard excellent comments about other cities.
The choice of the city depends are your personal tastes. One of the toughest things about studying Spanish in any foreign country is what to do after class. Keeping busy is important. The immersion program can be very stressful. It is mentally easier to be close to other English speakers. But speaking English slows the learning process. Some students volunteer which requires more Spanish. The activity is important. Keeping busy on the weekends can be a challenge. The location of the school can be critical.
Think about how you learn best. You need to pick a school that best addresses your learning abilities. Not everyone is the same. I met couples where each person chose a different school because they had different learning needs and desires. No one school is right for everyone.