On our recent trip to Tulum we forfeited our mornings at the beach to learn some Spanish. This is in effort to be better prepared for our 4+ months in Central and South America later this year. Hannah only had one semester of Spanish in high school, and then whatever she learned from our online class, which we had kinda slacked on. I had two semesters in College, but that was going on 7 years ago. So needless to say we need some help if we plan to get off the tourist tract!
Here were our thoughts of our class and what we will consider next time we book a similar class.
How Many Hours per Day
We found that our brains were just about fried by time we completed 5 hours per day of Spanish. It was also the general consensus among our class mates too. Everyone headed to the beach for some quite relaxing time after class, that’s all we had the brain power for. We plan to take at least two more weeks of similar Spanish classes while traveling and we were considering taking 8 hours a day, but after this week we decided there is no way we could have taken 3 more hours per day!
Real life practice
An important part of helping the new language sink in is to use it in normal everyday situations. We took a daily trips to the markets, talking with vendors and local people to work on developing ‘on-the-fly’ thinking and speaking. The only way I would want to have any longer than 5 hours per day is if it were used outside the classroom in real life situations.
1 on 1 vs. Groups
Another thing to consider when selecting a school is to see what format you will be taught. There are advantages to both being on your own or learning in a group, but it depends how you learn. When you are paired with just the instructor you are able to ask all the questions you need to understand a topic. On the other hand having the pressure of other students and making sure you keep up, servers as motivation and keeps you learning. Hannah really preferred one on one time, while I found it to be a good challenge learning in a group of slightly more advanced students.
Learning without using English
I never really understood how travelers could teach English in foreign countries without knowing the local language, until now. In our class we spoke virtually no English all week. The instructors at the school did speak some English, but for the most part did not use it unless it was really necessary. Challenging yourself to ask a question about something you don’t understand with other Spanish words really helps to drive it in to your brain. By using words we had already learned to describe new things, along with lots of visual props we were able to get by without the use of our first language. It might have looked funny from the outside looking at a group of adults pointing at objects in a pre-schooler’s book, but it gets the point across.
Since we were still on vacation it was important to us to still be outside with a nice relaxing environment. Our School fit the bill here. All the group tables were under thatched umbrellas, set in a nicely kept garden, all of which helped remind you were still somewhere tropical. Our Tulum School also had a few pets which added to the feel of the place. Hannah being the cat lover she is, had a few study sessions with her gato!
We can’t wait for our next Spanish school sessions. We will be taking a week of Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala in July Then one final week of lessons in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We plan on doing homestays our next time around, we hope living with a local family will only enhance our skills and emerse ourselves in culture.
Have you ever taken any language classes abroad? Any reccomendations?