One of the most beneficial aspects of traveling is learning a new language, which can open a vast amount of opportunities to expand your experiences, connect with other cultures, and even take advantage of job opportunities seeking bilingual candidates. Did you know that on average bilingual applicants are able to negotiate between a 5 and 20% increase in their starting salary?
Still, this isn’t the most eye catching benefit for most language learners. In fact, most people who learn a second language are more enticed by the travel opportunities that await them. And with Spanish being the second most spoken language in the Western Hemisphere, it’s no surprise that learners are seeking out educational opportunities abroad. Here are some things to consider before enrolling in an international Spanish Immersion program.
Where should you study?
Probably one of the biggest questions to consider- Spain or Latin America?
Ideally, both! But if you have to choose one, my suggestion is Latin America. With traditional values, indigenous culture, Spanish colonial architecture, mysterious ruins and sites, and a fascinating history, Latin America can bring about a special adventure for all types of travelers.
In addition, studying in Latin America can provide you with significantly more opportunities to travel to neighboring countries to continue your educational journey! While studying in Costa Rica, you can easily cross the border south to Panama, or north to Nicaragua where you’ll get a vastly different experience in culture and adventure, while learning lingo exclusive to each country. Studying in Peru can give you the added benefit of visiting Bolivia, Chile, or Ecuador- all home to one of the largest, most sophisticated empires to have reigned, The Incas.
The Latin American region is also one of the most diverse geographies on the planet. From massive, active volcanoes to snow covered mountains, bustling, industrious cities to quiet, humble villages, primitive beaches, roaring waterfalls, and untouched jungles and forests-housing some of the most exotic animal species in the world-there’s no limit to how and where you can explore.
Although the Spanish language originally hails from Spain, Latin America is comprised of 20 different countries, making the Spanish spoken here much more common throughout the world. The Spanish of Spain (or Castilian, if you will) is spoken with a thick accent, not as easily understood, and typically faster and more complex than the Spanish of Latin America. Expect to pick up the common Spanish lisp when pronouncing your C’s and Z’s if studying in Spain, while the people in Latin America easily pronounce it as an S. Another note is the additional conjugations of the subject “vosotros”, which isn’t used in Latin America. These major differences can make it slightly more difficult to learn the language in Spain.
Most of the countries in Central and South America are still in the process of development, which makes the cost of living and tuition more affordable than in Europe. Classes in Guatemala can run for as little as $55/week, helping you to save those extra Quetzals for traveling and random adventures with new, foreign friends.
The Learning Structure
Studies show that language immersion is the most effective way to learn a new language. Everyone needs food and the toilet at some point, right? So, what better way to get you to communicate basic survival needs than my throwing you right into the mix of things? But even more effective is a combination of structured academic courses in an environment that forces language immersion.
Small group classes allow you to study with other language learners who are at your learning level, while still receiving personalized attention from a certified Spanish teacher. Some students prefer this tactic as it balances the classroom dynamic, and promotes team learning, feedback, and correction, helping each learner to build off one another.
Another option is to participate in one-on- one classes that grant you the individualized attention to work on the areas you want to improve upon. Whether you’re looking to perfect your grammar, develop your vocabulary, or simply practice your conversation skills, one on one classes give you the added advantage of learning at your own pace without interruption and distractions from other students.
How to Choose a Language School
Location — The school you choose should be located in a main city, easily accessible to transportation and top attractions. Schools further out in the country can force you to pay additional transportation fees and can keep you away from all the exciting action.
Price –Tuition and cost of living will vary from country to country, but remember price doesn’t always convert to quality. You may pay more for a school in Madrid, Spain than in Cusco, Peru, but are you paying for the quality of education or the standard of living?
Facilities — Definitely choose a school that offers tons of perks. All of Maximo Nivel’s Spanish Language Institutes offer free tandem language exchange with a local student, WI-FI, computer labs, lounges, and unlimited coffee or tea. For an additional price, you can coordinate a can’t miss excursion!
Reviews –Read unbiased reviews from real students! The enrollment agents might even be able to give you direct contact to a student who studied at a particular institute, so you can get all your questions answered. Be wary if the company is hesitant to connect you with anyone. Be even more hesitant if they’re willing to connect you with everyone! You want to make sure the agents respect participant privacy and that they get permission from them first.
Although some individuals are eager to learn Spanish abroad, they aren’t so keen on enrolling in an intense academic program. Instead, you might choose to volunteer abroad and live with a host family This tactic will guarantee exposure to the local culture and still allowing you to learn the language naturally in a social setting. Bonus points for giving back to the local community hosting you!
A different option might be an internship abroad. Interning abroad is a great way for university students to gain global experience in their chosen fields and develop industry specific skills, all while learning Spanish! This unique experience is sure to stand out on a resume and boost your compensation package!
How Long Should You Study
People often wonder if taking courses on their two week vacation is worth it. Well, that all depends…
Depending on which part of the planet you’re coming from or going to will certainly give you better leverage on how much time you’ll need to see development. If you’re a 6-hour flight from South America– an intense two week course (about 20 hours per week) will allow you to advance tremendously! In this case, it is totally worth it, and will skyrocket your travel experience completely.
However, if you’re coming from Australia and traveling to Central America, it might take you at least a week before you figure out what time it is and where you are! Therefore, a trip like this might make more sense if you’re staying for a month or longer.
So, What Are You Waiting For?
As you know, there is much to consider when deciding to enroll in a language program abroad. Whether you’re looking to diversify your holiday, gain university credit, or simply learn the language for your own (cognitive and financial) advancement, there’s no better time (now) or place (Latin America) to do it. So, pack your books, and sharpen your pencils because you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime learning Spanish abroad!