Opportunities for Study and Volunteer Work
Guatemala is a popular place for Spanish-language study, particularly Antigua and Quetzaltenango. Here are a few basic things to look out for when deciding where to study Spanish in Guatemala. First of all, you’ll want to decide what sort of environment you’re looking for to choose a location. Antigua and Quetzaltenango offer some fine institutions in addition to the chance to combine your language instruction with time spent in interesting urban locales.
Both towns have a lively nightlife scene and a fairly substantial presence of foreign travelers. This might be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it. If you’re looking to make new friends and traveling companions after your courses are finished, then this will certainly suit you. But if you’re looking for a total language-immersion experience, you might find yourself speaking English outside of classroom time more often than not.
There are a few highland towns and villages with language schools that offer good instruction with (for now) a relatively small foreign presence. These include the language schools in Nebaj, Cobán, and Huehuetenango. San Pedro La Laguna, on the shores of Lake Atitlán, also has decent language schools and a slightly less substantial gringo presence compared to Antigua and Quetzaltenango. It’s certainly a winner for its location on the shores of this magnificent lake. Monterrico is the place to go if you want to combine fairly decent language instruction with some serious time at the beach. The northern Petén region’s language schools are found in the Itzá Maya towns of San Andrés and San José, on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá, and they are a good place to learn Spanish with little foreigner presence and a more ecological focus thanks to the proximity of The Maya Biosphere Reserve.
For the altruistic, Quetzaltenango offers the chance for language instruction in an environment oozing with fellow travelers, volunteers, and NGO workers plugged into a variety of projects hoping to make life better for people in Guatemala’s impoverished Western Highlands.
Virtually all of Guatemala’s language schools offer one-on-one instruction, and your choice of an instructor is particularly important to your progress. You should never feel locked into a deal with a particular instructor. If you find that you and the instructor just aren’t jiving, don’t hesitate to ask for a new one. All of the recommended schools get their strength from the quality of their individual instructors, so finding one that’s right for you shouldn’t be too difficult if you know where to look.
In terms of cost, you’ll find it fairly accessible. The bulk of Guatemala’s schools charge somewhere between $150 and $225 per week, including at least 20 hours of instruction per week and room and board with a local host family. Some schools, particularly in Antigua and Quetzaltenango, provide the option of staying in on- or off-campus housing or apartments.
As a final note, Guatemalan Spanish is relatively clear of the accents found in Caribbean, Mexican, and even Costa Rican Spanish. Guatemalans also tend to speak more slowly than Caribbean Spanish speakers. It’s actually a very melodic Spanish and you’ll soon recognize its singsong sound. In terms of value for the money you spend and variety of locales in which to learn, you really can’t beat Spanish-language instruction in Guatemala.
The country is also the focus of many relief and development projects on the part of NGOs, some of which are almost always looking for volunteers. Many of these are linked to local language schools. Areas with a particularly heavy concentration of NGOs include Quetzaltenango, Nebaj, and Petén.
Foreign Study Programs
For college students seeking a study-abroad opportunity, The University of Arizona (www.studyabroad.arizona.edu), in partnership with the Center for Mesoamerican Research (CIRMA), offers semester- and yearlong programs in Antigua focusing on intensive Spanish-language instruction in addition to Central American history, politics and culture.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com