Learning Spanish in South America is something I have wanted to do ever since I left high school. In my opinion it is much easier learning a new language when you actually live in that country and are exposed to the language on a daily basis. Although I should have, I actually didn’t learn much English during eight years of English classes at high school (in fact my English was pretty poor even after eight years, because I didn’t pay much attention). I only became fluent when I worked as an Au Pair in England for six months.
I had some very minor prior Spanish knowledge before we came to South America, as I had some Spanish at school. However, that was a veeeeeeery long time ago and while I remembered the odd verb declinations my grammar knowledge was literally non-existent. Chris had no prior knowledge of the language at all, so our challenge was to become fluent within nine months in the sense that we don’t want to have to think before being able to say a sentence.
You can take Spanish classes in almost every country in South and Central America. Due to impending work commitments in Peru, we narrowed our search down to the surrounding countries though and after a bit of research it turned out that Bolivia has got some good quality schools and cheap prices. Our friends Dalene and Pete praised the city of Sucre as a wonderful place to live in for a while, and as Sucre also has plenty of Spanish schools, that’s where we headed. It was the right decision as we fell head over heels in love with Sucre.
We visited about 5 different Spanish schools to get a feel for the different offers, but the one that stood out to us was the South America Spanish school. The lovely director, Bertha, was warm and welcoming and we knew immediately that we would be in good hands with her. It turned out that our gut instinct proved to be spot on and we ended up extending our three-week Spanish course to nearly six weeks in total. The school was located in a quiet building, the study rooms were very bright and airy, and our kitchen had endless supplies of tea and coffee. We took private classes (3 hours per day) each and both of our teachers were excellent (hello Edith and Silvia!). The classes were evenly broken down into grammar, conversation and reading/comprehension.
What I liked about my classes was that I didn’t just stay in the classroom all day. My teacher took me out to a museum, a market, the beautiful local graveyard, and even a march on women’s rights (I asked if we can go along as I worked on a few women’s rights projects in Cambodia, so was naturally very interested in this). This way I not only learned tonnes about the local culture, but I was also able to practise my Spanish with locals.
Bertha really made sure that all of her students had the chance to learn something about the Bolivian culture too, so she organized cooking classes in her house, dinners with other students and teachers, we watched a crazy local football game, we learned a very confusing Bolivian dice game, we had film nights and we even went to the Oruro carnival together. She also organizes volunteering options for those who are interested. So if you are thinking of learning Spanish in South America I can highly recommend the South America Spanish school.
So after four months in South America, how are we doing on the Spanish front? While we are by no means fluent yet, we are actually able to have a simple conversation with locals now. It sometimes still involves hand and feet, but we can (usually) get our points across. We are working on improving our Spanish all the time though and are hoping that we will get to a decent fluency within the next five months. Undoubtedly we will continue to make lots of mistakes, but at least they keep the locals entertained, for example when Chris said this to his teacher:
“Cuando era huevo…” (when I was an egg). He was of course supposed to say: “Cuando era joven…” (when I was young). 🙂
Have you ever learned a foreign language? If so, what was the funniest mistake you have ever made?