Being Schooled in Spanish – Xela, Guatemala

Spanish school

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr – Creative Commons

Learning a new language is a very daunting experience for most of us. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about going to Spanish school in Xela, Guatemala. I had a lot riding on this, more than most. Aside from the obvious advantages of being able to communicate with people in one of the more commonly spoken languages, I would also be able to join the conversations with Erica’s family at gatherings- which is super important to me.

We chose Guatemala as they pride themselves on speaking slowly and clearly and have no shortage of high quality schools to choose from and Xela seemed perfectly our speed. We spent our first couple days checking out numerous schools, searching for the best fit for us. Our preference was to find a school in a good location but we also had the following requirements:

-The staff must be patient and friendly.
-They must pay their teachers a fair wage.
-They must have volunteer opportunities.
-There must be an option for a home stay.
-They must offer other after school/weekend activities.

After our initial searches, we were surprised to find several schools that met our requirements. We narrowed down our final options based on how honest and friendly the staff was at one of the schools, even allowing us to tag along on their activities before we enrolled.

On the morning of my first day, my anxiety quickly faded. All the pressure I was expecting from being in ‘school’ was nowhere to be found. This was amazing! I got to choose what I wanted to learn and focus on. I got to set the pace of lessons and stay on the material until I felt like I really understood it. I even got to choose how we spent many of the days as well. This meant that we had ‘class’ while walking to the bakery, sitting in the park, or going to the museum. And what made it even more awesome was that I learned more in the first week than I did in an entire semester taking Spanish in college!

Everything was all sparkles and unicorns after that.

Everything except my brain being fried from so many hours of constant learning. Oh, and the languages becoming so blurred that much of what came out of my mouth outside of school was a confusing mixture of English and Spanish. At that point I didn’t even have the brain power to correct it or care. The best course of action was to try and stay focused on Spanish 100% of the time, but that sure isn’t easy when work has to get done. All I could think of to keep me going was future trips and being able to speak Spanish abroad – kind of like dreaming of puerto del carmen holidays.

Another downside was that we weren’t able to stay long enough for me to get more than a basic grasp on the language, thus limiting the volunteer opportunities we had available to us. However, our homestay really made up for that. We spent every dinner with our host family laughing hysterically at the rowdy conversations that were had. Bilma and Jorge were a riot. And while Guatemalan food isn’t particularly exciting, Bilma’s cooking had no shortage of that tasty secret ingredient, love.

After 3 weeks of classes I still don’t feel comfortable adding Spanish to my languages on Facebook, although, I can definitely understand quite a bit more and hold very basic conversations. I still have a long way to go but I think I can start by updating FB to add Spanglish.

Spanish school

Our host family!

22 Responses to “Being Schooled in Spanish – Xela, Guatemala”

  1. Georgia August 10, 2011 at 12:21 am #

    I love the picture of your hosts. They have such kind features. It really goes to show, there are great people all over the world, just waiting to say hello :)

    • Shaun August 10, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

      @ Georgia – Don’t be fooled by their innocent faces, but it is true that they are great people. :D

  2. Sheryll August 10, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    One of the reasons I love traveling is to try an immerse myself in a language I don’t know. What an awesome experience to be able to learn a different language, and in a different country no less! You’ll be fluent in Spanish in no time!

    • Shaun August 10, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

      @ Sheryll – I agree completely. Since we’re in Utila, Honduras at the moment (which used to be a British owned island), I get super excited when people speak Spanish so I can keep it going. ^^

  3. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista August 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Languages are tough! I find that I get all confused too especially when in Europe when one day I’ll be trying to get by in French and then a couple later I should be speaking German but French comes out! LOL

    It’s great that you are trying and I know you’ll be successful because you want to learn which is about 80% of the process!

    • Shaun August 10, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

      @ Debbie – You are totally right, having the desire helps tremendously. When I was taking Spanish in college I didn’t have the same eagerness to learn and did horrible.

  4. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures August 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    You might not be fluent, but I’m sure you learned SO much!!! Que bueno!

    • Shaun August 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

      @ Andi – Indeed! Now I just need to keep the ball rolling and hopefully I’ll be fluent before we run out of land in South America. ;)

  5. Jaime August 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    Ay que padre y que bueno que estan aprendiendo Espanol. Si es un poco duro, pero se que lo poqito que hablan lo hablan bien. Viajando por Centro y Sur America les va alludar mucho. So sigan practicando y pa cuando regresen a casa lo va hablar perfecto!

    • Shaun August 10, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

      @ Jaime – ¡Gracias! ¡Me deseas suerte!

  6. Heather August 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    Awesome Shaun! I’m upset with myself for taking years of Spanish and not using it for ages — I could ask for directions or understand some written Spanish, but I’m probably hopeless otherwise and really want to learn again. Reading about your experiences and that of several other bloggers recently is gently nudging and nurturing a few ideas for the future in my mind :-)

    And I don’t know where you found that unicorn photo, but it’s brilliant.

    • Shaun August 10, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      @ Heather – Heh, I’m upset that I didn’t take more than just one Spanish class in college, but glad I help nurture some ideas for the future! :P

      Also, the unicorn picture was from a post card we picked up when we visited Candy Mountain. Either that or Erica found it through the googles, I don’t remember.

  7. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy August 10, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    I took 4 years of Spanish in high school and still can’t speak the language. It’s been on my to-do list forever. I’d love to learn in an environment like that.

    • Shaun August 11, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      @ Scott – Yeah, Erica took 8 years of Spanish in school and grew up around people who spoke Spanish, but she took classes as well and her conversation skills increased exponentially. We definitely recommend it! :)

  8. Tran August 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    You reminded me–when you learn Spanish in Guatemala, you have to be prepared to answer why you speak Spanish so slowly! Too funny.

    • Shaun August 12, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      @ Tran – Most Spanish speakers don’t seem to expect much when they see me coming, but I like to try and surprise them. Although, there have been times I surprised them too much and got completely lost when they didn’t hold back at all, lol.

  9. Bethany August 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    Looks really great you guys! this is something Randy and I want to do too!

    • Shaun August 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

      @ Bethany – YES! DO EET!

  10. Ali August 23, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    That’s awesome that you’re learning Spanish! I’ve studied Spanish off and on for years, and I love it, though I still wouldn’t call myself fluent. Now I’m trying to learn German, and whenever I don’t know the German word I need, my brain kicks into Spanish gear. It means I sometimes use 2 or even 3 languages in one sentence! Keep it up, you’ll be fluent in no time since your travels are pretty much all in Spanish-speaking places.

    • Erica August 24, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      @Ali: Oh man! I was going to ask you how your German classes are coming along! After 8 years of studying I’m still trying to perfect the language. It just doesn’t stick with me. I’m fantastic at Spanglish!

  11. Zoe Amy October 1, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I’m so keen to study Spanish! I’ve been planning a couple of months of Spanish is Oaxaca, but maybe Guatemala would be better, you made it sound so nice.

    • Erica October 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      I think you would be warmer and have better food in Oaxaca to be honest. I miss it something fierce.

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