Although this article is specific to learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala (and I recommend you consider going here if you want to learn Spanish), the information is relevant to most foreign language programs.
This article was written because it’s missing from the interwebs. Before I went to Guatemala to learn Spanish, I did a ton of online researching including reading 25+ online resources about learning a language in a foreign country. The below information was missing from…ever…single…one.
When it was all said and done, I tried 4 schools and 6 teachers. The teacher I landed on was the cheapest, but most effective and not affiliated with a school.
You will also be interested in: A Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Any Language Efficiently
At the end of this post, I’ll describe the Salsa scene in Antigua. I took 25+ private lessons from all four of the Salsa schools, many group lessons, free lessons at clubs, etc.
It’s a fantastic idea…IF done right! My first homestay was in a house of 6 other students where the owner/Spanish speaker would come over to cook meals for an hour then leave. The rest of the day, I was left with 6 other gringo beginner Spanish speakers to practice with. I did not even know this (house with only students) was a possibility. The idea I had in my head when I signed up for ‘homestay’ is me staying with a Guatemalan family without other students. Here is my advice for homestays:
I found it extremely hard to differentiate the schools. This turned out to be true as all the schools are, more or less, the same. They all have good reviews online, they all offer the same extracurricular activities, they all have the ‘best and most qualified’ teachers, etc. It’s much more about the individual teacher. I tried 4 schools and 6 teachers and here is what I found:
First, the story of how I found Anny Reyes, my Spanish teacher for 3+ months. I was getting my haircut and when the barber found out I was a tourist here to learn Spanish, he told me that he is going to introduce me to someone who can help me with that. I thought, ‘of course he can help me with this, as can every other local’.
But, I couldn’t escape as I was in the middle of a haircut. In walks a 70+ year old man with only a few teeth named Marco who befriends me then tried to sell me things. Marco spoke perfect English. This, I’ve learned, is usually a red flag in a foreign, third-world country in these situations.
However, as I could not escape and was in my 2nd week of Spanish and fed up that I didn’t feel I was learning at a pace I should for being in a Spanish speaking country, taking 4 hours per day, and living with a Guatemalan family, I decided to give him a chance.
After the haircut, he walked me to his (or his place of employment) rundown hostel and we decided to do a 1-hour test lesson on Saturday at 1 pm. He scribbled down his number on a piece of paper and told me to call to confirm. When I asked if I could just send a text, he asked me what sending a text was. Four days later, I called Marco around 9am to confirm our lesson:
“Hola, is this Marco?”
“Hi, Marco — This is Danny, I’m calling to confirm our Spanish class today”
“We met a few days ago at Dan’s Barber, you said you’d find me a good English-speaking Spanish teacher. I was going to do a 1-hour lesson today.”
“….oh yea!…of course! I’m all ready to go, see you at 11am! I have the best teacher in town for you!”
“We agreed on a 1pm start time…”
“Oh ya! That’s right, now I remember! 1pm, see you then!”
At this point, I’m wondering if I should even go. He clearly forgot about me and no way he is going to find a suitable teacher in 2 hours. I was about to bail. But, I did not. This is how fed up I was with the other schools. I was willing to give this red flag ridden situation a go.
To put some color around my frustration, a teacher at one of the schools asked me ‘What do you want to learn today?’ as if I was in charge of the syllabus. I almost punched myself in the face.
Another, in a four hour test session (this teacher recommended to me as having one of the best reviews at the school), we spent probably 2 hours awkwardly smiling and laughing as if he did not have any plan for what to teach me (he’d been a teacher at this school for 20+ years).
ANYWAYS, I show up on time and he introduced me to Anny Reyes, the best Spanish teacher in Antigua. She used to work at the Spanish schools, but told me that the schools keep up to 50% of what the student pays (normally $8-$15/hr).
Here is why I think Anny is the best teacher in Antigua (and these are what you should look for in your teacher):
Here is Anny’s contact information. I don’t get any commission from this article if anyone were to use her, but I think it would be neat if you tell her that you heard of her through this article (I let her know I would be writing it)
Phone: +502.4257.0769 (She responds within minutes on WhatsApp)
Skype: Anny_Reyes (She does teacher some students via Skype, mostly past students)
She charges between $5-$10 depending on how many classes you purchase and whether you are taking offline or online courses.
There is an unusually big Salsa scene in the city because of these four school and many free classes. Las Palmas (not to be confused with Las Vibras) is THE salsa club in town. You can also find salsa at La Sala, Sin Ventura, and others. Below are the Salsa studios. They all range from $8-$15/hour (lower end if you buy a package). My advice is to try them all but choose only one. They all have their different styles and trying to go to two at once will confuse your brain and slow your progress. I know because I tried.
Salsa Y Stylo — I took 15 private lessons with Flor (also two male teachers, both excellent dances). This is the nicest studio in the city and the only one on the East side of town. It’s spacious, on the second level with nice views, and a small balcony. Martin offers a free class at La Sala on Sundays around 830pm. At the studio, they do a free class on Monday or Tuesday from 5–6pm.
Salsa Y Mas — I took one private lesson here. They are good dancers but don’t speak English which I needed as a beginner student. They do a free lesson at Bigfoot Hostel on Fridays at 7pm then take anyone who wants to go back to their studio around 8pm and for 2 more hours you get a free class and all you can drink alcohol for 25Q ($3.50).
Salsa Con Gloria — I took 9 private lessons here. She does the free lesson at 9pm at Sin Ventura on Tuesdays. You cannot find her on google for some reason, but her studio is in a blue building, ground floor, on 7a Avenida across the street from Senor Crepa and Restaurant La Estrella. You can also find her on Facebook. At the studio, they do a free class on Monday or Tuesday from 5–6pm.
New Sensations — I took three private lessons here. Nancy and Frank teach here. Nancy gives a really good free group lesson at Las Palmas every Wednesday around 830pm. Frank gives a lesson there on Thursdays. At the studio, they do a free class on Monday or Tuesday from 5–6pm.
What is the best city in the world to learn a foreign language? Share your suggestion in the comments.