LEARNING A LANGUAGE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY-ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA EDITION

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.

First Up, Homestays

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:

  • Ask how many other students will be living at the house. For me, I wanted to be the only one. Turns out, this is uncommon which makes sense. Once these families understand the profit of tourist students, they start turning as many rooms as possible into bedrooms.
  • Ask who will be living at the house of the host family. I wanted to have a large family with children, adults, parents, and grandparents. Also, after my first homestay, I wanted to ensure actual Guatemalans would be living there.
  • If they allow you to check the house before, do it! It’s a third-world country so the room accommodations are not what you’re used to. For example, the house I choose did not have a window, the desk was not high enough for my legs, and the door to my room was thin which lead straight outside (in other words, it was cold and noisy). Also, you want to see if you get along with the family (ie you’ll want much to talk about as this is why you are staying).
  • If meals are provided, find out what the typical dish is. I was lucky in that my host family gave me good, varied meals and even cooked any food I bought (very little meat is provided). But, this is not always the case. Other students told me their host family cooked the same thing every day and gave them only cereal for breakfast (no milk or anything else).
  • Hot showers. It is standard here, but the first house I was in did not produce hot water and it electrocuted me. No joke. The way the system is set up to heat the showers, this is common.
  • Understand what you want to prioritize having. I found out that you can’t have it all here. Having it all for me would be living with a large family with high-speed internet, hot showers, private bathroom, a closet, in the center of the city, varied meals, with a desk, and a comfy bed. For me, I prioritized a large family, central location, good wi-fi, and a private bathroom. These were my priorities and I passed up on other amenities. For example, I needed a desk because I work from home often. When my first room didn’t have a desk, I asked future options to ensure I had a desk. When I went to my second home (I did not inspect prior to arrival), I was told there would be a desk. But, when I arrived, the desk was not high enough for my legs to fit under and only about 12″ wide (not enough space for my keyboard). I even forwent a window. But, I got what I prioritized.
Homestays are great for learning languages in foreign countries...but they're not all created equally. Click To Tweet

Next Up, Schools

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:

  • The school doesn’t really matter. What really matters is the teacher who’s quality varies greatly.
  • Ask if there is an entrance exam prior to starting classes. Maxim Nivel was the only school to give me an entrance exam. This seemed very promising to me! Though for this school it only tells you what book you get and the info was not communicated to the teacher (ie Danny is good at writing, but lacks in his listening skills). However, this has the potential of setting the school apart in a good way.
  • All of the schools are behind the times when it comes to materials and “learning technology”. I felt their process is not as efficient as it should be, especially for a city known for teaching Spanish.
When learning a language in a foreign land, the school does NOT matter. Only the teacher matters. Click To Tweet

Last Up, Teachers

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”

“Hola, is this Marco?”

“Yes.”

“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!”

“….ok…bye.”

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):

  • She is an entrepreneur. She took the leap from working consistent hours at a school to finding students on her own. When you do that, the school no longer provides you a consistent steam of students no matter your level of teaching quality (only the really bad teachers get fired, all else get good reviews because it’s hard for someone to negatively review someone else they personally know). Now, it’s on her to be an effective teacher, otherwise, the students don’t return. This is tremendous motivation for being the best teacher and wanting your student to progress. I found that teachers at schools acted like employees, they clocked in at X time, clocked out at X time, took their break at X time, and went home. They were going through the motions of teaching, but deep down, it was just a job for them and they weren’t passionate about the students progress. That’s called low energy and that low energy is transferred into your brain.
  • ***She speaks English well***. This runs counter to other articles who say you might as well have a Spanish class in Spanish to maximize your learning. No. This is wrong. I know people living in foreign countries for decades (hearing only the local language) and they don’t speak a lick of the local language. If you are anything less than at an upper-intermediate level, you NEED an English speaking teacher. However, most of the teachers (80%+ or more) either do not speak any English or do not speak enough. The reason why this point is SO IMPORTANT is because of efficiency. Scenario A (teacher does not speak English): Teacher takes 45 minutes to explain a simple grammar concept to student, some info is surely lost in translation and student feels frustrated and stops asking questions figuring he’ll pick up this skill later. Scenario B (teacher speaks good English): Teacher takes 10 minutes explaining the simple grammar rule in English, they practice in Spanish for 20 minutes and move on.
  • She is female. Females talk more than males. This is a bonus when learning another language. I don’t remember a single time when Anny didn’t have something to say. Remember the 2 hours of awkwardly smiling? That was a male teacher.
  • She knows the grammar extremely well. Even though you should throw grammar out the window in favor of actual spoken language, it’s good to have someone who studies and knows formal grammar of your target language.
  • She has memory tricks for everything. You’ll be memorizing a lot and there are tips and tricks for this stuff. I found Anny to have many useful tricks that none of the other teachers had.
  • She is passionate. I felted a fire inside her (remember the energy referenced above? This is the energy you want). The first day she told me about her goals of no longer smoking and exercising more. She even stopped hanging out with her smoking and non-exercising friends. This communicates ambition to me. When you ask someone what their goals are and they don’t have an immediate answer, you don’t want this person in your life because they’ve stopped improving themselves. They’ve given up.
Your target language teacher MUST speak fluent English unless you are at an intermediate level. Click To Tweet

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)

Email: [email protected]

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.

Salsa Schools In Antigua, Guatemala + My Impression of the City

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.

    • Share:

Lifestyle Self Improvement

WHY I DON’T WATCH THE NEWS

  • Share:
I have this weird fetish where I...don't watch the news. Let me explain myself and my crazy behavior.
Lifestyle Travel

STRAGEGIES TO FIND KILLER DEALS ON AIRBNB

  • Share:
Advice from a 900+ night Airbnb guest on how to find deals on Airbnb including a custom message that indirectly asks Airbnb hosts for a discount.
Lifestyle Self Improvement

HOW TO COUNT CARDS (THE EASY WAY)

  • Share:
Counting cards is easier than you think. Counting cards with my modified method is a piece of cake. Now you can look forward to your next Las Vegas trip!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Table of Contents