The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Spanish Schools in La Antigua Guatemala

Taking Spanish Classes in Antigua

In the picture above you see two foreigners taking Spanish classes in a Restaurant/School named Korea with the omnipresent beer posters. Here’s the Spanish word/phrase of the day: Quiero más cerveza por favor (please, I’d like to have more beer). Life is though for the Spanish students in the Spanish school capital of Latin America.

The Good:
When we arrived in La Antigua Guatemala in 2002, I was told there were over 65 Spanish schools in town. Wow! that’s twice as many catholic churches. I have read and have been told that taking Spanish classes in La Antigua Guatemala is one of the least expensive options in the world. La Antigua Guatemala is very beautiful, full of great little cafes, bistros and restaurants where you can take your one-on-one classes. After you finish your daily classes, you are in a magical and enchanting town to do all kinds of sightseeing, research, photo tours, and whatever your imagination allows. So, all and all, La Antigua Guatemala could be best place to take Spanish classes. It could be like learning English in Disneyland or Disney World.

The Bad:
If your first language is English or if you speak English, then La Antigua Guatemala is bad place to take Spanish classes because most everybody and just about anything you need can be resolved in English. Besides, like Manolo commented, there is a large community of ex-pats living in La Antigua Guatemala. If you are looking for a full immersion program, maybe Xela (Quetzaltenango) would be a better place to learn the language of Garcí­a Marquez, Cervantes or Augusto Monterroso. On the other hand, Xela (pronounced shay-lah)could be a dangerous place since it is the “real” Guatemala and thus it could be magnetic enough for you end up ditching your “real” life in your native country in the first world and moving to Guatemala in the third world, like a very special person did. Really, living in Guatemala could mark you life forever! Think twice before attending a Spanish school in the “real” Guatemala. 😉

The Ugly:
After your daily classes of Spanish, you go out into an English-speaking world. Even the shoe-shiners in Central Park will ask “if you want your shoes shine?”. Then, like Manolo said, you could be harassed by so many Guatemalans who want to be loved to the point of exportation; this could include your teacher regardless any age difference. Now with over 60 or 70 Spanish schools, how could you know which ones are reputable, responsible learning institutions? So I guess before you take your first class, you should do your homework.

For those who have taken Spanish classes in Guatemala or La Antigua Guatemala, what other aspects of your experience can you share with us?

© 2007 – 2013, Rudy Girón. All rights reserved.

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  • I don’t think ditching up your first world life is necessarily bad… you don’t see me doing it any time soon, but never say never. Maybe life can be more “real” in the land of Asturias, Cardoza, and Ak’abal… or maybe we are all just part of someone else’s dream… or my dream for that matter.
    Now… is the number of Spanish schools larger than the number of neo-pentecostal churches? If that is so I will start to believe you that La Antigua is not Guatemala.

  • i am sure you didn’t have to take spanish classes.
    the white chair on the porch of the building is just like the one i have at my chicken pen, which i set in and enjoy my chicks.

  • Geoffrey

    Good points Rudy!

  • I’ve taken Spanish classes in la Antigua several times, all at the Centro Linguistica Maya. It’s been around for a very long time, is very reputable, the teachers are excellent and it’s very well organized. The best part about going to school was the homestays with families. (where they certainly did NOT speak English) We became very close with our host family and maintain a close relationship with them, many years later. I had no idea about Spanish schools run in bars – and why is it called Korea?? That’s kind of funny.

  • MaggieD

    I’ve been to LAQ for Spanish school 3 times and had good experiences every time (including the trip where I fell off a chicken bus and broke a foot). It’s a no-nonsense and survivable place to learn a dialect of Spanish that will get you by almost anywhere. Yes, the ex-Pat community is large, and many locals do speak English, but their first option is Spanish and I did not have to speak any English ever in the shops or restaurants. I think anyplace more “rustic,” for me, would have been distracting from the purpose of the trips – to learn Spanish. (I like a bit of convenience…) Because of the large tourist trade, restaurants are careful with hygiene and my sensitive stomach had no problem with ANY local fare (except after a meal at a here unnamed N.American fast-food chain). Finding a good school and home-stay options can be tricky, but I was lucky in my first choice and did not deal with home-stay. As you said, anyone thinking of studying language anywhere should do everything possible to get recommendations/advice from former students – I’ve heard horror stories from people who were not as lucky as me. The best way to find a school is to go to the city for a short trip and ask around, but this is not always economically feasible. Websites such as this can give one contacts as well, but pretty much ‘it’s not the school but the teacher.’ The shortest financial commitment possible is probably the best idea, so if a teacher change doesn’t help and a change of school is necessary, one doesn’t lose too much.

    School aside, my last trip was the best because of a tour guide named Rudy 🙂 who had me searching out little hideaway places I never would have even noticed otherwise. Thanks, Rudy! I’m already creating an itinerary for my next trip (but I think I’ll pass on the restaurant with the preserved animal decor).

  • Interesting take on the schools and on learning Spanish in LAG. I’d known several who’ve studied in Spain and gained a lot from their experience. I’ve often wondered about Antigua and appreciate the insights provided. Personally, I learn quite well with some suds near by…however, never did like Disneyland and the long lines either (impatient fellow)…plus, even now (several decades later) I can’t quite get “It’s a small world afterall” out of my head. Quiero mas cerveza….

  • MaggieD

    p.s. Rudy wasn’t a “real” tour guide, not in person anyway – I simply tracked down all the interesting places he wrote about on this site all year… 🙂 Great fun!

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  • very interesting post, a friend of mine was there for a month on one of those intensive courses and was pretty much pleased with the experience.

  • John

    I have been to Antigua many times and have attended several of the language schools. For the most part, I have always had a good experience. I try to attend the schools that pay their instructors a higher wage. I tried attending school for eight hours a day, but that didn’t work for me. There is only so much I can learn in one day. I have had some teachers that not only could teach Spanish but also were experts on history, politics, and culture. In Antigua, it isn’t difficult to find English speakers, however it also isn’t that difficult to avoid. I have found that the residents of Antigua are very patient with people trying to speak Spanish. I am looking forward to my return trip in January.
    John

    p.s. I am amazed at all the students that arrive in Antigua with only “tropical” clothes, not realizing that nights and mornings are very cool in January.

  • Peggy

    My mom and I studied at Ixchel last May and LOVED it! The school was very well run by Jose, the manager. All of the teachers seemed very cheerful and enthusiastic about their work. My teacher, Reina, was excellent as was Marta, my mom’s teacher. We took extra trips offered by the school which were just okay but riding around in the bus with the multinational group of students was a kick in the pants! Our homestay family spoke ZERO English which was great. Incredible adventure, learning experience, eye-opener…

  • A former colleague has shared insights as to how learning Spanish in Antigua can become so much more. I had to come back and comment on some of these. For one, my colleague got to know the people, not just the language. My colleague was invited to a personal function by her teacher and she was more than honored to go and share in traditions she may not have otherwise known of. My colleague (being a teacher) also enjoyed the other activities La Antigua offered since as it has been pointed out, having class the whole day may not be the best option for all. My friend also had the ability to come to class and then leave for a tour and come back to Antigua. That is, Antigua became her center of operations. Sometimes I wish I would have taken Spanish classes, but given my background I would have been a cheater…so no.
    Listen, comparing La Antigua to Disneyland/Disney World while helpful can be rather dangerous. That is, dangerous in the sense that one is equating a historical place with a commercial one. I have been told that La Antigua has become commercial (which I am not going to debate since it obviously has been become more commercial), but the city itself is a place with history whereas Disneyland/Disney World are places where people come to make history so-to-speak. Three points:
    *Disneyland is theme park built in the 1950s. La Antigua is a city that was the capital of Guatemala for 230 years.
    *Leaving aside personal preferences, Antigua is an example of what colonial times looked like (we could call it the Latin-American Pompeii). Disneyland is an attraction that was man-made to resemble different places/times.
    *Antigua has something to offer as far architecture, sculptures, paintings, history, and so on. Disneyland is what we would call in a postmodern world a collage of things that have nothing to do with each other aside from the fact that they are built for the purpose of entertainment.

    This is not to say that I do not go to Disneyland. I personally like Pirates of the Caribbean. I am, however, sensitive when it comes to comparisons such as these…as you can tell. 😀

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  • Lindsey

    I’ve studied in La Antigua and found that most of the time I had to use my Spanish and not my English. From eating out to shopping, there was plenty of practice. Especially with my host family. Lots of practice at the dinner table.

  • Lindsay

    I studied Spanish at the PLFM school in Antigua and I LOVED IT! I wish I could have stayed longer. I was there for 6 weeks and my Spanish was incredible by the time I left. If you do go, don’t expect to get really good at it unless you are there for a long period of time. A week or two won’t change much. I advise to stay at least a month. PLFM does home stays also, and then families were wonderful. I only heard of one student that had a crazy family, and they moved her right away when she said something. The teachers are amazing and very helpful. We took plenty of field trips around the town as well to visit and discuss the sights. I’m jealous of anyone who has had a chance to stay there! Enjoy your time and remember to take a lot of pictures!

  • I taught English at Guate-linda language center and it was a great experience. They have a language exchange program where you teach your native language in exchange for lessons in Spanish. I went in to the program nervous about teaching, as I´d never done it before, but as the class was one-on-one and my student was genuinely interested in learning, I became more and more excited to share the intricacies of the language. In exchange I received lessons from Magdalena, who has over 15 years experience teaching English but none of the staleness that many times accompanies experience. All the classes were one-on-one and we went many times into Antigua to get real world experience practicing Spanish and learning new vocab. It was increible and I strongly recommend Guate-linda Spanish school to anyone interested in learning Spanish. For those like me concerned about poverty, the school donates 10% of their profits to a homeless shelter.

  • Edy Part

    i have a fantastic time at Don Pedro de Alvarado School;I would to recommend this school to anyone. Claudia was my teacher. she was very helpful and lots of fun to work with.She was the best language teacher that I have never had.I hope to come back to Antigua and study at Don Pedro de Alvarado some time again in the future.
    Eddy,Canada
    Feel free to contact me: edy1570@yahoo.com