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Learning Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico


Oaxaca
Angela Mendoza. Photo courtesy of Carlos Hernandez Topete / Instituto Cultural Oaxaca.

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ka) awakens the senses.

This is not hyperbolic promotion, but rather a candid assessment of a place that is ideal for a learning vacation. Immerse yourself in sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures that are unique. During the past eight years I have lived in Oaxaca and have had the privilege of getting to know many students. Said one friend and native New Yorker, "When you hang out with Mexicans and you speak Spanish, you are in a different México."

From Political Protests to Cultural Revival

Oaxaca zoomed into the news in 2006 when headlines screamed of social unrest.  The protests began as a sit-in strike by about 40,000 teachers demanding higher pay in mid-May. In June, the government evicted the protesters in a forcible removal, the desalojo. Protests escalated in June and July with a series of "megamarches." From August-October demonstrators seized local radio stations, barricaded roads, and burned buses. In late October, Mexico's President sent in federal police who retook the downtown plaza or Zócalo, though the protesters regrouped in front of the Santo Domingo Church. The protesters engaged the police in late November and were pushed out of the city.

Understandably tourism took a nosedive and many small businesses went under. To survive the crisis, local Spanish language schools organized themselves to develop cooperative marketing ventures.

Who Takes the Classes?

There are two primary groups who take classes:

  1. Some attend schools for a quick week-long immersion to prepare themselves for continued travel in the region.
  2. Others take classes for several weeks or months to develop their language skills further.

It is also not uncommon for couples to arrive where one spouse already speaks Spanish and the partner attends classes to get up to speed.

Where to Stay

Language schools often assist students in finding homestays. Living with families helps students with language learning and cultural assimilation. For those who prefer not to live with a family, hotels, and apartments are available.

How to Learn Spanish Effectively

The keys to successfully learning a foreign language invariably involve having a strong desire to learn while putting yourself in a position where learning is enjoyable. Experiential learning—he process of creating meaning from direct experience—extends beyond the classroom. Learning Spanish by practicing the language takes a plethora of forms in Oaxaca, where you can learn to dance at the Salon de la Salsa, or play rugby with the Zinacantli Rugby Club—which practices Saturdays at the Ciudad Universitaria.

Other opportunities include taking cooking classes in a place which renowned chef Rick Bayless says offers a taste of real Mexico. Oaxaca City's Abastos Market regularly receives seasonal produce from all over the state of Oaxaca and the country. Asking the sellers how to prepare huitlacoche—mutated corn smut—or anything else that strikes your fancy will begin a long and tasty conversation!

There is no shortage of cultural events, book readings and art openings. Keep an eye on the En Amor Arte de Oaxaca calendar for details.

Some of the language schools hold their own events. Instituto Amigos del Sol has partnered with Planeta.com by co-hosting the Rural Tourism Fairs and this past year the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca launched a series of Fair Trade expos in which local artesanos and chocolate producers are invited to sell directly to students.

When to Learn Spanish?

To take full advantage of learning Spanish in Oaxaca you should be aware of the calendar of traditional festivals and celebrations. Nearby villages celebrate particular Saint's Days with reverence, not to mention a cavalcade of good food and amusements. The city's chief holidays are Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2), Guelaguetza (the last two Mondays of July) and the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Radish Night (December 23) just before Christmas.

Where to Learn Spanish?

I recommend the following schools, which are all members of ASESEO. If you have a good or poor experience with a school, let me know about it via the Planeta.com contact form:

Instituto Amigos del Sol
Pino Suárez #802
Phone: (951) 133-6052
Contact: Rogelio Ballesteros
www.oaxacanews.com
20 hours/week $160

Instituto Cultural Oaxaca
Avenida Juárez #909
Phone: (951) 515-3404
Contact: Lucero Topete
www.icomexico.com
20 hours/week $130, plus registration fee

Becari Spanish Language School
M. Bravo #210, Plaza San Cristóbal
Phone: (951) 514-6076
Contacts: Sandra Rivera
www.becari.com.mx
20 hours/week $160

Becari Spanish Language School
Quintana Roo #209
Oaxaca, Oaxaca
Phone: (951) 516-4634
Contact: Martha Canseco
www.becari.com.mx
20 hours/week $160

Solexico Language and Cultural Center
Abasolo #217, corner of Avenida Juarez
Phone: (951) 516-5680
Contact: Elizabeth Petter
www.solexico.com
15 hours / week $149, plus registration fee

Academia Vinigulaza
Abasolo #50
Phone: (951) 513-2763
Contact: Catherine Kumar
www.vinigulaza.com
20 hours / week $140

Español Interactivo Language School
Armenta y López #311-B
Phone: (951) 514-6062
Contact: Luz Ojeda
www.studyspanishinoaxaca.com
20 hours/week $150