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Learn Spanish in Guatemala

Language Study in Quetzaltenango

For language study, many students choose Antigua, a UNESCO-listed city 45 minutes from Guatemala City. To be fair, Antigua is all it is purported to be: colonial architecture, dramatic scenery, and Maya culture. But add to that list a thriving tourist industry, and language immersion becomes a bit more of a challenge to maintain. This is why I opted for Xela, the Mayan name for Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second largest city, located in the northern highlands.

My primary reason for being there, of course, was to learn Spanish. Celas Maya, the school I attended, hires university students or trained teachers to tutor foreign students individually or in groups for four to five hours a day. The schools also offer homestays where part of the students's tuition goes directly to a family to provide a simple room and three home-cooked meals per day for anywhere from $110 to $150 per week.

Celas Maya was founded by members of the local indigenous community and their mission involves more than simply providing some jobs and teaching Spanish. Celas Maya also gives Mayan students access to computers and the Internet. Local vendors sell their wares at designated times in the school foyer. Dance instructors come in to teach students to salsa and meringue; local intellectuals speak out on social issues; students tour factories, cooperatives, and orphanages; and the school quite literally seeks to keep a culture alive by providing language lessons in Quiche, one of the 23 Maya dialects that are still spoken in Guatemala.

Such community action is not unusual. The movement to keep the Maya culture alive began in Xela. At last count there were over 30 language centers.

Quetzaltenango may not be well known as a "tourist destination," but that does not mean there is nothing to see. Xela's location is excellent for afternoon and weekend excursions, and most schools will offer at least one trip each week if you are not inclined to set them up independently.

Many of the schools are on the Internet. I registered ahead of time, knowing exactly where I wanted to be, but the footloose traveler should have no trouble simply showing up. Be specific about your goals and most schools are willing to accommodate your needs.

For More Info

Celas Maya,

Xela Pages,

KEVIN REVOLINSKI is a sometimes teacher, sometimes writer who has taught English in Turkey, Panama, Italy, and Guatemala.

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