Spanish Study in Guatemala
Stay in One Place to Learn Language and Culture
The author and her Spanish instructor, Cesar, at Proyecto Linguistico Francisco Marroquin in Antigua, Guatemala.
Cesar talked animatedly as he sketched a diagram of his house in the Guatemalan village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes. His drawing showed his home connected to the houses of his parents and his siblings. As I concentrated
hard in order to understand his rapid-fire Spanish, I also thought about how unusual such a multi-generational arrangement would be in the U.S.
As my Spanish instructor at the Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín (PLFM) in Antigua, Guatemala, Cesar attempted to demystify por vs. para for me and breathe life into the past and future
tenses. Our lively conversations also provided insights into Guatemalan politics, history, and social customs.
We all hope to have meaningful interactions with local people when we travel, but that is easier said than done, when you don’t know the language. Staying in one place while you learn the language allows you
to experience daily life and the rhythms of the country more easily than if you rush around trying to see as much as possible.
Fortunately, it also won’t do too much damage to your wallet. At PLFM, seven hours per day of one-on-one instruction with a native Guatemalan costs just $135 per week, plus a $50 registration fee. Those who want
their afternoons left open to explore the city’s color-filled cobblestone streets can choose four hours of instruction each day for $80 per week (the 4-hour option is not available mid-May through mid-August).
Spanish schools abound in Guatemala’s charming colonial capital. PLFM is the oldest—it was founded in 1971. Other characteristics that set it apart are its nonprofit status and the fact that every
member of the school’s board of directors is Mayan. PLFM uses its proceeds to preserve Mayan languages, which you may also study there.
The school has three locations around Antigua. I studied at a branch near the ornate La Merced church. The instruction takes place in a long, lush outdoor garden. Simple, roofed partitions, each with space for one
student and one teacher, line both sides of the garden. Your teacher will tailor your studies to your goals, whether you need to start with the basics, want to improve your conversation skills, or wish to master verb tenses. You also have
the option of taking a break from the classroom and walking about the city with your teacher. Homework assignments each night help reinforce what you learn during the day.
To get the full experience, consider a homestay. I was hesitant about the idea—concerned about Spanish overload and the need for my own space—but now I can’t believe I ever thought about not taking
advantage of this option. PLFM will arrange a homestay for $65 a week, which includes three home-cooked meals a day. You will have your own room and share a bathroom, or pay $20 extra per week to have your own. I lived with a lovely
woman named Olga in her comfortable apartment, located in a quiet and convenient part of the city. The school can also help you arrange bed and breakfast accommodations.
I had read in guidebooks and heard from other travelers that you should request to be the only student in your homestay, so you will not be tempted to speak English. For me, though, sharing the homestay with two other
students, a Dutch woman and a Swiss man, only added to the experience. In addition to getting a glimpse of daily life in Antigua, I also learned a little about life in Switzerland and Holland. Plus I was glad to have ready-made companions
for nighttime adventures in Antigua.
At meals, the other students and I attempted (with varying levels of success) to converse in Spanish with Olga and her housekeeper, a young Mayan named Cecelia. Olga’s dog, La Dolly, was also a receptive and
non-judgmental listener. Lots of laughter and delicious food rounded out mealtimes. My favorite breakfast consisted of licuados (fresh fruit shakes) and pancakes. Lunch and dinner ranged from beans, rice, and tortillas to chicken, ham,
or beef with vegetables. Vegetarians need not be concerned; the school can accommodate them in homestays.
Olga smiled broadly when she showed us a notebook containing the names and addresses of the many students to whom she has opened her home over the years, and Cesar spoke fondly about his former students. It is amazing
to think about the connections between Guatemalans and people all over the world that PLFM and other language schools have made possible.
For more information on PLFM contact Language Link, a U.S.-based company that helps arrange studies at language schools in Spanish-speaking countries: www.langlink.com/guatemala, firstname.lastname@example.org;
800-552-2051 or 309.673.9220.