Go Before You Know
To Select a School in Guatemala, Go See for Yourself
The key to selecting a language school in Guatemala is to go there before you enroll in a program. This doesn’t mean going without doing any planning whatsoever. Good travelers are prepared with advance information but open
Guidebook series like the Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, and the Footprint handbooks rarely mention language programs outside the most visited locales, Antigua and Quetzaltenango. While the Internet provides more listings, there is
little information about the individual programs. Talking to other travelers who have studied in Guatemala fills out the picture, but you won’t know about the newer schools until you go there and see for yourself.
From a distance, most schools sound similar and offer comparable “package deal” Spanish language immersion programs: 25 hours per week of one-on-one instruction, homestays with Guatemalan families, cultural excursions
and activities, and volunteer community development projects. The prices, too, are similar: from $125-$150 per week (some programs raise their prices during the summer, but not all). All schools, by necessity, are flexible; most allow you to enroll
at any time.
1. Find the place you like. Visit the town and school before you commit to spending your entire two-week trip there. Antigua, Guatemala’s colonial jewel, is an enchanting place but the volume of tourists might turn
you off. Quetzaltenango has fewer tourists and is the crossroads for many excursions, but it offers few cultural attractions.
While most travelers study in these two towns, you might find you want to do go farther afield--like Huehuetenango, a bustling gateway to the remote villages in the Western Highlands, or to an indigenous village like Todos Santos
Cuchumatán, where you can learn Mam or Quiché and work on conservation projects. Far to the north, in the remote and tropical Petén region near Tikal, you can immerse yourself in Spanish away from the gringo trail. Cobán,
a coffee-growing region in the center of the country, has more recently opened up to language study. On the Caribbean sliver of the country, Livingston, and, upriver, Rio Dulce, you can study white egrets and manatees along with Spanish.
2. Find a program that fits. For your own sense of security it’s a good idea to be prepared with the name and address of at least one school in the area where you want to study. Once you’re there, the travelers’
network, that informal exchange of information on hotels and not-to-be-missed sites, extends to language schools as well. Also, hotels and hostels, cafes and restaurants--any places where travelers are likely to go-- will have posters for language schools.
The tourist office, INGUAT, can provide you with a map and directions but probably not much information about language programs.
Visiting language schools is a great way to start. Rest assured that there will always be someone who can speak to you in English. Take the time to get all the details you need about class schedules, how you will be matched with
a homestay family, and all the costs. If you’re interested in volunteering, ask for some background on the projects.
Well-established schools might impress you with their organization but might not be as flexible as you want. Don’t discount newer and smaller schools that might offer more attention and more accommodation to your schedule.
Let your impressions guide you: If you’re clear about what you want out of your language study experience, it will soon become apparent whether or not the program will serve your needs. Ask to sit in on a class, take a tour, or talk to a current
student. A good program will welcome these requests.
If you enroll in person, some programs waive registration fees. If you’re planning on staying for several weeks, or if you are in a couple, you can negotiate for reduced tuition. But you can’t do this by mail or even
by e-mail from the U.S.
3. Find a teacher who is compatible. There are many different methods of language instruction and different teaching styles. Observing a class is the best way to find out if the teacher’s style is compatible with your
learning preferences. Be aware of how you learn best: Is it by studying grammar out of a book, talking about a movie you saw, or reading the newspaper?
Observe how the teacher uses materials in class, how he or she interacts with the students. Who does more speaking, the teacher or students? Is the teacher responsive to students’ interests and questions? Your observations
will guide you to the right teacher for you.
4. Create your own program. One of the benefits of the “wait and see” approach is the opportunity for creating a program all on your own. You might find that the school’s packages cover more than you want,
or you might want more flexibility.
In Antigua and Quetzaltenango, an economy has grown up around the language school “industry.” Many teachers teach privately to supplement their incomes. Families are willing to host travelers unconnected to a program.
There is a common price for both of these arrangements, so you don’t have to do any real negotiating. Again, other travelers, a teacher in a program, your hotel or hostel owner, or a waiter in a café can put you on the path to freelance
study and homestays.
It’s even possible to find community service projects on your own. Countless organizations need help. In a day or two, you can orchestrate your own customized study abroad experience.
The Internet is now the best place to get an overview of language schools in Guatemala, though still imperfect. Many of your hits will be for individual programs, and only the most established programs can afford a web site. The
following sites provide the best sampling of language programs throughout the country:
www.worldwide.edu/ci/guatemala/fguatemala.html has addresses for many schools in Guatemala City, Antigua, and Quetzaltenango and for some programs
outside of these areas. Only a few direct links are available.
www.guatemalainfo.com provides a geographic listing of programs, including those in the Rio Dulce and Petén areas, with direct site links and e-mail addresses.
It also includes links to other travel resources and to Guatemala’s English-language magazine.
Editor's Note: Since 1999 other excellent language sites for Guatemala have popped up, including: