Home. Transitions Abroad founded 1977.  
Travel Work Living Teach Intern Volunteer Study Language High School

Learning Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico

Resources updated 6/6/2021 by Transitions Abroad

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 Mexico."

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 — the 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 in Oaxaca.

Some of the language schools hold their own events.The Instituto Cultural Oaxaca has 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 (Nov 1-2), Guelaguetza (July 20 & 27), and the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Radish Night (December 23) just before Christmas.

Where to Learn Spanish in Oaxaca?

I recommend the following schools, which are all members of ASESEO.

(Please note that each individual school has a variety of programs of study from which to choose: beginning, moderate, intensive, group and private Language Learning, etc. Many of the programs involve options such as cultural activities and optional homestays.)

Instituto Cultural Oaxaca

Becari Language School

Don Quijote in Oaxaca

Related Topics
Language Learning in Mexico
Articles and Resources on Mexico
More by Ron Mader
Responsible Tourism Photography in Oaxaca
Responsible Travel in Mexico and Central America
Xochimilco Gardens: Tourism Maintains Jobs for Thousands of Workers

About Us  
Contact Us  
© 1997-2024 Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc.
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy Terms and Conditions California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) Opt-Out IconYour Privacy Choices Notice at Collection