Learning Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico
Resources updated 9/2015
by Transitions Abroad
Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ka) awakens
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:
- Some attend schools for a quick week-long immersion to prepare themselves for continued travel in the region.
- 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
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
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.