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Language Study in South America

Alternatives to Private Language Schools: Tutors and Universities

Spanish language textbooks
Find a talkative tutor, use some language textbooks for reference, and you will be reading and speaking Spanish in short order while living in South America at your own pace.

If you have a couple of weeks, a month, or a year and you want to see South America and learn Spanish in the bargain, what do you do? The first impulse is to find a private language school online that offers a package deal (check the South America Language Schools page of the site. But two little-used alternatives to learning Spanish by immersion afford instructional experiences that are more personalized, flexible, effective—and potentially cheaper.

Because they are packaged programs, language schools are safe bets and easy to book and use. They offer frequent start dates, flexible choices of classroom or private instruction, and (usually) room and board with private families, as well as excursions.

However, if you have some experience traveling independently on a budget, a smattering of Spanish, and feel that a package deal is like a boat ride through Jungleland, you may want to take the time to find a private tutor or to enter a regular university class. Obviously, you will have to take care of housing, meals, and “cultural nights” yourself. Bienvenidos!

Private tutors offer the most effective way to learn a language. Tutors advertise in the classified section of local Spanish-language newspapers. You can also advertise by posting notes in the language departments of local universities using your hotel phone number as a contact.

Email any university with an inquiry in English and you may be able to set up a tutor before you enter the country. Universities are always trying to help their graduate students find work, and you may end up with a moonlighting professor. Expect to pay a maximum of $10 an hour.

Don’t arrange for more than two hours a day. Any teacher will attest to the futility of trying to teach two to four times the material by doubling or quadrupling the lecture time. The rigorous four to eight hours per day in a private school is less cost effective than 10 hours per week of private tutoring followed by daily practice around town. Try before you buy. Book a week’s worth of tutoring and see what happens. You can always change tutors. Not so with a prepaid program.

While there are over 350 universities in the nine Spanish-speaking countries of South America Español para extranjeros is uncommon. Courses are volatile and may open or close without prior warning based on demand, so you must check directly with a university. Prices vary wildly, with public institutions usually offering the best prices. Courses designed especially for language tourism, internal business, diplomatic workers, or in conjunction with American universities can be very pricey. Another word of caution is that courses for foreigners will follow regular semester schedules.

University Language Courses

Universidad Nacional
Bogota, Colombia
Universidad Pedogogica Nacional
Bogota, Colombia
Universidad de Cuenca
Cuenca, Ecuador
Universidad de Piura
Piura, Peru
Universidad de Montevideo
Montevideo, Uruguay
Universidad de Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina

I can recommend the following two options based on personal experience. At the University in Buenos Aires my tutor designed a mini course aimed at my weaknesses: reflexives and subjunctives. I learned more in those 30 hours than from the 160 hours I spent in a Porteno private language school.

At Universidad Nacional in Bogota my professor turned out to be a seasoned Colombian academic who spoke nine other languages. Being taught for $2 an hour by an expert in languages was, to say the least, rewarding. Once again, in contrast to the private language school where I had a different instructor every two weeks, the two months of instruction in Bogota was far more effective and enjoyable.

When you arrive in South America you have three choices. Private language classes begin frequently, so if you can’t arrange either a tutor or entry into a university, you can always walk in and sign up. And the choices needn’t be exclusive: a tutor can schedule around your classroom instruction. Whatever the choice, every voice you hear, every conjugation you mangle is part of the unrelenting immersion in Spanish included for free with the price of your airline ticket to South America.

Related Topics
Language Study Abroad
Language Study Programs in South America

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