There is no reason why anybody shouldn’t be able to learn Spanish by themselves without having to attend language classes or take private lessons. There are certainly ample learning resources in the form of textbooks or online material that can guide you through the entire learning experience. The question is which method of learning works best for you! In this article I explain why I decided to attend classes at a Spanish school in Guatemala even though I had previously studied most of the material they were about to cover via some form of self-study!

After spending about a month or so in Mexico I decided it was time to head further South into Guatemala via Belize. Mexico was my first experience of being in a Spanish speaking country and trying to communicate using the Spanish I had learnt from a text book back in the UK. Not only was the Spanish I learnt in Mexico invaluable but the entire experience taught me a lot about different learning methods and in particular the benefits of learning via cultural immersion.

Although I had done some previous self-study in the UK one of the biggest problems I encountered when trying to communicate in Spanish in Mexico was not knowing enough vocabulary and not being able to structure my sentences properly. I was putting words together but in the wrong order or I was using verbs in the completely wrong tense, or just using a verb in its infinitive form because I didn’t know any better!

These are some of the reasons why I decided that I needed to do some repeat studying. I basically felt that I had forgotten a lot of the things I had previously studied! This type of problem is of course a very common one. Nobody can be expected to learn and retain absolutely everything they have studied. To forget things is completely normal!

There are many reasons why we might forget the things we learn. Many of these reasons stem from bad learning techniques. I talked about some of these things in more detail in an earlier article, but generally speaking using a variety of techniques (written, oral and listening), and using different types of quizzes and exercises generally works better than just reading from a textbook.

One of the things I could have done was to spend more time each day by myself with my head in a book going over Spanish grammar and trying to learn and remember more Spanish words. Even though I could have used a number of different techniques to best achieve this, the idea still wasn’t very appealing! Something that was much more appealing and logical, especially as I was already immersing myself in Latin American culture was to attend classes at a Spanish school run by local Spanish speaking teachers.

I am not suggesting that attending language classes will work better than self-study. As I said before this really depends on the individual! There are however some real benefits of having someone teach you Spanish face to face rather than trying to learn entirely by yourself.

The obvious advantage of being taught by a real person is that a person can talk back to you and answer your questions if you don’t understand something. A real teacher can explain things in more than one way or in a way that makes you understand better. Textbooks cannot change the way they explain things based on who it is that is reading the book!

Another great advantage of being taught by a real person is that you can put what you have learnt, into practice immediately. You can get instant feedback on whether or not you have understood something correctly.

Although it is not essential, being taught by a teacher that is a native speaker of Spanish can also be an advantage! This isn’t because they will necessarily know more, or be better teachers. Actually it is often the opposite! Native speakers of Spanish might know less. They can tell you how the language should be spoken without thinking about it but they might not be able to explain to you why it is spoken in the way that it is! This is because they don’t need to understand the grammar that underpins the language. They just speak it naturally! Of course any good Spanish teacher whether a native speaker or not should be able to teach you Spanish grammar.

Being taught by a native Spanish speaking teacher means you can practice listening to how the language is actually spoken! Listening is a very important part of the entire study process and the more accustomed you get to hearing real Spanish the better.

The Spanish language school I decided to go to was situated in Antigua, Guatemala. My choice of school was dictated by location more than anything. It was the obvious choice after leaving Mexico! I had read that not only was Antigua a good place to study Spanish but it also offered a rich colonial history and was surrounded by several volcanoes, one of which (Pacaya), was continually active and could be visited via a guided tour.

Antigua is home to a number of different well-established Spanish schools that are geared towards teaching Spanish to foreigners. The specific school that I chose in the end was larger than some of the others and was able to provide accommodation and different guided tours as part of the entire study package.

In my next article I intend to talk in more detail about the Spanish language school that I attended in Antigua, Guatemala. I will explain how the lessons were conducted and how I benefitted from the different teaching styles that my teacher and the school in general used during my two weeks of study there.


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