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How to choose a Spanish school at Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is a hub for Spanish students and with good reason: Spanish classes are cheap; people here usually speak slowly and clearly, which makes it much easier to practice what you’ve learned; and the setting is spectacular. You also have many schools to choose from. So how do you know that you’ll get your money’s worth when you enroll in classes here? The secret is to do your research and choose the best school for your needs. If you’re wondering how to choose a Spanish school at Lake Atitlan, here are five things you need to look for:



1. Check the school’s credentials

Not all Lake Atitlan Spanish schools are created equal. Some pop up seemingly overnight and their main objective is to make a quick buck. Others, however, have been operating for years and have successfully taught thousands of students to speak Spanish. The first thing you need to look for in a Spanish school is its credentials. A good school is registered with and accredited by at least these institutions:

· The Guatemalan Ministry of Education: Guatemala’s Ministry of Education, or Mineduc, oversees the country’s education system. It sets the standards that schools in Guatemala have to comply with. If your Spanish school is accredited and authorized by Mineduc, you know that you’ll have properly trained and qualified teachers who follow an approved curriculum.

· The Guatemalan Institute of Tourism: The Guatemalan Institute of Tourism, or INGUAT, is Guatemala’s tourism authority. INGUAT works to promote businesses in the tourism industry that provide visitors to the country with a positive experience while operating in a sustainable way. A Spanish school recognized by INGUAT is one that will offer you great service, will help ensure your safety and may arrange excursions where you can learn more about the country and its people.

In addition to authorization by Mineduc and INGUAT, it will also help if your Spanish school is accredited by or affiliated with the Guatemalan American Institute – the IGA – and a renowned university like the Rural University of Guatemala. These institutions train Spanish teachers not only in the proper use of the language but also in the latest teaching methodologies. After all, learning a language successfully is not only about what you learn but also about how you learn it.



2. Find out about the format of the classes

Trying to learn Spanish in a class with 30 other students is a recipe for failure. Teachers can pay more individual attention to their students if classroom sizes are small. In fact, for language learning your best bet is one-on-one classes where your teacher can properly monitor your progress, identify the areas you’re struggling with and devise strategies to help you learn at your own pace and in the way that suits you best. The top Spanish schools at Lake Atitlan offer one-on-one classes tailor-made for your needs and focusing on interactivity rather than just having you parrot the teacher. As an added extra, they may also offer additional conversation classes where several students get together and practice their Spanish, with a teacher facilitating.



3. Find out about extracurricular activities

Spanish classes give you the foundation to build on but the golden rule for becoming proficient in the language is practice, practice, practice. In other words, you need to speak Spanish as much as possible outside of class too. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the extracurricular activities that a good Lake Atitlan Spanish school offers. Whether it’s a volcano hike with an experienced guide or a trip to one of Guatemala’s attractions – from the world-famous Chichicastenango market to Mayan ruins or the beaches of the Pacific coast – getting out of your comfort zone to go exploring is a fun way to get to know Guatemala, interact with its people and, yes, practice your Spanish. You won’t even realize you’re learning along the way! Some schools, like San Pedro Spanish School, offer tours to their students.


If you’d like to give back to this welcoming country, you can also do volunteer work in communities that need a helping hand. A good, socially responsible Spanish school is involved with local NGOs and will hook you up with volunteer opportunities around the lake. Volunteer work typically involves having to communicate with people who don’t speak any English, so in the process you’ll get to improve your Spanish while making new friends.



4. Look at the accommodation options near the school

While you’re attending Spanish school, you’ll need a place to stay. Most good Spanish schools offer you the option to enroll as a day student while you arrange your own accommodation in a hostel, hotel or Airbnb. Some may even have a student house available where you can stay with other students. However, the best Spanish schools at Lake Atitlan also offer homestays, where you stay with a carefully vetted local family for the duration of your course. This way you get to improve your Spanish through total immersion while learning about the lives of everyday Guatemalans.



5. Consider the price

Let’s be honest: one of the reasons many people choose Guatemala as the country where they want to learn Spanish is because Spanish schools here are so affordable. However, when you look at a Spanish school’s tuition fees, remember the old adage that you get what you pay for. Accredited Spanish schools in Guatemala tend to offer classes within a similar price range. If a school offers classes at much cheaper rates, you should see this as a red flag. Maybe the school doesn’t have the credentials it should have. Or maybe the teachers aren’t qualified. Or maybe the teachers are grossly underpaid and won’t be motivated to offer you their best.

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© 2017 Study Spanish in Guatemala. 

Photography by Rene de Carufel / additional images by Martin Gray

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