Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Send Yourself to Language School This Summer

If you teach a lot of Spanish-speaking ELLs in a content area, one of the quickest and most effective ways to learn is to attend a language school in a Spanish-speaking country. These schools incorporate vocabulary, reading and writing with practical, conversational Spanish. Most importantly, the school and your foreign surroundings create the kind of full immersion that forces you to learn.

A few years ago I attended Escuela Mexicana in Guanajuato, Mexico. At EM, you had the option of staying at their hostel or with a host family. I wanted to be able to come and go as I pleased, so I stayed in the hostel, but staying with a family offers another opportunity to fully immerse yourself. I went with my friend Dave, a teacher who spoke almost no Spanish when we started, but it was so easy to make friends among our classmates at EM. These people were from all over the world and of all ages and nationalities, and they formed a community and camaraderie that made the experience so much more than it would have been without it.

The school itself is an very airy, open old building not far from the hostel. The school enrollment varies as people come and go from week to week, but my biggest class was probably four people. The schedule is flexible depending on how much time you're there and what you want to accomplish in that time. If you want to take every language class, that's great, if you only want to take a cooking or dancing course and spend the rest of your time exploring the city, that's fine too. You can focus on one-on-one tutoring, or small group courses as I did. I had about 3 classes a day during the week.

I was already what the school considered an intermediate speaker, but I there's no quantifiable measure for how much I gained that summer. My confidence grew as I became more comfortable with listening and conversing in Spanish, not just ordering things at restaurants or knowing a few school-related words only useful in the classroom. Building confidence in your language skills is essential to make progress.

Throughout the week and on weekends, there were always trips offered--museums, landmarks and good old fashioned relaxation. We spent one weekend at a hot spring spa outside the city and then traveling to San Miguel de Allende, which has a mountaintop view you have to see to believe.

My favorite places were all in the city proper, though: The Museo de las Mumias, which is part of city history and lore, was unreal. My classmates and I spent a lot of time at Cafe Tal, the friendly neighborhood coffee bar, and Bar Fly, the bar adjacent to the hostel.

Honestly, there were times I didn't want to leave. Life was easy, not to mention cheap, and I certainly spent a lot time trying to figure out how I could make it work. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, but Guanajuato will always hold a special place in my heart.

Learn more about Escuela Mexicana here. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have or elaborate on my experience. If you've had similar experiences, please share them in the comments section!