Spanish Level 0? Why You Shouldn’t Stay with a Host Family in Nicaragua

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After traveling Europe for nearly a year I began to feel a little dim-witted knowing only how to speak one language, English, so I decided to attend a Spanish school in Nicaragua. I read online it was one of the easier languages to pick up. It was not.

a church in leon nicaragua
A church in the main plaza of León, Nicaragua

The Spanish School

I ended up in blistering hot León, Nicaragua in the Dariana Spanish School knowing just about zero Spanish. I had brazenly decided to enroll in the 1 week 20-hour intensive Spanish program at a homestay with a Nicaraguan family. At 250 USD it was a decent price as far as Spanish schools go in Latin America for private lessons including lodging. The price also included some group activities with the class including a historical walking tour and salsa lessons.

a street with horse drawn carriage
The street where Dariana Spanish School was located

The Experience

Dariana school was centrally located and had pleasant open air classrooms next to trees and grass. Everything looked great initially until I got down to the actually learning.

This first week of Spanish I struggled immensely. 4 hours a day of private lessons is intense on the first attempt at a language. Classes started at 9 am and ended at 1 pm. The first day my instructor slabbed a heavy binder of course notes with the entire zero to hero Spanish program, which was at the same time confusing and daunting. Every day dragged on and I ended up talking more in English with my instructor about the video games he likes and the demeanor of his foreigner friends. Still, I pushed to learn my vocabulary and grammar, but in the end, I didn’t retain a whole lot of information.

a streetart mural
What my brain felt like concentrating on the whole time instead of Spanish

The other half of the struggle was the homestay. I got placed in an extremely hot room by myself with a tiny fan to cool me down for those 29 C nights. After coming from a month in the cool to mild winter climate of Tulsa, Oklahoma a bit of an adjustment would have been an understatement.

a room
My room at the homestay and my tiny life saver, the fan

Without knowing any Spanish I had to resort to hand gestures with my hosts at the homestay. I ate my meals in awkward silence with the mom, dad, and their daughter. Afterward, I would move to my room and try to study Spanish by myself. After a few days of that, I don’t think I’d ever felt so lonely in a house full of people. Luckily the extracurricular events gave me an opportunity to meet my fellow students so I had some friends to hang out with later on in the week, but those first few days were tough. One of the guys I met in the class even organized for us to go volcano boarding just outside of León on the most active volcano in Nicaragua.

people in orange coveralls
The classmates just before volcano boarding


In the end, I wouldn’t dive straight into 4 hours a day intensive language lessons without at least studying something in advance. 2 hours a day would have been a more appropriate amount of time to ease into the studies. As a result, I feel like it was a little bit of a waste that first week as I didn’t even know enough vocabulary to learn anything grammatical or for that matter useful. I was stuck trying to slowly memorize words with my teacher.

In addition, staying in the homestay was also a mistake for somebody who doesn’t know anything about the language. I knew so little Spanish I couldn’t communicate at all with my host family, defeating the whole point of staying there. Therefore, unless one knows at least the basics of Spanish, I would highly recommend against staying with a host family.

Overall I would recommend Dariana Spanish school, but depending on the level of Spanish one wishes to study, the homestay may not be worth it. Also, 4 hours a day is quite a long time to study if you are not familiar with the language at all. Did I mention León wasn’t exactly my favorite place?

At least there was cool street art in León



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