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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?