Two weeks of intensive Spanish immersion can jump start or reinvigorate your language learning experience – regardless of your level of proﬁciency. I spent two vacations at a small school in Costa Rica, and my ﬂuency level jumped signiﬁcantly. Here are some tips for making the most of your trip.
Find a school where you will get individual attention
Large schools have big advertising budgets, but they might not offer the maximum benefit for your money. You’ll learn more and become ﬂuent faster in a school where you receive individual attention. Look for schools that limit classroom size to just a few students and that offer you the opportunity to relate to the faculty before and after scheduled classes.
I found that the most productive use of my time was to take a morning class with several other students, use my break and lunch times to talk with the faculty members and my classmates, then take private lessons during the afternoon. Private lessons allow you to practice, clarify, and solidify what you studied during the morning. Plus, you will be working with someone who is focused only on your needs and your progress.
Yes, private lessons add to the expense – but they are well worth it, and you’ll pay a lot less than you would in the US.
Choose a homestay instead of a hotel
With a homestay, you’ll be paying a minimal price for room and board, you’ll be helping a local family make ends meet, and you’ll have a true immersion experience. Your homestay is where a lot of your practice and progress will take place. Don’t miss it. Yes, you will be overwhelmed at times, but that’s part of the experience.
During evenings with your homestay family, don’t retreat to your room after dinner. Stay up and talk so that you can get to know each other. Chances are, they will not have traveled as much as you have, and you will likely be their introduction to parts of the world they have never visited. Likewise, your best understanding of daily life and culture in Costa Rica will come from your experiences with your homestay family. I’m still friends with my homestay family of a decade ago, and I often meet with their relatives living in the US. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to experience Costa Rican culture.
Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself
Children are sponges when it comes to language learning. One reason that they learn quickly is because they are not yet worried about making mistakes, saying something silly, or looking stupid. Here’s where it helps to think like a child.
Remember this: If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. No one ever got ﬂuent in Spanish by studying until they perfected all the pronunciation, grammar, idioms, etc., before beginning to speak. Some of your mistakes will be hillarious, so learn to laugh and enjoy them.
I used to get the Spanish word for taxes (impuestos) confused with the word for income (ingresos). During my ﬁrst trip, I asked a member of my homestay family if she paid a lot of taxes. (At least that’s what I thought I had asked her.) Turns out that I asked her how much money she made. After she recovered from the shock, and realized what I was a trying to say, we had a fun time laughing about it. Since that time, I’ve never confused those two words. Keep in mind what Plato said: “What we learn with delight we never forget.” So be willing to give someone else a laugh or two and learn from your mistakes.
Don’t fall into the trap of speaking English with friends
Spanish immersion schools have a fun atmosphere where you’ll no doubt make good friends with your new classmates. But be careful. It’s very easy to fall back on English when speaking with your new friends and forget about the Spanish you came to learn in the first place. Try and make a pact with yourself that you will spend most, if not all of your time speaking Spanish, even with students who are above or below your level.
This is a tough thing to pull off, but if you can manage it, you will be rewarded with a much greater understanding of the language and really maximize your time.
Practice with people who speak Spanish correctly
Every Spanish speaking country has its own set of slang, and Costa Rica is no exception. In general, however, Costa Rican Spanish is universally understandable, and for that reason, it’s a great place to study and learn. To make the most of your practice time, ﬁnd someone who speaks precisely and correctly.
Generally, the more intelligent and educated your practice partner, the more you will learn. Also, older, mature adults make great practice partners. They are not out to impress you, they just like to communicate. They have a wealth of experience to share, and they can assess your level of ﬂuency and adjust their comments accordingly.
Want More Info?
Interested in ﬁnding a Spanish school in Costa Rica that ﬁts your needs? Write us an email or leave a comment below, and we’ll give you some recommendations. (We take no commission from the schools we recommend. We simply pass along to you what has worked for us.)
¡Que tengas una experiencia maravillosa!