Taking a spanish course abroad can be one of your most exciting adventures. You not only learn Spanish abroad but get to experience whole new cultures and customs that are as diverse as Spanish itself! But first, how do you pick a Spanish course abroad? In this guide we break it down step by step:
We all have reasons to learn Spanish and with that comes objectives and goals we want to achieve. If the outcome you want is to be fluent by the end of the course, then that changes how much time you should go abroad for. The same is true if you want to learn Spanish overseas—you’re better off going to that region! If you’re not sure of your goals, here are a few common questions to help you out:
Many people want to learn Spanish in 3 months or less and become fluent. You can do it, but it almost always requires an immersive experience and a summer’s worth of time. If you’re in college, retired, or have more flexible time, then you might just be able to set this goal for yourself! How fast you can learn Spanish depends on the hours you can put into it. The more hours and real-life experiences you have, the faster you’ll get there.
The Foreign Services Institute (FSI) calculates it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in Spanish. Depending on the hours invested each day, it can take between 1 year (1.3 hours a day) and 3 months (5 hours a day) to reach basic fluency.
For most people, it will take longer since practicing daily can be difficult. The great news is that a week-long Spanish course abroad can give you up to 40 hours of Spanish lessons in an immersive environment. Full immersion is one of the best ways to learn Spanish because the moment you leave the classroom, you apply what you learned.
Combining Spanish courses abroad with regular lessons in your day-to-day can also be an effective strategy to become fluent more quickly.
Consider your plans for learning Spanish after the course when setting your goals. Since it takes time and effort to become fluent in Spanish, it’s worthwhile to know your options once you are back.
Taking online Spanish lessons by Skype or Zoom can be very affordable. If you want to continue with the school you’ll travel to, check to see if they have online Spanish lessons. Many of the schools offering Spanish courses abroad will have some online Spanish classess too!
If you plan on taking Spanish classes near you, and you live in an area with many immigrants from Argentina or Mexico, then maybe it makes sense to take a Spanish course abroad in either of those two countries. That way, when you’re back you can interact with the community and continue learning from them. Check out our online Spanish courses here
Spanish is a diverse language and each country has a different accent, pronunciation, local vocabulary, and sometimes even congunations change. Below we list each major country and explain their Spanish variations so you can explore each option. As I said, if you live in an area that has a large community from a particular country, you may want to learn that type of Spanish. A large portion of the Hispanic population in the US comes from Mexico, so many Americans travel there to learn Spanish. That said, most Spanish schools teach a neutral, universal, Spanish that will prepare you for anywhere you may go.
Knowing your goals for learning Spanish will help you figure out where to go for your Spanish course abroad. Timing considerations and how far a place is always come into play, but to help you out we’ve listed out the main factors: countries, best times to travel, safety, ease of getting around, and travel costs.
Studying Spanish in Mexico
Claims the top spot as the Spanish-speaking country with the largest population. It is filled with quaint cities and towns like Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende. Mexico City, its capital and one of the largest cities in the world, is a trove of culture and a top travel destination. If you like mexican cuisine, you’ll be blown away with the food wherever you travel in Mexico.
Spanish: Neutral accent; easy to understand
Learning Spanish in Argentina
Beautiful Argentina, it is known for its rich literature, beautiful cities, and tango. Buenos Aires, it’s capital and economic hub, boasts beautiful parks and neighborhoods like Palermo and Recoleta that are known for being major art centers. The north and south of Argentina are diverse, with popular ski resorts and quaint towns like Bariloche, nestled in the southern Andes. The culture and geography here will leave you desperate for another Spanish course in Argentina.
Like Chile, Spanish in Argentina changes a bit. The use of “vos” instead of “tu” is common, but Spanish schools will focus on neutral Spanish.
Popular Spanish Course destinations: Buenos Aires, Bariloche
Spanish: Thicker accent; harder to understand; use of “vos”
Going to Chile for Spanish Courses Abroad
The land of the Incas, Chile is one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America. It covers much of South America’s pacific side and while not the longest country in the world, it’s diversity from north to south is incredible. Go to the salt flats in the northern Atacama Desert or ski in the southern Andes.
Spanish in Chile changes a bit, with its own conjugation for “tu”. While Spanish school will teach you neutral Spanish, you will encounter this particularity when talking to natives.
Popular Spanish Course destinations: Santiago, Pichilemu
Spanish: thicker accent; harder to understand; unique conjugations
Studying Spanish in Spain
The birthplace of Spanish and the land of Don Quixote, Spain holds a deep history and diverse regions. Explore its cuisine, dance (flamenco lessons?), and culture. While Madrid and Barcelona are the largest cities, there’s many smaller cities and towns to immerse yourself in the culture and the Spanish language.
While Spanish is the main language, different regions like Catalunya, have their own languages. Barcelona is a large city and you will encounter Spanish often, but locals tend to speak Catalan. Consider these factors when choosing where to study.
Popular Spanish Course destinations: Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla
Spanish: traditional thicker accent; harder to understand at first; use of vosotros
Traveling to Guatemala for Spanish Programs Abroad
Don’t overlook Guatemala in your search for Spanish courses. Antigua and Lake Atitlan are two beautiful towns close to Guatemala City that have great immersion courses and majestic scenery. You can even travel to nearby active volcanos and go climbing. Guatemala City is the capital but a less popular travel destination as it requires more safety precautions.
Popular Spanish Course destinations: Antigua, Lake Atitlan
Spanish: Neutral accent; easy to understand; use of "vos" (instead of "tú")
Summer in the US means winter in South America. So depending on when you want to go take your Spanish course abroad, you may encounter very different weather!
The best time to travel to South America is October through March, if you want summer weather. Otherwise, travel between April and September to get cooler winter weather. Of course, if you’re going to places like Colombia--closer to the equator--the temperature won’t change that much throughout the year.
The best time to travel to Mexico and Central America is October through March for more mild weather, but if you prefer hotter days, visit it in the summer! Cities like Mexico City, with its high elevation, won’t be as hot as coastal towns in the summer. Checking weather patterns may help you decide on a place to learn Spanish abroad.
The best time to travel to Spain really depends on if you’re going to the north or south of Spain. The north will have more regular cold weather patterns like the northern US and Europe, but the south has a Mediterranean weather that is more constant year round.
Safety can be a concern when traveling to Latin America so research the best areas to stay within a city or country during your Spanish course abroad. Recently I planned a trip to Guatemala City not knowing much about the city. Before going I talked to a local who really advised me to switch hotels and stay in a different neighborhood. I took her advice, and that local feedback made me feel safer.
Probably everything would have worked out fine in the original hotel, but if you are not familiar with the area you want to visit, it’s worthwhile to look up reviews or get some local advice. Airbnb can be a great source of reviews for neighborhoods. Your government’s embassy website may also give travel recommendations.
How much Spanish can you speak right now?
If you are just starting to learn Spanish, your best bet is to go to popular destinations that are sure to have a substantial portion of English speakers. Small cities can also be a great option for their ease of getting around, though. Most Spanish schools can guide you on travel itinerary and places to stay, so if you have any questions reach out to them directly. Travel forums and online reviews will help you determine if it’s somewhere you’ll feel safe.
Each city or town you visit is different. A city as big as Mexico City almost always requires moving around with the metro system, taxis, etc. On the other hand, a coastal town in Chile may require a bus to get there, but you can probably get away with biking around. When choosing your Spanish language school abroad, look up reviews of the area and how easy it is to move around. Ask yourself: Do I want to be able to walk everywhere? Visit a nearby city on the Metro? Am I okay driving around? This will all help determine if the Spanish school is right for you.
Where you’re traveling from matters when choosing your Spanish course abroad. Trips from the US to South America tend to be more expensive than trips to Europe. Use a travel search engine to get an idea for tickets to locations you’re considering. If you find major differences between two places, maybe it’s worth exploring the schools in the cheaper places first.
Also consider cost of living. Overall, Latin America is relatively inexpensive for European or Canadian/US budgets. Spain is also cheaper than most of Western Europe, so in either case you’re in for an affordable trip. Still, you’ll probably want to explore a lot, eat local food, and do more than just learn Spanish abroad, so it’s worth budgeting it all in. Look up local attractions, costs of eating out, and traveling to nearby sites to have a comprehensive travel budget that meets your expectations.
Each school will offer different course options and they generally break down between:
Regular Spanish Course
These courses typically are 10 to 15 hours a week in the mornings, leaving the afternoons to explore the city on your own or through cultural activities the Spanish school has to offer.
More hours and can include some private lessons, these are typically shorter length but with more learning packed in. Ideal option for someone looking to learn a lot on a short trip.
Business Spanish Course
These courses focus on learning the business vocab and customs across Spanish speaking countries. A great option if you’re going to use Spanish in a business setting, since there’s more nuances to the language in a business setting.
Spanish Immersion Course
Not only are they completely in Spanish but they also offer cultural immersion by working with the local community. InterBA Spanish School in Buenos Aires has a program where students can volunteer in Godoy, a small town north of Buenos Aires, while living with a host family. Spanish courses like these immerse you in the language and culture of the region.
Teaching philosophy between schools varies greatly. Some focus on improving your conversation and learning in a more relaxed environment, while others can be more university-like and apply more formal learning methods.
Teachers also vary, with some schools only hiring certified teachers and others hiring diverse teachers with varying professional qualifications. Instructor’s teaching experience and ability is the most important factor here, and school reviews are a great source to understand how effective the instruction was from the student’s viewpoint.
You may attend courses where the instructor changes every lesson. These can be great opportunities for getting familiar with different voices and talking speeds. Also Spanish course material may be relevant to you, so feel free to ask about that too.
Most Spanish schools will offer both group Spanish classes and private lessons. Typically private lessons are in the afternoon, after group classes are done, and focus on people who want a more intensive rhythm. Private lessons are great ways to solidify material learned in the group lessons, so definitely consider taking a mix of both.
Group classes let you engage in more conversation and get familiar with hearing different people speaking Spanish. You also get to interact with others more and form lifelong friendships. These classes move more slowly to adapt to students at varying Spanish levels. In reality, there is not one set recommendation on private Spanish lessons vs Group classes. If you’re more advanced, you’ll be better off taking some additional private lessons. Latin America and countries like Guatemala are generally more affordable for private lessons, so consider that option if you are doing a mix of both.
School sizes can vary a lot. Cities like Mexico City will see large schools but still small class sizes. Coastal towns will have predominantly small schools. Both have their benefits: larger schools give you more diverse course and instructor options; smaller schools give you a more personalized instruction approach. Regardless of the size of the school, all classes are typically only a handful of students since smaller groups are better for language learning.
If you are more advanced in your spanish and hitting C1 or C2 level, it may be more challenging to find group classes at your level in a smaller school. You can always message them and ask about their Spanish courses if you’re considering a small school but are an advanced student. Many will be willing to offer a mix of group classes and more personalized ones to ensure your progress.
Prices vary a lot across Spanish schools abroad, but you can expect to spend between $80 to $350 USD for each week of a Spanish course abroad. The more weeks you book, the cheaper it may get. Ask the Spanish school if they offer discounts for longer courses.
It’s important to know what the course and cost entails. Some higher-priced courses may include meals and cultural activities that less-expensive Spanish courses may not include. Spanish course intensity will also determine the cost, with more intense programs requiring more lessons in a week, thereby increasing costs.
While Spain tends to be more expensive than much of Latin America, there are affordable Spanish courses you can take. In any case, smaller towns tend to be cheaper than major cities like Madrid, especially for accomodations.
Depending on the school, they may require to pay an inscription or material fee to provide you with the course material you will use.
Almost all Spanish schools abroad offer 1 week to semester-long options. Typically, schools will have a new batch of students start every Monday. Depending on the school, these new students may be added into existing group classes or form their own groups. Course material typically continues as regular but periodically it will restart. If you are going for a long period of time, like over a month, discuss with your school how they’ll accommodate your learning to not repeat the same material more than necessary for your level.
Staying with a Host Family to learn Spanish abroad can be a wonderful opportunity to not only immerse yourself in the language, but also the culture. You get to know so much more about the local culture and you can build lasting friendships during your Spanish course abroad. That said, if you’re used to being more independent, adapting to a host family’s schedule can be hard. Latin America is known for late dinners (10 PM appetizers, anyone?) so if you’d rather stick to your own schedule and rules, consider apartments, Airbnb, hotels, or hostels and dormitories.
Many schools will have relationships with apartment owners and hostels that can offer you good discounts for staying at their partner accommodations. Check their options and ask if you can pair up with other students as a way to save money.
Also consider the location of the homestay and accomodations. You generally want to avoid having to take transportation to the school, so ask if there’s accommodations or homestays within walking distance. If you find yourself in an accomodation but don’t feel comfortable with the location or arrangements, ask the school for help in finding a new place to stay.
Some regions you travel to may be particularly popular for people within a certain age group, region, or interest (think surf towns). If you’re looking for some particular community, ask the school about it. Oaxaca, Mexico is very popular for expats looking to avoid the winter. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires tends to be popular with a younger European crowd. All are great opportunities to learn and meet people from around the world. I’ve found researching this topic to be especially useful if you’re traveling solo and plan to befriend fellow students to travel with during the Spanish course or study abroad Spanish program.
I’ve mentioned this before, but you don’t spend all day sitting in the classroom. Many Spanish courses end by lunchtime and you have the afternoon to explore. Spanish schools typically offer cultural activities so you can explore nearby, but do some research yourself too to see what you could do nearby.
Some people really like going to cities filled with museums and local activities, while others prefer smaller towns and traveling to places nearby. When I studied in France, I decided to go to a small town (Amboise) and visit nearby places along the Loire Valley. While I could’ve gone for Paris and all its rich culture, I wanted something more quaint even if it meant taking trains to visit nearby places.
If you're ready to go abroad or start learning online, here's a quick roundup of the top Spanish schools and course you can find on LangAway!
If you're quite not ready to travel to a Spanish school abroad, give them a try with an online course. It's a great way to get started on your Spanish learning journey and are quite affordable too, especially group courses.