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Studying Spanish in Mexico

Want to study Spanish in Mexico? You’ve got hundreds of choices. Cuernavaca alone has about 80 language schools, and many other cities boast programs as well. We chose the enchanted city of Guanajuato, about five hours by express bus from Mexico City, and—on the recommendation of a friend who teaches high school Spanish—a week at Academia Falcon.

The school offers all levels of Spanish grammar and conversation, as well as numerous classes in culture and history (most of them conducted entirely in Spanish and restricted to advanced students, however). Modestly priced, it features amazingly small classes and a skilled faculty. The school will also place students with local families, or provide dormitory accommodations. It's about a 15-20 minute walk or five-minute bus ride to the center of town, down a modest hill.

Our whole family joined on this adventure with three classes for one week; most students stay between two weeks and three months—but our 14-year-old son does have to attend school at home. Our daughter, with four years of high school Spanish and three university-level classes under her belt, is in the advanced group; she’s taking advanced conversation, a grammar class focusing on the subjunctive, and a literature class. Dina and I are at the advanced beginner level, starting our day with grammar, continuing to conversation, and then after a one-hour break, one of the few culture classes available to the non-fluent: cooking. Our son, with no Spanish training at all, is taking two beginner classes and then joins us in the kitchen. (Click here for an article on the cooking class).

The teachers are mostly quite young; many of them are themselves university graduate students (in fields that may or may not have anything to do with what they’re teaching here). Dina and I were quite impressed with our two teachers: Pablo for grammar (a law student), and Barbara for conversation and cooking; she also teaches dance.

I happened to see Pablo as he was leaving yesterday, and we had an extended conversation in Spanish, in which I used several of the forms he’d taught me; this was not a conversation I could have managed at the beginning of the week. The class—in which we were the only students—was perfectly matched to our level: a rapid intensive review of basic grammar, covering a week’s worth of curriculum each of the four days. This was perfect for us, because for over 20 years we’ve been able to converse, but without much grace or correctness. Now we know how to use double pronouns, the antepresente tense, and more.

More proof: Wednesday evening, Rafael and I attached ourselves to the end of a callejonada (alley walk with strolling musicians) that happened to be playing outside our window, and I couldn’t understand any of the jokes or commentary. Last night, we bought a ticket (different musicians, different set of alleys), and I could get a lot more of it. Not that it all made sense; there was riff about someone who wore masks of avocado, wood, stone, and mayonnaise!

Barbara was a lot of fun in both classes, using topics ranging from relationships to work to patriotism to get her five students talking. We were slightly above the level of the other three, but we learned a whole lot of vocabulary. She could have corrected us more often and accurately, but it was on the whole quite good. And in cooking class, she got us preparing some fairly complex dishes, including chiles rellenos and mole enchiladas.

For a look at Guanajuato as we perceived it in 1985, please click here.

Related Stories:
A Cooking Class in Mexico
Mexican New Year
Mexico Journal

Shel Horowitz is the editor of Global Travel Review and the author of seven books including The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant’s Pocketbook.

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