Does anyone have any experience with foreign language schools?

I’ve recently decided that I’m going to go into law enforcement after college, which means that it is vitally important I learn Spanish. Unfortunately for me I’ve never taken a single Spanish class. I’ve been looking on line and there’s some programs where you go to another country for a month or so and it’s intensive studying. That sounds like something right up my alley. I’d be able to go sometime during my summer break.

The price for the linked program varies from $800 to upwards to $2000 for a month, depending on location.

Anywho, are they all scams? Has anyone actually used one?

I did something similar when I was in college, but with Hebrew, not Spanish. It was quite intense in the classroom, but I don’t think it was that effective because I didn’t practice it that much outside of the classroom. (I was in Israel, but spent most of my time with fellow Americans. And Israelis all speak English.)

When I was in training for the Peace Corps, I lived with a host family along with having intensive Bulgarian classes and found that to be extremely stressful (which is typical for PC’s pre-service training) but also a better environment for learning the language. I was in a small village where no one - except for the five of us in training and our Bulgarian teacher - spoke English, so we had to use our Bulgarian constantly.

Just a thought when you’re deciding where to go.


If I did go it’d probably be Chile and would probably go with my brother, he wants to better learn Spanish as well, so I’d be forced to use mostly Spanish 24/7.

It will only work if you really make the effort. If you go with your brother, you might end up speaking a lot of English with him instead of speaking Spanish with locals. Look for a program that includes homestay with a family, that is where you really learn to speak a language in my experience.

The first Russian program I went on required us to speak Russian 24/7, except in case of something like a medical emergency. I was the only one in my group who didn’t have another American roommate, and I made a lot of progress in one semester. (Of course, I had a decent grammar foundation first. IMO it will help for you to have some kind of base first, if you can manage it.) The program I used was CIEE, but at the time (1989) there were only a couple of programs that allowed Americans to study in Russia. It was a good program (I went back to Novosibirsk in 1995 with CIEE, though, and that program wasn’t nearly as good), but I bet you have more good choices than I did.

But yes, immersion is key.

Just google Spanish School + where you want to go. There’s no reason to pay more to go through a program. Where ever you go, 4 hours a day + home stay is the only real way to go. A month, however, is going to be virtually worthless. You will forget most of what you learn as soon as you come back and stop using it.

By the way, your profile says you’re in Santa Barbara. So I’d suggest:

  1. Choose Mexico or Guatemala rather than S. America—South American Spanish won’t be a barrier to communication or anything, but you want something that will be useful in your career, and Mexico will give you useful cultural knowledge as well as linguistic. Plus, it’s your history: Santa Barbara was IN Mexico until 1848.

  2. Start watching Spanish TV now. Watch the news, at least. You can practice non-interactive immersion in your own home for free! Not as effective as going somewhere, but…

  3. Get a basic grammar and dictionary and start ordering takeout in Spanish. It helps if there’s somewhere you’re a regular. In my experience, SoCal Spanish speakers are about evenly balanced between “don’t insult me by speaking Spanish to me” and “I’m grateful you’re interested and I’m glad to help you.” But that’s still a large pool of nice, helpful people. I learned a lot that way.

I’ve had very good results with total-immersion Japanese. No English was used in the classroom, even for total beginners. The teachers used body language and acting to get the point across. The only thing that would have been better for learning the language is if the course had been in a Japanese-epeaking environment. I would have been soaking the stuff up. :slight_smile:

The school offered a trial lesson. Three years later, I signed up for the real thing. Those classes are the thing I miss most about living in Toronto. I need to find out whether I can still take them somehow.

Antigua, Guatemala is the place to go. People from all over the world go to this beautiful small town to study Spanish. Prices are unbelievably low for one on one with a professional tutor, four to six hours per day, live with a local family if you want.

I used to travel in Central America buying arts and crafts for an import business. A friend wanted to go on a buying trip so I sent him to Antigua first to learn a bit of the language. He landed cold, no reservations or anything, I just gave him detailed instructions for taking a bus from the airport in Guatemala City to Antigua.

By the time I got there to meet him two weeks later he was sitting in a cafe doing business in Spanish, buying bracelets from the local girls.

Here is just one link just for an example. I do not particularly recommend this particular school. You can find lots of info online.

I went to Berlitz in Leon, Mexico for a few months. It was a fabulous launching pad for taking on the language. Step 2 was marrying a Mexican, and then step 3 was watching Spanish-language sit coms. (Edit): Step 4 was working in Mexico several times… I’ve got 3.5 years logged there now.

My sister went to a Spanish language immersion school last summer for 4 weeks in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It was a very good experience for her. The tuition (with lodging) was maybe $1500, but it included just about everything. Each class has only 4-6 students each. They also have classes geared towards professionals, including law enforcement. She chose this school because a coworker had taken a 3-week course and recommended it.

The students live with a school-approved host family who are allowed to speak only Spanish to their resident student. My sister really enjoyed her host family; they included her in all their family gatherings. They had a beautiful home that was a short walk from the school. Students select their host family based on the amenities and distance from the school. I think private lodging is also an option.

There are a lot of extra-curricular activities available (extra cost, I think), such as field trips to ruins, museums, galleries, cooking classes, dancing classes, etc. The school encouraged a lot of social activities to help students learn the culture and to practice conversing in Spanish.

The school is called Chac-Mool, and their website is very informative. My sister got a lot from the course, but she said she should have stayed for a couple more weeks.

finding a second-language speaker to marry is the most difficult part, but if you can pull it off…! Total immersion, baby!


I never cared much for foreign languages in school. However, four months after I met my wife, Portuguese was flowing freely.


When I was stationed in Okinawa, I soaked the language in. I watched American tv with dubbing. The context helped…when Lassie runs home and starts barking, its pretty obvious that the next thing that will be said is something like “what, girl? did Timmy fall down a well again? well tell that lil shit that I’m busy and he’ll have to figure it out”

Another good way to learn is to go out and eat. Hunger is a very good motivator to learn how to ask for a fork or explain that you really don’t want THAT much garlic in your stir fry.

Taxi’s are good as well. While I knew they understood my hand gestures and saying take a right here…they thought it would be fun to take a left instead and run the meter up. You can learn a LOT while argueing with a taxi driver :smiley:

For the most part, these schools are pretty good. As others have said, it’s not the schooling part that’s important, it’s the immersion. However, you can be immersed yet not become fluent. Learning about a language and becoming fluent in a language are two very different things. The stories are legion of English teachers spending years abroad and learning nothing of the language they are in.

Imho, if you are picking a school, pick one with a communicative pedagogy. In other words, pick a school where they make you speak a lot vs one where you mostly study grammar.