My 5 HOT TIPS FOR LEARNING SPANISH ABROAD
Hola chicos, Soy Violeta Bernal, Spanish teacher and youtuber from Medellin, Colombia.
I have been teaching Spanish for over 10 years and today I want to give you my top 5 tips for learning Spanish abroad.
TIP #1 - Choose The Best Country To Learn Spanish Abroad
So you want to learn Spanish. As you may know Spanish is spoken differently in every country. If you’ve ever heard a person from Chile or Argentina, you’ll recognize how different the Spanish language can be.
Some of my students told me they actually found it incredibly hard to study Spanish in countries where the Spanish is spoken with a heavy accent. For this reason it’s important to choose a country where the Spanish is spoken clearly and not too fast.
I may be a little biased, but the best country to study Spanish is definitely COLOMBIA. It’s widely known that Colombian Spanish is the best form of Spanish to learn for both beginners and advanced alike. Both the simplified grammar and the clear pronunciation makes it easier to learn, speak and understand.
TIP #2 - CHOOSE WHICH CITY TO LEARN SPANISH IN COLOMBIA
Colombia is no longer a secret travel destination. For the past 10 years I have seen Colombia grow in popularity due to its mix of vibrant cities, historic pueblos and of course it’s number 2 in the world for biodiversity, after Brazil. Disney even made the film Encanto about Colombia.
In Colombia there are three main cities where you can learn Spanish:
A) Learn Spanish in Bogota
Bogota is a city with more than 10 million residents that is the cultural center of the country with the best museums, restaurants and nightlife. On the downside it’s very cold, rainy and there’s a lot of traffic.
B) Learn Spanish in Cartagena
Cartagena is a UNESCO world heritage center where you can enjoy walking down beautiful old cobbled streets and sample some of the best seafood restaurants in the world. On the downside it’s very hot and sometimes it can be overrun with other tourists, especially when it’s a national holiday or there’s a cruise boat in town.
C) Learn Spanish in Medellin
Medellin on the other hand, has the same comfortable weather all year round so you never need a jacket. And if you’ve spoken to anyone who’s visited Medellin they’ll all agree that the nightlife is legendary. “Rooftop bars, salsa and Colombian rum… what better combination.”
For all the above reasons Medellin is clearly the winner here! It’s no surprise that you’ll find the largest variety of Spanish schools in the country right here!
TIP #3 - CHOOSE THE RIGHT WAY TO STUDY
There’s so many ways to learn Spanish. Group classes, private classes, mixed classes, online classes, apps like duo lingo, youtube channels like mine, Instagram, tik tok and more.
It can be confusing where to start. Let’s review the main options:
A) Group Classes
With group classes you’re placed with a small group of strangers, usually 2-10 people, classes can be fun and social. If you’re traveling solo it can be a great way to meet other English speaking people.
The main downside is that the Spanish curriculum has 16 levels but most schools have only 5 or 6 classrooms. As a result many Spanish schools cram students of 16 different levels into the 5 or 6 classes. In your Spanish class you may have students studying with you that are above or below your level. This makes it difficult to learn.
How do I know this? Many years ago I opened a school in Medellin and from this experience I realized that group classes are just not efficient for learning. Some people learn faster and others slower, some people are extrovert and others are introvert. If you’re in one of those categories, you definitely shouldn’t waste your money on group classes.
The other thing about group classes is that you’ll come to realize that half your classmates are there in total “holiday party mode” so they are just interested in the social aspect, to meet other travelers and backpackers and go partying every night… they’re not really there to learn. That can totally ruin your experience that you paid so much for.
B) Private Classes
Another option, a better option to study Spanish, is private 1-2-1 classes, where it’s just you and the teacher. The main advantage of this method is that learning is customized and students don’t have the fear to speak when there’s no pressure of having a group of classmates watching and maybe judging them.
I have been teaching this way for 10 years now and it’s by far the best way to learn!
C) Online Classes
As a result of the pandemic the demand for online classes have skyrocketed. Classes are typically via Skype, Google Meet or Zoom or precorded classes online platform. This is a great option when you don’t have time to travel somewhere to take classes. It’s also a much cheaper option because you’re paying teachers in Colombian rather than an expensive one based in the United States or Europe etc.
To summarise, when choosing how to study Spanish the most important thing is to chose the option that feels right for you. At the end of the day it’s your money… don’t waste your dollars on a program that isn’t for you.
TIP #4 - CHOOSE THE RIGHT TEACHER FOR YOU
Colombian’s are known as the friendliest people on the planet. We make learning Spanish not just easy, but a lot of fun. Like myself many teachers have formal university and post graduate qualifications to teach Spanish so you always know you’re in good hands.
Before booking classes make sure you ask the teacher:
- how many years they’ve been teaching,
- what degree they have and
- what methodology they use in classes.
Tinder is not a Spanish School. Just because someone speaks Spanish does not mean they have the skills to teach it, no matter how friendly they are!
TIP #5 - Decide on a course of study that's right for you
Everyone is different. People learn in very different ways. Whether you decide on a Spanish school, a private teacher, online classes or apps like DuoLingo the secret to learning Spanish abroad comes down to two things:
- your positive attitude
- repetition & practice
I know you have a positive attitude because you made it this far. As for repetition and practice that’s something your teacher or school needs to assist your individual needs.
This is where I see the problem with traditional Spanish courses. In group classes, for example, the objective is to teach one subject then move onto another as soon as possible. There is no repetition or time to practice and repractice what you just learned. The teacher follows a set guideline and is less likely to give individual attention. You can easily get left behind, maybe you already feel this way about learning Spanish.
Loads of my private students came to be saying they’re totally overwhelmed and confused by their classes at “XYZ” Spanish school. The way Spanish school programs are designed don’t give you enough opportunity to review what you’ve already learned.
For this reason, if you’re not looking for the “social” aspect of group classes I strongly suggest investing your money in private classes. You’ll learn twice as fast with private classes, almost guaranteed.
As a teacher of private classes I always give students the attention they need whether its reviewing a topic once, twice or 15 times. I also ensure my students have all the tools they need to learn Spanish outside of my private classes including loads of course material & homework. Learn, practice and repeat.
At the end of the day no matter where you chose to study Spanish, in a school in Colombia, online, whatever, every lesson will have a learning component and a practice component. Decide what your goals are and the best way of achieving them.
- My Final Thoughts -
Study Abroad or Study Prior to your Holiday?
Studying abroad is great if you want to immerse yourself in learning Spanish without the distractions of work, university assignments and/or family life. If you decide to attend a school you’ll need to dedicate 2-4 hours Monday to Friday for your Spanish classes. You’ll need to balance your time between classes and other holiday activities such as tours and exploring the city.
If your holiday is less than one month my recommendation is that you should, where possible, start learning Spanish before traveling. This way you’ll already have a good grasp of the language from the moment you arrive. You’ll be able to navigate the taxis, hotels and restaurants.
And with some Spanish under your belt you can use your valuable holiday time to meet locals, make friends and perhaps attend some language exchanges.
Language exchanges are events where you can go to meet locals who want to practice English and you can practice speaking Spanish. After all, that’s what Spanish learning is about; practice, practice, practice.
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I’m Violeta Bernal, 30yo from Medellin Colombia. I had dreams of becoming a dentist but after traveling and learning English abroad I found my passion for languages.
I have been teaching Spanish in Medellin, Colombia for over 10 years now, have a successful youtube channel (300,000+ views) and I’m the only Colombia teacher to have a Spanish language book available on Amazon. I teach Spanish to adults and teach everyone like a friend, not like a school kid.
In my free time I can be found exploring local cafes, rollerblading around Medellin or punching a bag at the local boxing studio.
My private class schedule for 2022 is almost fully booked with an average waitlist of 3 months. This is why I created GET TO THE POINT! so that more people, like yourself, can start learning Spanish with me TODAY.