Our Need for Spanish School in Xela Guatemala
During previous trips to Mexico, most people spoke decent enough English in the popular tourist destinations we’ve travelled to. So we mistakenly thought we’d be able to get by fine in our first few Mexico destinations and hopefully we’d slowly pick up some Spanish along the way. Our initial flight from Florida was directly to the tourist mecca of Cancun, so even though we took the first bus out of town, we figured that communicating to get a bus ticket would be no problem. Well, it was a problem. I’m very embarrassed to admit this but it took us over a half hour to get things sorted out at the downtown Cancun bus terminal because no one spoke English there and our Spanish was poor. We were in for a rude awakening.
Since then, we’ve certainly brushed up on our Spanish, thumbing through a phrasebook, constantly looking words up using the Google Translate app on our phone, and practicing with friendly locals when we can. But that was only getting us so far and we were really butchering this elegant language. Although I’d gotten to a point where I can usually figure out a way to ask a question, it’s a crapshoot on whether or not I can understand the response.
By the time we got to Guatemala, we noticed people tend to speak very clearly and slowly (or at least slowly to us), which was quite nice. It’s not the rapid fire I tend to hear back in South Florida. With plans to make our way down to South America and covering at least another seven Spanish-speaking countries along the way, Guatemala seemed like the perfect place to stop for a week in an attempt to improve our language skills. We chose the city of Quetzaltenango (Xela) since it has far less of a tourist scene compared to other cities in Guatemala. That way we would be forced to practice our Spanish while living here in Guatemala’s second largest city. Also, staying put somewhere for a week sounded very attractive, after just coming off of our grueling overnight summit of Central America’s highest mountain. So Xela became our new temporary home for the week.
Choosing a Spanish School in Xela Guatemala: Celas Maya
We chose to study at a school called Celas Maya, based on recommendations from other people we’d met travelling and from good reviews we read online. The school advocated that we do a homestay with a local family to really get a full immersive experience. So the director arranged for us to live and eat with Cleotilda and Cesar during our weeklong language study.
Our Homestay in Xela Guatemala
They warmly greeted us at the school and walked us the six blocks down the cobblestone streets to their home.
We were introduced to some of their other family members and then shown to our room. It was very basic, yet we were comfortable there.
We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them everyday and would attempt to practice our Spanish while doing so. Meals were always extremely simple, yet usually pretty tasty. Heather still maintains that Cleotilda’s beans were the best she’s had throughout Central America. And we had plenty of them, as meals were typically some form of rice and/or beans and ALWAYS served with plenty of tortillas. Cleotilda and Cesar were very kind and were patient with us as we chatted with them in Spanish. We would talk about where we’ve been, where we’re going, where we lived in the US, and cultural differences. And just like coming home from school as a kid, we were asked about what we did that day, what we studied, and if we had any homework.
Getting Started with Spanish Lessons Xela Guatemala
The Spanish instruction at the school was great. We each worked with our own teachers for one-on-one instruction. I’m not sure if the pairing was random or planned, but we both really liked our professors and meshed well. When first arriving, we took a basic test to assess our mastery (or lack there of) of the Spanish language. From that, a plan was put in place. Since a primary goal for us was to be able speak better Spanish to get by during our travels, we focused on travel-related Spanish. For the next week, we worked with our teachers for five hours each day, going through exercises, conversing, learning new words, and how to conjugate tricky verbs.
Each afternoon we were assigned homework to practice and illustrate some of the new skills learned that day. We would go ‘home’ for our fill of rice, beans, and tortillas, then come back to the school to finish our homework for the day.
Extracurricular Activities at Spanish School Xela Guatemala
There were also activities in the afternoon to participate in too, which we sometimes did. Heather took an excursion to the Fuentes Geoginas hot springs one day and participated in a Mayan ceremony on another.
We also happened to be there during the school’s 15-year birthday, which they had a big party to celebrate complete with firecrackers, piñatas, cake and lots of dancing. Oddly enough, the party began at 6:00 am, a few hours before class, which is apparently typical for Guatemala.
Spanish Lessons Xela Guatemala
The instruction was structured yet casual. It was really tailored to whatever we wanted to learn. At times we’d leave the school. Heather and her professor went out to a bakery one day, practicing Spanish along the way. Another day I needed to go to the doctor to deal with a nasty skin infection on my leg. My teacher accompanied me to help translate if necessary. While in the waiting room we carried on an impromptu Spanish lesson by reviewing and translating a questionnaire to diagnose anxiety. (Turns out that thankfully neither of us have severe anxiety).
Towards the last few days, my professor and I started conversing in Spanish about TV shows, American politics, travel destinations, beer, and other topics that get me excited. I would hold these conversations completely in Spanish. If I didn’t know the word I was looking for, he would help me out. Looking back, I think these conversations were probably most helpful in not only learning the language but also getting comfortable speaking it. Rather than going through phrases that I’ll likely never use (“Donde esta la biblioteca?”), I had to speak Spanish to carry on the conversation, which I was genuinely eager to discuss. Later when conversing with our host family over more beans and rice, I would recall and use some of these phrases with them. The plan was working!
After the week was over, it was time for graduation. We received our diplomas and attended the fun graduation party with the other students who had been studying there that week. It was Friday night and BBQ & booze was on the menu! Hooray, no more rice and beans (although still plenty of tortillas).
So Did We Learn Spanish in Xela Guatemala?
We found the week of study and immersion to be extremely helpful and was much needed. We’re using our vocabulary and are speaking better each and every day. It’s laughable to me now how we were unable to complete a simple bus ticket transaction in Spanish just a few months prior. Now tasks like that are child’s play and amateur hour. In fact, I’ve found myself translating for others and helping them out with their travel arrangements. We really have come a long way. I am now a pro at ‘travel Spanish,’ can hold basic conversations, and do pretty darn well with small talk. I no longer approach people with “¿Hablas Inglés?” and instead just give it my best effort. We are far from being conversational so we still have a ton of learning to do, but am happy with the progress we’re both making.
If ever wanting to brush up on your Spanish, we would definitely recommend Celas Maya and we give them a great review. Here you can find more info on their program. We wish we had a few more weeks with them to study further.