While there are some variations in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, the type of Spanish spoken across the Latin American region is essentially very similar from one country to the next. Regardless of whether students learn Spanish in Argentina, Mexico or Ecuador, all will be able to effectively communicate with one another as well as nationals anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world, including mainland Spain.
“We teach Argentinean Spanish as well as Argentinean culture,” enthuses Lorena Belcastro, Director of Buenos Aires Spanish School (BASP), based in Argentina. “We also explain the differences with the Spanish spoken in Latin America and Spain,” she adds. Students at Mundo Español, also based in Argentina, benefit from a teaching staff made up of Argentinean, Uruguayan, Mexican and mainland Spanish speakers. “This enriches the programmes offered,” vouches Mariela Tort, Director at the school.
Programming has evolved since the launch of Mundo Español in 1995 affirms Tort and today students can sign up for Spanish plus Tango, Spanish plus football or Spanish for specific purposes for example, business or medicine. In fact, course evolution is crucial to a school’s development and Belcastro at BASP indicates that the school tries to introduce new courses each year. A professional development programme for teachers of the Spanish language and a course focussing entirely on the Argentine Tango were added to the academic programming this year. “Both are really successful,” she observes. Owing to a favourable Latin American economy, Expanish, based in Argentina, has chosen to target business executives in 2011 with the introduction of a Business Spanish group course. A surge in student enquiries concerning the DELE language exam prompted the school to offer a preparatory programme also.
Familiarising oneself with the local culture can enhance a students’ overall language learning experience and students at Colombian-based language school, Spanish World Institute (SWI), are actively encouraged to get to grips with local customs. “Students have the opportunity to exchange ideas, to learn the language while also gaining an understanding of our cultural background,” notes Maria Rozo at the school. Their Spanish plus culture programme launched last year focuses on the country’s indigenous culture as well as current political issues says Rozo and includes visits to historic sites and museums in Bogotá. Other cultural fusions include Spanish plus Salsa and Spanish plus Colombian cuisine.
Total immersion during the language learning process is a way to get to grips with the targeted language quickly and Ramona Riedel from Intercultural Lenguas Extranjeros Español in Argentina, relates that the school lays on extra afternoon activities to help students outside of the classroom. In their free time students can learn to cook local dishes, watch Argentine movies or visit local museums. Riedel explains, “The great advantage of these activities is that [students] can practise their Spanish in everyday situations with a coordinator at their side.” The school also boasts an interesting range of plus programmes including Spanish plus wine, Spanish plus adventure and Spanish plus Vendimia an annual festival which celebrates the wine region of the same name. The course, which is available in February, comprises Spanish lessons, a city tour, visits to a working winery, lunches and tickets to the festival itself.
Several schools in the region also offer add-ons such as volunteering, giving language students the opportunity to give back to the community they have chosen to study in. The Yanapuma Foundation and Spanish School in Ecuador is one such example and according to Executive Director, Andy Kirby, students can combine one month’s tuition with one month’s volunteering on one of eight different projects. “This programme is very popular with younger students, but also appeals to older students too,” says Kirby and placements include working with children, volunteering at a health centre or getting involved in a local environmental project.
Choice of school often hinges on the type of programming an institution has to offer. For example, EPA! Español de Panama in Panama targeted the lucrative summer vacation market this year by launching a Summer Camp programme. “[It is] designed for teenagers aged between 14- and 16-years old looking to immerse in a different culture while attending Spanish classes during the months of June, July and August,” notes EPA’s Alberto Orillac.
Similarly, Katy Cossio from StudyTeam in Cuba has developed a truly original programme, noting that they are the only school with no actual school building. Instead, students are immersed from the start in a host family. She explains, “The main purpose of our programme is offering the participants the opportunity to experience real Cuban life, so we make possible students live with a local host family and learn Spanish with a native Cuban teacher at a local home or cultural centre.” Class sizes are also kept to a minimum a maximum of three students per group, says Cossio, with a real onus on culture. “The programme is an experience like never before!” she enthuses.