Choosing a School
Choosing amongst the myriad of Spanish immersion programs available today can be daunting. I know that because while tutoring, some of my students asked my opinion on how to go about choosing the best program to learn Spanish abroad.
I know people who attended Spanish immersion schools in Spain and Latin America, and I spoke to them to figure out what a Spanish learner must look for in an immersion program before choosing one.
The idea of going to a Spanish immersion school is to learn Spanish like a native does, by speaking and listening ONLY in Spanish for as many hours in the day as possible.
Choosing a Spanish Immersion Program
What to Look For
An Accredited School. Look for a school that has the accreditation of the Instituto Cervantes in Spain. This institute inspects its accredited and associated centers every two years.
The accreditation proves that the Spanish immersion schools are legally allowed to teach, have top qualified Spanish teachers, have an adequate number of students in each class, issue certificates, describe and represent the courses accurately so you know what you will be paying for, and take care of complaints appropriately.
This may allow students to earn an American college credit by studying in an institution that has this accreditation.
Types of Courses. Try to narrow your objective. Schools in Central American countries may not be as specialized as Spanish language schools in Spain (although Costa Rica and Mexico are the exception).
When choosing a specialized Spanish course like those from the don Quijote Spanish Courses you can be sure to have the best quality teachers. When choosing speacilized courses from other Spanish immersion schools, make sure you find out the level of education the teachers have.
Many times the teachers vary in their qualifications. Be sure they have college degrees and are trained in teaching the language.
Time and Daily Schedule. Ask for a specific description of the program you are interested in. What is included in the teachings (topics if possible), how many hours per day, how do the weekends work, if they have free conversational groups and how frequently they meet, and so forth.
Testimonials. As simple as it sounds go online and find out reviews and testimonials about the specific program and school. If they have a name and picture of the student even better, a real person gave the testimonial. If you can’t find any testimonials outside the school’s site go to the official website.
Location. It is important to have fun while learning Spanish. Make sure you research the location of the school and how close it is to amenities of your interest, transportation, eateries, movies, etc.
Does the school offer additional cultural classes like cooking, dancing, wine learning or others? These classes can make a meaningful difference because culture along with language are, in my opinion the best way to learn Spanish.
Accommodations. Many Spanish immersion programs offer accommodations. I like having many choices like the don Quijote Accommodation options.
Generally the best choice is to live with a Spanish speaking family where you can experience the real deal. Customs, foods, schedules and traditions are not the same, this maybe a challenge but it is well worth it!
Getting to know a family and how they live is a huge enrichment process. Also the accommodations through the school may be priced more favorably.
Getting a place on your own maybe more difficult and teaming up with friends may rob you of the cultural experience. Lets face it, living with a family forces you to speak.
Accommodations are with families, in apartments with other students from other parts of the world, residences or sometimes Spanish immersion programs steer you towards inexpensive accommodations in nearby hostels.
Some schools charge a minimum fee for booking your accomodations. That fee is well worth it when you think about the headaches you will be eliminating like language barriers, costs (schools generally get a discount) and handling bookings.
Time Frame. I always recommend a minimum of a month in a Spanish immersion program. Another consideration is the time of the year you want to go. It depends, if you are going to Central America remember the hurricane season in the Caribbean.
If going to South America think about the proximity of the country you choose to the Equator, the closer the warmer and with no seasons as we know it in the U.S.
If it is Summer in the northern hemisphere then it will be winter in the southern hemisphere in a country like Argentina.
Type of Spanish. Consider the differences between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin America. Think about your target audience, the reasons for learning Spanish and where you are going to use it.
Spanish from Spain has more differences in pronunciation, usage of vosotros, and modisms when compared to Spanish from Latin American countries than Spanish from one Latin American country to another. So be mindful about the type of Spanish you want to learn.
Go With Institutions That Transfer Credits. There maybe very good schools that have excellent teachers but poor management and you will be stuck when trying to transfer your credits to an accredited university.
My recommendation? Follow these simple steps and you will be on your way:
- Meet with your academic advisor about studying abroad at least 6 months in advance.
- Ask the Spanish language school(s) to provide you with syllabus and course descriptions. Ask for the materials at least 4-6 months in advance.
- Give the information of your academic advisor to the school in the foreign country to send the info. Some schools want the syllabus directly sent to the advisor, others are o.k. with you bringing it. Ask. By the speed and ease of the process you can start gauging the foreign school’s quality.
- Next obtain a written approval from your university 2 to 3 months before traveling.
- Follow the paying procedures from the Spanish language school, which generally ask you to pay one month in advance.
- Complete the course work with excellent grades and attendance.
- Make sure before you leave the country you are clear about needing transcripts. Pay the institution for submitting transcripts directly to you and the registrar’s office of your institution in your country of origin. This may take up to 3 months.
Spanish Immersion Programs with don Quijote
One program that hits all the marks I mentioned above with excellence is the Spanish immersion program don Quijote. It offers programs in Spain as well as the top Latin American countries in terms of pronunciation and richness of the language.
Do you know that many students who attended don Quijote have transfered credits to institutions like Adelphi University in NY, Northeastern University, Campbell University, Cornell University, Eastern Michigan University, and MIT Massachusetts institute of Tecnology amongst many?
That spells to me quality, reliability and confidence that they are experts at teaching Spanish to foreigners and managing Spanish immersion programs.
don Quijote has many excellent testimonials on its site that give you peace of mind.
They are in many countries and are accredited by the Instituto Cervantes.
With this level of professionalism you can’t go wrong by choosing don Quijote amongst all the Spanish immersion programs available!
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