Four Considerations when Studying Spanish in Nicaragua

Many people try to fit in a few weeks of Spanish study to their trip to Nicaragua and for good reason. This is one of the most dynamic, exciting and cheap countries for language study. If you have decided to come down but haven’t found a school to study at yet, here are a few considerations to think about.

Where to study Spanish (your dedication and activities)

I am guessing you are no Will Hunting otherwise you would stay locked up in your room learning directly from the Spanish-English dictionary. The thing to consider here is dedication. Learning Spanish means reading, writing, hearing and speaking the language. This is much easier to do when you are studying in a remote school surrounded by non-English speakers. If you are partying in San Juan del Sur taking classes between surf lessons and suntanning, my guess is you aren’t as dedicated as the student receiving university credit by studying for a semester in Esteli and living with local family. Places like Esteli, Managua or schools in the coffee mountains could be wiser choices because you will be forced to speak, hear, write and read the language. San Juan (and to an extent Granada) is a cool place to visit but probably not ideal for most serious students of Spanish due to the temptation to speak English.

That being said, it’s a great jump-off point for extracurricular activities, something that should also be taken into consideration. Part of the fun of studying in a Spanish school are the opportunities they offer to go out and about in the surrounding communities. For example schools in Managua offer trips to visit Mercado Oriental, the largest market in Central America, which can be both fascinating and slightly scary. Schools on the beach usually offer turtle viewing/rescue trips, schools in the mountains do coffee and waterfall tours.  If you are visiting Nicaragua just to study Spanish, consider spending a couple of weeks in several areas to get the feel of different teachers, schools and areas.

Schools vs. Teachers

Spanish schools come in all shapes and sizes meaning there are lots of choices depending on what and how you want to learn. There are some that specialize in medical Spanish and offer trips to the field to treat local communities, others that emphasize human rights or community development, some that are non-profit and others that are very much for profit. Some are owned by locals while others were started by foreigners. Each school has its own personality and this should be taken into consideration when choosing a Spanish school. But personality isn’t the only factor. Price is very important as well.

In Nicaragua the minimum you can find is about $200/week for about 20 hours of class and this can double depending on the quality of the school and whether you choose to stay with a family. But before jumping on the bandwagon of the cheap schools, know that wages here are pretty low so take a moment to consider what justifies a higher-priced school. Usually they offer a higher salary to their teachers which attracts those with more experience. If you can afford an extra $8/day to get a great professor and you know that they get a better wage, why not?

Twenty percent of the quality of education you will receive is because of the school, 80% is because of your teacher. And that makes sense I think. After all, who do you spend more time with? Good teachers are dynamic. They show their students the language through interactions both inside and outside the classroom. And it’s obvious they care about their students. My first teacher was part owner of a one of the highest-acclaimed spanish language school in the city. But he was bored with teaching and it showed. We went on “field trips” which meant he brought me along with him to run personal errands during the work day. I seriously considered switching schools. After the first week I requested another teacher who turned out to be completely the opposite and I studied there for another two months.

So how does a student find a good teacher without the lengthy trial and error? Be friendly and ask around. Visit the schools you would like to study at and ask the students who they prefer. The longer-term students will have probably had several teachers and can be a good resource. And don’t be ashamed to ask for a certain professor when you sign up for classes. They may not be available but you can be put on the “waiting list”.

How much class you can handle?

Most classes are 4 or 5 hours with a fifteen-minute break in the middle. That lasts for five days per week. What I found both in my own experience and from talking with others is that students learn 40% in the first hour, 30% in the second, then after the break fatigue starts to creep in dropping the learning rate to 20% in the third hour and only 10% in the last hour. Then lunch, then nap. Do that for a few weeks or a few months, get stuck on some obscure conjugation rules and burnout sets in. For me it was after two months. I took a two-week break to travel and returned to studying refreshed and with a renewed vigor and plan. I hired a private tutor (cheaper than the school and I paid her more than most schools’ teachers!) and studied for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. In between I studied on my own or ran errands or rested, but I was getting the benefits of an all-day language lesson by stretching out my schedule instead of wasting two hours on studying with a tired brain. My advice is to go full-on when you are just starting and excited about it, and scale it back or change it up when fatigue or frustration sets in.

Public holidays when you pay even if you don’t have class  

Another thing to recogni

ze is that if you are enrolled during a public holiday when there is no class, yes, you are obliged to pay for that day. The government requires that the employees get paid for public holidays and the schools charge the students for a full week. Don’t complain, just pay the money and accept it as how it is. And enjoy Easter or Christmas or Sandinista day or whenever it is you don’t have class.

Spanish is a highly useful language to learn and Nicaragua is a fantastic place to study. Taking into consideration these four points will help you determine where you should enroll to take advantage of what this wonderful country has to offer!