¿No hablas español? Study Spanish in Puebla
When people ask me how I ended up in Puebla, I tell them that I arrived in 2007 to study Spanish, fell in love with the place and a Poblano, and decided to stay. That’s the short answer, anyway. The longer version is that, as a professional writer and editor — a bona fide word nerd — and a veteran traveler, I’d started to feel downright embarrassed that I wasn’t bilingual. How could I be an expert in English, my native tongue, yet functionally illiterate any other language? Wasn’t this the era of globalism?
“Spanish is spoken by more than 500 million people worldwide, which is reason enough to learn the language,” according to the University of Illinois at Springfield’s continuing education department. “But it’s even more compelling when you realize that about half of the population in the Western Hemisphere speaks Spanish, making it the primary language for as many people as English in this region of the world.” That includes at least one out of every 10 people who live in the United States.
If my previous and failed attempts at French and German were any indication, I knew that I wouldn’t master Spanish in a typical California classroom. So, my plan was to complete the summer intensive program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and then study abroad in a full immersion program. “You can’t really learn a language unless you live it,” argued my MIIS instructor, a Cuban emigrant who’d taught Spanish in Colombia. I agreed and weighed immersion programs in Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. I ultimately chose the Spanish Institute of Puebla, because it was relatively close to home, surprisingly affordable, and highly recommended by the eight former students I’d contacted (including a dean at Stanford University). I’m glad I did. The experience proved life-changing, and after six months of hard work I’d built a solid foundation for my ongoing Spanish journey.
Do you ever wish you could speak Spanish or simply want to brush up on what you already know?
Puebla is an ideal place to study Spanish. I’ve had ample opportunity to use the language, and you will, too. Although many locals understand English, relatively few speak it with confidence: Unlike the typical salesmen who work Mexico’s beaches and stereotype tourists by their appearance (quoting prices accordingly), Poblanos rarely switch to English when they see a visitor approaching or hear a foreign accent. If your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation aren’t perfect, that’s just fine. Any attempts to habla español will be appreciated.
Here are three reputable private schools in the Colonial capital for students who are serious about acquiring the language. All offer short- and long-term courses taught by native speakers. For more information, click on the links in each description.
Spanish Institute of Puebla
Calle 11 Oriente, Centro Histórico
Founded in 1984, the Spanish Institute of Puebla is the longest-running program of its kind in the city. Its standard three-week sessions incorporate listening, speaking, reading, and writing components, with heavy emphasis on conversational skills. A short placement exam can help to determine the appropriate course level, and students can earn university credits for their coursework. New classes start every three weeks.
In the standard program, students attend group classes — two to six people, max — at the school’s modern, three-story facility from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and then engage in one-on-one activities with a native speaker from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. The latter can include visiting the many museums, churches, and historic sites downtown; playing bingo or pool; drinking coffee on the main square; or even having your tarot cards read (in Spanish, of course.) The program also includes meals, lodging with local host families, and excursions to Cholula and Teotihuacan. Private classes are also available.
“The idea of living in Mexico … was a little intimidating before I arrived. The structure of the Institute made everything a breeze,” says Keith Larson, an attorney from Houston, Texas. “I concentrated on Spanish and learned a ton. I know I am not a fast learner of languages, and now I can easily communicate in Spanish.”
Livit Immersion Center
Calle Nuevo León, Colonia El Carmen
The Livit Immersion Center’s program is based on the premise that students learn best when they live in Spanish 24/7. The school, located inside a Colonial-era home (where its directors reside), devotes half of each day to instruction and the other half to practice and cultural discovery through activities and excursions. Students may substitute profession-specific tasks, such as shadowing a resident in a hospital or visiting an orphanage, for the latter.
The standard program runs 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, with no more than four students per class. It includes all course materials, trips to nearby towns and attractions, daily meals, and accommodations with local families. (A student or couple who prefers privacy may also arrange to rent the on-site efficiency apartment.) Courses begin every Monday, and special group packages are available for up to 20 students.
“I have made two separate trips to Puebla to study with Livit Immersion Center, during which my ability to speak, converse, read, and write has improved dramatically,” says Richard Johnson, a law student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “I attribute my progress to three things. First, I credit the school’s fun, practical, and efficient curriculum, intimate classes, and attentive professors. Second, I credit the accommodations. Throughout both of my stays in Puebla, I felt at home, enjoyed every amenity I desired, and ate delicious meals. Finally, Puebla is a beautiful, entertaining, and manageable city with a rich array of cultures, cuisine, and history.”
Calle Tepeyahualco, Colonia La Paz
Spanish Awakenings places equal emphasis on building language skills and cultural understanding. The language-training and home-stay program, run by a bilingual (Spanish-English) couple in their home, caters to families, small groups, and young adults. It offers two hours of daily classroom study, outings five days per week, and informal gatherings in the evenings to watch movies, play games, or talk about the day’s events.
The minimum stay is one week, but program directors Lucia and Richard Stone recommend four weeks for maximum benefit, particularly for beginners. The program includes on-site lodging, meals, snacks, an orientation tour of the city, a trip to the Cholula pyramid, and pickup and drop-off at the Puebla airport.
“I came to Mexico with some understanding of Spanish but I really was not able to speak, read and write in the language,” notes Ben Auton, managing partner of a video-game repair service in St. Louis, Missouri. “After a month at Spanish Awakenings, my ability to understand, read, and write the language has grown faster than I ever could have expected. I can understand a native speaker on the street, I can read a newspaper or book, and I can write a journal about what I did during the day.”
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
Photograph courtesy of Livit Immersion Center
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