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¿No hablas español? Study Spanish in Puebla

Photograph courtesy of Livit Immersion CenterWhen 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.”

Spanish Awakenings

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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8 Responses to “¿No hablas español? Study Spanish in Puebla”

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  1. Emma Britton says:

    Thank you so much for this article — it is really informative. I am a 22-year-old recent graduate, with a few months to spare which I want to use to improve my Spanish. The LIVIT Immersion Centre and Spanish Institute of Puebla seem to be the most highly recommended programs that I have found in Mexico, but I have a couple of questions that I would like some help with.

    First, which of the two would you recommend? Second, what is Puebla like as a city? I know that most people studying Spanish there at this time are much older than me, and though I do genuinely want to be immersed in the Mexican language and culture, I would also like to have some fun, and am worried that Puebla won’t offer that as most of the reviews that I have read just mention it’s culture and history. I don’t want to sound like a philistine — I am interested in the culture and history! — but I would like to have some non-history orientated fun, too!

    Any information on the above would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Rebecca says:

    You’re welcome, Emma! I studied at the Spanish Institute, and I know the owners of LIVIT personally, too. I recommend all three programs in this article, so I’d say choose whichever one seems best suited to your personal needs and style.

    Puebla is the fourth-largest city in Mexico and has everything you’d expect of an urban metropolis, including nightlife, shopping, sporting events, and outdoor activities. It’s also home to at least a half dozen major universities, so there are plenty of things for 20-somethings to do that do not involve museums, churches, and festivals. Here’s a bit of information about our favorite bars in Cholula: http://www.puebla-mexico.com/watering-holes-in-cholula/; and you may also want to click on the Events tab at the top of the page, which includes some upcoming concerts.

    I hope this helps!

  3. Sofia says:

    Hi, do you know any non-immersion programs? I’m interested in learning spanish, but i prefer to have my own apartment and just come to classes.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Hi Sofia. Both the Spanish Institute and LIVIT offer non-immersion classes (as well as online instruction) to residents of Puebla and other students who do not need a homestay.

  5. Deborah says:

    Because I am still working full time, I would only be able to attend one week at a time. Which of the three schools would you recommend for that? I am taking a weekly Spanish lesson here and also I am using iPhone and iPad apps. Many thanks for your advice!

  6. Rebecca says:

    Hi Deborah: I believe that all three schools could accommodate a week’s stay, so I encourage you to check out their websites (links above) and contact them directly to determine which one best suits your learning style and needs. Happy studies! ~Rebecca

  7. Jason Berner says:

    Buenos dias Rebecca,

    I am a Peace Corps volunteer working in Zacatlan de las Manzanas, 2 hours north of Puebla. I was wondering if you had any advice on finding Spanish courses closer to Zacatlan that I could look into? I have taken a few college Spanish courses back in the United States. I’d like to take a course(s) closer to Zacatlan or do an online course through one of the schools you mentioned in Puebla.

    Thanks for your help!!
    ​Jason T. Berner

  8. Rebecca says:

    Hi Jason: Great question. I don’t personally know of any classes in Zacatlán, but perhaps someone will see this post and respond with more information? Meanwhile, both the Spanish Institute and Livit offer courses online. You might also be able to find a private instructor with access to Skype who could help you remotely, too. Saludos y gracias por visitar AllAboutPuebla.com, Rebecca

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