ultimate guide to spanish immersion in xela

Spanish Immersion in Guatemala – First Week Review

Eunice, our home stay Xela host walked us to school on our first day.  We ate breakfast at 0730, then set off shortly after that.  We’d arrived in the dark the night before, so weren’t exactly sure where we were, so it was a good start to our first week of our Spanish Immersion in Xela.

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Our walk to school only actually takes us three minutes.  I timed it this morning, but we were wide-eyed that first morning and wandering slowly.  We were taking in the area, memorising the route, looking for what’s around the house and the school.  We’d selected Sol Latino as our school and the full immersion route, staying with Eunice and her family to improve our chance of learning more and quickly.

It’s an interesting area.  There are a lot of car repair shops here.  And there are quite a few cars that are beyond repair sitting on the street.  Some of them, are situated in such a position, that they look like they crashed where they’re now sitting.

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There’s a covered market close to the school for fruit, vegetables, meat and bits of everything.  Vendors line the outside walls too.  There are small stores, Tienda, which seem to sell everything too, but for most of them, you need to know what you want, as everything is behind bars.  I suspect this is for security, though, not to improve our Spanish.

Sol Latino School

The school premises are set over two floors.  Most lessons here are individual, so there are desks for a teacher (maestro) and a student.  We’re taking the duo package, have a slightly larger room.  There’s also a walled courtyard that we enter through.  The sign on the gate is small and if we didn’t have Eunice with us, showing us the way we’d probably have missed it.

Spanish Immersion in Xela Sol Latino

There are a few people waiting in the courtyard as we go in, but no real directions as to where we go and who we speak to.  Orlando greets us, at the desk in the first room we find.  He does this in Spanish of course and hands us a sheet containing information, thankfully in English.

There’s coffee on tap, filtered water and a ping pong table.  There is a noticeboard with the activities that the school hosts detailed.  That’s also all in Spanish.  There are some photos, though.

Spanish Immersion in Xela Weekly Activities

After a few minutes, we figure out that we’re supposed to be in the courtyard.  It’s tradition on a Monday for the director of the school to welcome everyone.  We all stand in a circle.  It’s also tradition for everyone, teachers and students alike to introduce themselves, with a few words – where you live, what you like.  In Spanish.  Regardless of how much Spanish you don’t know.  I must have missed this bit on the reviews that I read.  We both manage to strangle something out about being English and liking travel and cooking or eating.  Or at least I think that’s what I said.

Our Teacher

Our teacher is Catalina.   She’s tiny.  About 4 foot 6 inches.  She’s bubbly, friendly and we laugh a lot.  Even despite the fact that the first thing that she has us do is take a test to figure out how much Spanish we know.

Spanish Immersion in Xela (1)

She gets a pretty good idea when we don’t even know we’re supposed to put the date in one of the slots…   It’s pretty clear she has complete beginners.  Although we are tainted by a vague recollection of Portuguese, which, it turns out, DOES NOT HELP AT ALL.  But more on that later.

Our Schedule

The first thing that we do is write down a schedule of what we’ll cover this week.  Here it is.  This is absolutely basic stuff folks.

Spanish Immersion in Xela Week 1 schedule

And to our relief, Catalina does speak to us in English, although she’s damned good at slipping in more and more Spanish as the week goes by.  To the extent that by the end of the week we’re receiving 90% of our instruction in Spanish.  Childlike words, some drawing, lots of sign language, but it’s Spanish.  We only resort to English when we look completely stumped, or we admit “Yo no entiendo” (I don’t understand).  The worldwide universal shrug works wonders too.

In this, our first lesson, we start with a few dialogues – asking what is your name? How are you?  Where are you from? There are stock responses too.  Things like “I’m well, I’m not, I’m ok.  I’m from England. “

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There’s the alphabet too.  While the letters might be the same (well mostly) as those in English, they’re pronounced differently.  And there are a couple of additions.

We write down the conjugation of two important verbs, SER and ESTAR.

Then it’s time for a break.

Lesson and Break Times

Our lesson started at around 0815 (after the Monday introductions) and the break is at 1030.  The break is for 30 minutes.  We grab more coffee, find the toilet and head for the courtyard, a little sunshine and a few tentative chats with the other students.   This week there is one other Brit, although he’s living in New York, there are two Americans (not together), one Canadian, one German and two Koreans.  I’d somehow expected there to be more.  The busiest time for the schools here in Xela is in July and August apparently.

The Cost of our Lessons

We’re paying US$125 a week each for our homestay, three meals a day, seven days a week and four hours of lessons that we’ll take together with a single teacher.  It’s the Sol Latino Duo Package.  We get coffee, tea and filtered water all day, there’s wifi access at the school and we also have a homestay that has wifi access (not all of them do – if you want it, be sure to ask the school.  We didn’t, but were just lucky!).  A few homestays have separate bathrooms for their guests.  We share with the family, but have not had any conflicts!

During the break we pay for our package – we’re paying week by week and we’re paying in cash.  There’s also a US$35 registration fee per couple here, so we pay that too.  If we want to pay by credit card, there’s an 8% surcharge, which seems to be the same across all schools.  We’ll be paying cash for as much as we can while in Central America.

The End of our First Day

There’s just an hour left after our break, but we still manage to cover a heap more.  Everything, in fact, that was on the list.  Including one of the most important verbs in Spanish, SER, and its conjugation.  I have 10 pages of notes.  And there’s homework too.  We have to write a short paragraph introducing each other.  In Spanish of course.  Using what we’ve learned today.

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As we’ve opted for four hours this week, when the bell rings at 12 noon we get to leave.  It’s possible to take five hours a day, but we wanted to see what four hours was like and also what it was like being in a class together.

At the end of our first four hours, we are pretty beat up.  There are Spanish words jumbling in my head, but not finding a way out.  I’m still virtually a mute when we get back to the casa.

School Activities

The school puts on activities for students, most of which are free, some others which attract a small fee, for buses, for entrances and the like.  We’ve signed up to several this week, but they don’t start until the Tuesday of each week.

Usual activities include watching a movie on a Tuesday afternoon (in Spanish but with subtitles), there’s a guided tour of the city too (in Spanish).  We attend the tour with Mario and comprehend about 2%, but its still good to try and listen and walk around the city.  There’s a reading and pronunciation activity on Thursday that we attend (we’re the only ones who go).  We get to read a passage from a children’s book with one of the teachers and get our pronunciation corrected.

Spanish Immersion in Xela Activities

There’s a lot of corrections going on.  The teacher for this, Sheni, also talks us through the storyline, in more simplified Spanish than the book.  We understand some of it, but, it all helps.

You Sleep a Lot in Your First Week

I suppose we are also adjusting to the time zone change (from Europe), so we have an excuse for going to bed at 2030.  That and it’s been some time since I had to concentrate for four hours solid.  And then spend a few hours trying to learn what we went through.

After One Week of Spanish Immersion

I have completed three-quarters of a notebook.  I’ve also written it all out again in another notebook more neatly (because writing helps me learn).  We’ve had homework every night.  We’ve also been using the Duolingo app to supplement our learning, so we both are spending at least 45 minutes a day on Duolingo.  The Spanish is slightly different from what we’re learning, but not significantly so.

The grading is also interesting on Duolingo.  I might be 0.9% fluent.  Definitely not 9%!

Spanish Immersion in Xela Duolingo

We’ve covered everything on our first week’s agenda.  And a whole lot more, because we manage to come up with new questions every day.  Catalina is very patient with us and we laugh a lot.   Knowing some Portuguese doesn’t help, as pronunciation and specific Portuguese words creep in.  Catalina threatens Nigel with a swear box for each time he says Nos instead of Nosotros.

The BEST thing about this first week..

The most thing I’ve got from this first week is confidence.  It’s not just Catalina who tells us to study, study and talk, talk, talk, it’s also Eunice at home.  And her brother Fernando, (an English teacher, who has dinner with us each night).  They all patiently correct us, and help by speaking slowly, clearly and in incredibly simple language.

So we have the confidence to go to the pharmacy and struggle through buying the localized version of Imodium.  We make it through buying a sim card so that we have internet on the move, making calls is definitely beyond us at the moment.  We make the Blue Angel Video Café around the corner from the house our local and make friends with Mariales, the owner.  She also helps us.  In fact, everyone helps us.

Our Spanish Immersion in Xela has…..

By the end of our first week, we’ve also bought another sweater each because it’s FREEZING HERE and explored the fruit and vegetable market at Democracia.  We’ve done this all in strangled Spanish and we’ve signed up for 5 hours a day next week.  We’re continuing with the joint lesson.  It’s ok says Catalina, as we’re at the same level.  It also works that we remember (and forget) different things, so it’s not unusual for me to start a sentence, get stuck and for Nigel to finish it.   Yes.  In Spanish as well as English.   The extra hour costs us another US$9 each for the week.

As for our weekend.  Well, we spent Saturday buying sweaters and walking around.  We had lunch out at a non-descript expensive waste of money place near the central park.  We spent Sunday drinking coffee and bouncing between various coffee shops, like all the other students.  Books open, pens at the ready, head filling up.  Although Eunice provides food for us at the weekend too, we also lunched out on Sunday – taking in an event at the central park, which provided us with fabulously filling Xela specialities.

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And of course, we did our homework.    It’s been a great first week of Spanish Immersion.  I can’t say we’re naturals, but it is great and we’re fired up for the next week.

Hasta la proxima semana!

Travel Tips for Exploring Guatemala

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