THERE are thousands of reasons to learn Spanish, and nearly as many places to learn in Guanacaste.
Spanish is spoken by more than 400 million people. It is the official language in 21 countries – from Uruguay to the Dominican Republic.
For those who live in Costa Rica, the reason to learn the language is obvious. But for those who are just passing through – for a few weeks or a few months – a little lesson in Spanish can provide convenience, job opportunities and a glimpse into the country beyond stunning beaches and fascinating wildlife.
Most experts agree the best way to learn a language is through immersion, so those living in Costa Rica are halfway there. But few would deny that formal study is also very important. A number of schools in Guanacaste combine the two in a way that, with a little self-discipline, can add up to success in Spanish for both residents and visitors.
“YOU can’t really learn a language without learning a culture,” said Barbara Miller, subdirector of Intercultura LanguageSchool(656-0127, www.samaralanguageschool.com) in SámaraBeach.
For this reason, in addition to four hours of formal lessons a day, students at Intercultura are invited to participate in cooking and dancing classes, given in Spanish. Lessons also frequently take students out of the classroom to restaurants and markets, where they can put to use what they have learned and they must speak spontaneously, Miller said. Because Sámara is more than just a tourist town, plenty of opportunities exist for such interaction.
Classes are $250 a week and reduced to as low as $180 for an increased number of weeks.
Centro Panamericano de Idiomas (CPI, 654-5002, www.cpi-edu.com) in Flamingo has a similar approach. The school also supplements its four-hour daily classes with salsa and merengue lessons, Spanish movie nights and classes on special subjects, such as Costa Rican fruit.
Students can also easily flow between classes in Flamingo and those at their campuses in Monteverde and Heredia, according to Carolina Najarro.
“Students can both study and get to know the country,” she said.
Classes at CPI are $240 for one week, $450 for two weeks, $630 for three weeks and $830 for four weeks. Classes for residents of Costa Rica are $185 for one week.
Students at Instituto Guanacasteco de Idiomas (686-6948, www.spanishcostarica.com) in Nicoya and Sámara are invited to learn about the country by attending monthly town meetings, where they can ask questions about life, politics and history in Guanacaste.
Classes there are $295 for one week, $595 for two weeks, $795 for three weeks and $1,095 for four weeks.
“We always try to do as much interaction as possible, not just in the class with a book, but instead using different things in the environment,” said Shirley Herrera, academic director of Wayra Spanish Institute (653-0359, www.spanish-wayra.co.cr) in Tamarindo. In addition to the standard four hours a day, five days a week, Wayra offers classes in specialties such as medicine, business and law in Spanish.
Classes are $200 for one week, $390 for two weeks, $570 for three weeks and $760 for a month.
InterculturaLanguageSchool, CPI, Instituto Guanacasteco and Wayra Spanish Institute also offer homestay programs to visiting students.
FOR those living in Guanacaste, but unable to attend four-hour daily classes, Rey de Nosara Language School (682-0215, www.reydenosara.itgo.com) in Nosara and Instituto Britanico in Liberia both provide more flexibility in their classes, particularly private lessons.
Most of these schools focus on conversation during lessons. However, grammar, reading comprehension and writing also play a significant role in some schools.
“You can’t learn a language without learning grammar,” said Reynaldo Ohrt of Rey de Nosara. “You can’t have a conversation unless you understand grammar.”
Unlike most teachers, Ohrt speaks Spanish as a second language, like his students.
Although many would see this as a disadvantage, Ohrt believes he is at an advantage.
“I understand much better what the problems of learning are,” Ohrt said. “I have students who tried to learn in Guatemala or somewhere else, and said teachers there were really nice, but couldn’t explain things in a way so students could understand.”
Classes at Rey de Nosara are $15 an hour for one person, $18 an hour for two people, and $21 an hour for three people.
CLASS size is also an important consideration when selecting a school. Most schools limit classes to under six students, although some place the cap at two.
“The larger the class size, the longer it takes someone to learn a language,” said Gary Rose of Instituto Guanacasteco. “But I think two students with one teacher is even better than one-on-one, because one on-one is almost too much.”
All schools test students to determine the appropriate level to begin instruction. Many also work with universities in the United States and England to offer university credit. These schools are not, however, geared only to college students, and boast a wide range of ages in student populations.
Instituto Britanico’s Liberia branch offers a “Spanish Express” class for 15 hours a week at $180. A40-hour group class is $440 and a 20-hour private class, where the student determines the schedule, is $440.
Homestays have additional charges.