Most of us already know, at least in theory, that the best way to learn a foreign language is by immersion, but in June 2009 I got to put that theory to the test when my teenage daughter and I enrolled for a week at Escuela Cooperativa Spanish School in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Staying with a local family in the small town of San Pedro, set on the shores of Lake Atitlan, and spending 4 hours a day in one on one Spanish instruction tailored to your level of expertise ( or lack thereof!) proved a wonderful way to dramatically improve our Spanish in a very short amount of time.

Escuela Cooperativa classroom, San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
Escuela Cooperativa classroom, San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

While expanding my knowledge of Spanish well beyond its previous limit of ordering tacos, my teacher Luis and I discussed the history, geography, and social politics of Guatemala, all in Spanish. And my daughter was able to discuss everything from fashion to social customs with her teacher, Flory, as they worked together to review and expand her high school Spanish.

View of Lake Atitlan from Escuela Cooperativa
View of Lake Atitlan from Escuela Cooperativa

Outside of class, we got to practice our expanded Spanish with our very hospitable new ‘family’ – who were all quick to offer suggestions or corrections as we struggled to practice our new skills at mealtimes. Since we just had class 4 hours a day, we also had plenty of time to explore the small town of San Pedro, visit the nearby village of San Juan, kayak on Lake Atitlan, and even take a trip to the colorful market at Chichicastenango a couple of hours drive away.

While a 2 or 3 week stay at Escuela Cooperativa would have led to even greater improvement in our Spanish, we both felt that just one week made a notable difference, and our subsequent travels in Guatemala were easier as a result. Now I just need to find some good books to read, in relatively simple Spanish, to solidify my learning! Any suggestions?

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