A gap year is a great time to learn a new skill. Ok so you’ve just finished school or university, but that doesn’t mean that you need to stop learning. And what better way could there be than combining travel with learning?
Many people are now choosing to learn a new language during their gap year, it’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in a new culture, make new friends and learn a new skill that will last for life.
Here at mapthegap.co.uk we’ve put together some guides for you on language learning during your gap year. This week we will be focusing on learning Spanish.
Why should I learn Spanish?
Spanish is spoken by approximately 329 million native speakers worldwide and it’s the world’s second language, behind Mandarin (Chinese). That means that there are more native Spanish speakers in the world than English speakers.
Spanish is spoken in 44 countries worldwide, making it one of the most useful languages to learn. Having Spanish knowledge is particularly helpful if you’re thinking about travelling through South America as part of your gap year, where English is spoken far less than it is in Europe.
Where is the best place to go?
With so many Spanish speaking countries to choose from, it can be a bit daunting to know where to start, but it all really depends on what you want from your gap year and how hard you are willing to work at learning your new language. It also depends on what you want to use your new Spanish skills for and your type of learning style.
If your primary aim is to learn as much Spanish as possible in as little time as possible and you’re willing to work hard for it, then you should head to Spain. The best way to learn fast is to immerse yourself completely into the language. Stay with a Spanish family in a homestay or get a job as an au-pair and live with a Spanish family. Go to a local language school and enrol in some classes as well.
If you want to combine your language learning with another activity like volunteering then your best bet would be to head to Peru or Ecuador. People in these countries speak with fairly neutral Spanish accents so they are a little bit easier to understand than in other parts of South America. Also if you’re a complete beginner then you will learn with a neutral Spanish accent and will be able to make yourself understood in other South American countries. Both countries have lots of great volunteering options.
If you’re on a very tight budget and want to find the cheapest country to learn Spanish in then you could try Nicaragua. Nicaragua is relatively safe compared to some Central American countries, although you should still exercise caution wherever you go.
If you are happy to spend more for your accommodation and classes, want to go to one of the more stable Central American countries and to be at one with nature, then you should go to Costa Rica.
How should I go about it?
Wherever you decide to go you should enrol yourself in some Spanish classes to get a basic grounding in the language first. Your interaction with locals, host families or children will enhance this knowledge. Do some research to find the best Spanish schools in the areas you want to go to. Here are a few recommendations and suggestions to get you started:
Spain - There are many language schools all over Spain that range in type and price. If you want to head away from the tourist trail though so you can immerse yourself as much as possible in the local culture then you could check out the beautiful cities of Murcia and Cadíz. A school that comes highly recommended in Murcia is Instituto Hispanico de Murcia.
However, these two cities are in Andalucía, where the accent is very strong. If you want somewhere with a more neutral accent, but still away from the main tourist trail then Salamanca or Valladolid, in northern Spain are great options. Check out the Mester School in Salamanca.
Or, you could try the Don Quijote schools, located throughout Spain. They have a good reputation and also have partner schools in South and Central America.
Peru - There are many great volunteering opportunities in northern Peru and a good place to try Spanish classes would be Espaanglich, who offer lessons in Trujillo and Huanchaco. Fiore Peru is also a good choice. They have schools in a number of different locations around northern Peru and also in places where you can volunteer.
Nicaragua - In Nicaragua you could try Granada Spanish Lingua, located in the beautiful city of Granada and one of the safest parts of the country. They can also arrange a homestay with a local family for you.
Costa Rica - In Costa Rica COSI Language School offers classes on the beach or even in the Manuel Antonio National Park, in the middle of the rainforest!
So what are you waiting for? Vete a aprender el idioma.