To make rapid progress with your language learning, there really is no substitute for jumping into a total immersion experience in a Spanish-speaking country. Not only does this give you infinite opportunities to practice, it also helps keep you seriously motivated.
When living abroad, every additional word you learn in class immediately makes it that bit easier to communicate with those around you. So, improving your second language means that your daily life also gets easier and becomes more enjoyable.
The beauty of learning Spanish, in particular, is that there so many great study destinations to choose from, both in Europe and Latin America. In fact, the potential options are so numerous that knowing how to decide between them can be bewildering.
Here’s five reasons why I think you should put Colombia towards the top of your shortlist:
1. Colombians are friendly and welcoming
Hailing, as I do, from the UK, it’s fair to say that the residents of just about any Latin American country are more outgoing than are my fellow countrymen.
But even among a region that is famous for its welcoming attitude, Colombians really do stand out for their exceptionally warm treatment of foreign visitors.
Partly, this is because they’re so keen to show that there is far more to their country than TV shows like Narcos would have you believe. Yet, it’s mainly just a national cultural trait to be extrovert and welcoming of others.
Ask a random passer-by for directions on a Colombian street, for instance, and they may well escort you exactly to where you’re going rather than just point you in the general direction. Chat to a stranger for more than a couple of minutes and you might find yourself invited in for lunch with their extended family!
Getting treated this well is obviously a huge advantage in itself, but for Spanish learners the benefits are double. Approachable locals mean you’ll make friends more quickly and you’ll have many more opportunities to practice those budding Spanish skills.
2. The Spanish is clear
It is often said that the Spanish spoken in Colombia is the most neutral sort in the world. Whether or not this claim is strictly true, one thing is for certain: the Spanish spoken in Colombia is an excellent variety for language learners.
Colombians (from the center of the country at least; less so along the coast) tend to be speak slowly and clearly. Even with only a limited knowledge of the language, you’ll have a much better chance of understanding Colombian conversation than you would of deciphering the rapid-fire chat of Spaniards or Chileans, say.
Colombians still do have an accent, of course, but it is an undeniably pleasant one, which only adds to the richness of studying here. And, if you later come to pick up this accent yourself, your Spanish will have a distinctive twang that’ll set you apart from the rest of the Spanish-learning crowd.
3. Classes are great value and good quality
Having studied in a few different locations across Latin America myself, I’m conscious of the enormous variety – in terms of both price and quality -- of Spanish tuition throughout the region.
There are certainly cheaper places to study than Colombia; the prices in some independent Spanish schools in Central America can be shockingly low. Yet, as ever in life, you do seem to get what you pay for.
Spanish tuition in Colombia may not be quite as cheap as it is Central America, but prices are still very reasonable, especially when compared to your home country. At the same time, the general quality of the country’s Spanish schools and teachers is, for me, noticeably higher.
You’ll spend a tiny bit more than you would further north, but the pace of your progress with the language is likely to be much more rapid.
4. The locals don’t speak much English
Outside of the tourist centers of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, it’s fair to say that English isn’t very widely spoken in Colombia. As a short-term, non-Spanish speaking visitor, this could prove rather inconvenient. But as a committed Spanish student, the fact that opportunities to speak English are limited is actually a real bonus.
When you start out with a new language, it’s easy to get embarrassed, feel stupid and duck out of practicing at every opportunity. For many people, putting themselves in situations where they are forced to speak Spanish is the only way to improve.
Fortunately, in Colombia, you’ll rarely be able to shy away from language practice and just speak English instead. If you do, the chances are that the other person won’t understand you. Yes – this might prove tough at times, but in the long-run it’s the best way to ensure you really improve.
5. Travel opportunities and nightlife are amazing
Learning Spanish is not all about studying and hard work. To really make the most out of a language immersion trip, you also need to enjoy everything you do outside of class. On this front, Colombia certainly will not disappoint.
In terms of travel, you’ll have two huge expanses of coastline to explore. Here you’ll find countless amazing vacation spots – from the picturesque and tranquil shores of the Caribbean, to the rugged jungle-lined beaches of the Pacific.
Journey slightly inland to also take in the lush rolling hills of Colombia’s coffee-growing region, the craggy peaks of the central region or even the virgin rainforest of the Amazon.
This isn’t to say that you’ll have travel far away from your Spanish class in order to have a good time: Colombians everywhere really know how to enjoy themselves. No doubt, you’ll discover this for yourself as soon as you hit the town in Cali, Medellin or Bogota. Expect big Latin beats, exotic dance moves and lively discotecas wherever you roam.
Just remember to occasionally tear yourself away from the revelry, from time-to-time, to get some studying done!
Peter Low arrived to Colombia as a backpacker in 2007, planning to stay there just a few days. Somehow, the trip kept getting extended and the weeks have since turned into years. Today, Peter works as a journalist on Latin America and has written an eBook and blog on Studying Spanish in Colombia.