Learning Spanish Outside the Classroom

View from the top of a Cenote, just outside Tulum.

I’ve just completed my first week of intensive Spanish lessons at International House in Playa del Carmen, and I’ve already noticed a major improvement in my Spanish skills.  I’ve certainly learned a lot in the last week, but more importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to really practice my Spanish, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence.  International House doesn’t just offer Spanish courses, they provide opportunities for you to practice outside of the classroom, as well as learn a bit about the Mexican and indigenous Mayan cultures.

A typical week at IH starts with a quick placement test (if it’s your first week) and then you jump straight into a full immersion class.  The teachers speak primarily in Spanish, so you learn fast – it’s trial by fire, but you don’t have to worry about getting burned, there are more laughs than exams in the classroom, no matter how complex the subject matter.  In fact, the whole process is really fun!

Class goes from 9:30AM until about 11:30, and then there is a short break, which is perfect for a snack and some mingling with students from other classes and levels. The courtyard is always lively and full of fun chatter in Spanish and many other languages. The small kitchen serves up typical Mexican food, as well as burgers and fries and some great, healthy juices. Then it’s back to class until 1:30 at which point you’re free to hit the beach or grab a cerveza or a coffee at one of the many bars and cafes in Playa del Carmen.

Most days, International House provides extracurricular activities that help the students to get to know each other, while practicing their Spanish and learning about Playa del Carmen and Mexican Culture.  On Mondays, there is a brief walking tour of Playa.  It’s a fun way to get your bearing in the city, and the teacher who leads it offers some interesting insight into indigenous Mayan culture – and there is a free tequila tasting!  Tuesdays they offer games on the beach or a cooking class, where you learn to cook a typical Mexican meal.

On Wednesdays, the IH students take a field trip to the nearby University where they get to practice their Spanish speaking skills with local students.  This is a really fun way to engage with locals and I found it extremely beneficial. At night there are free Salsa dance lessons at the IH Residence. Thursdays they offer a group trip to Akumal, a beautiful beach, just a half hour south of Playa del Carmen, where you can use snorkeling gear and see tortugas (sea turtles) in the wild! There is also a stop at a nearby Cenote, a sinkhole, filled with fresh water and teeming with fish. The Akumal- Cenote trip is run by an associated tour company and they charge a discounted rate of $30 USD for students at IH.

To end the week, International House offers a mojito cocktail party for their students on Fridays.  This is a fun way to get the weekend started, mingle with other class-mates, and practice your Spanish. “Una mas mojito, por favor – mas fuerte!

Sounds like a pretty increcredible schedule, right?  It is.  And not only is it fun, but each activity offers you a chance to practice your Spanish in a real-life situation. Whether you’re working on your listening and question asking skills while learning about local culture on the walking tour, or practicing your bar-ordering skills at the cocktail party, it’s all part of the language-learning process.

For more information about the classes and activities offered by International House in Playa del Carmen, click here – and be sure to tell them Justin sent ya!


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