Spanish is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world, with nearly 500 million native speakers, so it’s no surprise that learning it is becoming increasingly popular. For international workers it opens doors to markets and connections, while for travellers, being able to speak the local language leads to new friends and a richer experience.
While you could spend months being harangued by the Duolingo owl or labouring through Harry Potter Y La Piedra Filosofal, there’s no doubt that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself. But with 20 Spanish-speaking countries and hundreds of cities to choose from, picking somewhere can be overwhelming. Here are seven suggestions.
1. Medellín, Colombia
Colombia claims to have the clearest Spanish accent in the world, making it ideal for beginners. Escape the chaos of Bogotá and head to Medellín, where the temperate climate and cosmopolitan community may make you never want to leave. A popular school is Toucan Spanish, which offers 20 hours of classes a week for about £120, as well as a huge range of cultural activities and volunteering opportunities.
2. Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
For the budget-conscious, Guatemala is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn Spanish. Quetzaltenango, in the highlands, is the heart of the Maya culture, giving you a unique window into indigenous Guatemalan tradition and culture. With few tourist attractions, studying Spanish is the main focus, and the city is set up for learners with dozens of schools and private tutors offering a variety of classes and activities. Try Utatlán Spanish School for its welcoming environment — one-to-one lessons are just £95 for 20 hours a week, and the team can arrange homestays with local families for the full immersive experience.
3. Salamanca, Spain
Salamanca bills itself as the Ciudad del Español with good reason: it’s the largest Spanish learning hub in Spain, educating more than 25,000 international students a year. This means Salamanca is geared towards students. It offers a huge choice of academic and leisure activities, all set in a tolerant, safe and picturesque university city. Tía Tula, an Instituto Cervantes-accredited school in the heart of the historic city centre, offers private, small-group and online classes from £165 a week.
4. Quito, Ecuador
Ecuadorians are friendly, their accent is mild and they speak slowly, making Ecuador another great option for beginners. The capital, Quito, is bursting with historic charm: the magnificent city centre was the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site and has some of the best-preserved Spanish colonial architecture in Latin America. One school that gets consistently good reviews is the Instituto Superior de Español, where small group classes start from £106 for 20 hours. If you fancy a two-centre trip, it also has outposts in the Galápagos Islands and the Amazon jungle.
5. Cusco, Peru
Nestled in the Andes Mountains, this former capital of the Inca Empire is another UNESCO heritage city, famous for its colourful Andean culture. The superb landscapes of the Sacred Valley and the legendary Machu Picchu are right on the doorstep, and the city itself is a traveller’s mecca, well-equipped with hostels, restaurants and Spanish schools. Try Mundo Antiguo, where groups number no more than four students and cost around £100 a week.
6. Heredia, Costa Rica
If you fancy a dose of nature alongside your Spanish, head for Costa Rica. This outdoor paradise boasts miles of tropical beaches and jungles crammed with wildlife and adventure activities, including zip-lining and whitewater rafting. Base yourself in Heredia, known as the City of Flowers, thanks to its lush flora and fauna. The Tico Lingo school not only offers small group classes from £220 a week, but also the chance to volunteer with rainforest conservation or animal rescue projects.
7. Granada, Spain
While the Andalusian accent is harder to understand than in other parts of Spain, the challenge is a small price to pay for the chance to spend time in lively Granada. Blessed with a sunny southern climate and magnificent Moorish architecture, Granada is a welcoming university city with a student-friendly atmosphere — in fact, almost a third of the city’s population comprises students and it’s where this writer spent six months learning Spanish. Escuela Delengua is Cervantes Institute-accredited and caters to a slightly older crowd, with group classes from £125 a week.