There are good Spanish schools in every Spanish-speaking country and it's clear to see that each country gives its own twist to the language. There aren’t Spanish accents and varieties better than others. But which might be easier to understand for beginners? Where would you see yourself living? What else are you signing up for? How can you learn Spanish and avoid spicy food? In short: where should you study Spanish?
The first question: should you study in Spain or in Latin America?
The first question that comes to mind to most people who are considering studying Spanish abroad is whether they should study in Spain or in Latin America.
The good news is that Spanish is pretty consistent in its pronunciation. Even though the sound of ‘c’, ‘z’, ‘y’ and ‘ll’ can change quite bit, ‘s’ and ‘d’ may be dropped in some varieties, it’s nothing like comparing a British speaker to one in the South of the United States or to another in Zambia. In terms of grammar, there is one major difference: some countries prefer ustedes and others prefer vosotros. Again, not even close to the sea of connectors and gerunds that separate Brazilian Portuguese from its European sibling.
But that question is still a bit tricky - the differences between the Latin American varieties themselves are noticeable, so we can’t really define “Latin American Spanish”. Besides, the learning experience in Mexico will also differ from Costa Rica, so you can’t chose a Latin American country randomly just because you like tamales. If you are really invested in Latin America, we advise you to research more about each country to understand which one will work best for you.
In general terms, however, you will want to take this into consideration:
Spain is the best option if:
- you want to use Spanish in the E.U.;
- are already used to Spain Spanish;
- are curious about Spanish culture (want to study Spanish literature, movies, museums,...);
- can travel to Spain often and easily (there are several low-cost airlines in Europe who fly to the biggest Spanish cities);
- have the chance to interact with Spanish people regularly back home;
- have dietary restrictions (big Spanish cities have sizeable immigrant communities, so you will be able to find Halal and Kosher foods; gluten-free and lactose-free are widely available throughout the country);
- want to study and tapear at the same time!
Choose Latin America if:
- like outdoor activities, like following the Inca trail or exploring Patagonia;
- are planning to work in a Latin American country;
- would like to study and volunteer at the same time (there are thousands of opportunities for volunteers in the region);
- work with Latin American communities back home;
- communicate with Latin American speakers often back home;
- are already used to a Latin American variety;
- want to live in a Latin American country.
Where should you study Spanish in Latin America?
Like we said before, you can find good Spanish schools in any Spanish-speaking countries, so you will find excellent schools throughout Latin America. And of course, all Spanish varieties are equally legitimate and interesting on their own. However, there are a few things that we would like you to take into consideration.
Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are well-known for having accents that might be tough for beginners. They also talk a mile a minute, which doesn’t help either. If you’re looking for a street experience, bear in mind that slang words in Argentina and Chile don’t translate across the Hispanosphere. The best time to go is generally from September to November, but Patagonia will be better from December to March and the beaches will be better from March to May.
Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are famous for their clear, relatively slow Andean accents, which might be easier to understand for beginners. Colombia was the birthplace of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magical realism, while Peru is perfect for adventurous hikers who want to discover Inca ruins. The best time to go is during dry season, from December to March.
Mexico has a very distinctive variety of Spanish with several accents of its own and thousands of borrowed words from indigenous languages. It’s an obvious choice for those who want to work in Mexico or are fascinated by its culture (including Mexican food!), but not your best bet if you want to travel to South America as well. Of course, Mexico is also the cheapest option for those in North America.
Caribbean countries (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and to some extent in Panama, Venezuela and Colombia) are hard to understand. Speakers of Caribbean Spanish drop certain letters, especially the ‘s’ and the ‘d’ at the end of the word (e.g.: “helado” becomes “hela’o”), which is not unlike the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands and in Andalusia in Spain. It’s a good choice if you want learn Spanish and have a nice vacation at the same time, or if you work closely with Caribbean communities. The best time to go is during dry season, from January to March.
Guatemala and Bolivia are the cheapest and least developed countries in Latin America, and thus where those in a super-tight budget can make the most of their money. They have been catering to students for years and offer a lot of 1-on-1 classes and tutorials. And have you looked at their incredible natural landscapes?
Although we did not cover all the countries in Latin America, this should give you a good idea of what to expect. If you are interested in knowing more about other countries or variations within these countries, just leave us a message on the comment section below and we’ll get back to you.
The most important thing is: wherever you decide study Spanish abroad, we’re sure it will be worth it!
Note: as of November 2016, Venezuela is suffering extreme food shortages and there is a lack of medical supplies in the country. We do not advise travelling to Venezuela until the situation is resolved.