Guide to improving Spanish language skills in South America

Planning to take your Spanish Class to South America to develop their Spanish and have a memorable adventure?

You will definitely get the adventure, but it’s all too easy for a student to miss out on the potential improvement in Spanish from being in a Spanish speaking country. When traveling in a big group sometimes it’s easy for some of the group to avoid communication in Spanish and thus not improving their Spanish language skills.

We speak from experience, School Trips and Tours to South America and learning Spanish is one of the best things you will ever do but getting around and making the most of the experience can be a real challenge. This is especially true if you haven't been before, or don't speak a word of Spanish yet. This guide will make life a little easier and is really helpful for getting the most out of your South American School Trip or Tour while having an amazing experience.

Auckland Grammer High School in Buenos Aires, Argentina 2010

1. Immerse, immerse and... immerse: Give your students opportunity to communicate with willing native Spanish speakers. Chat to taxi drivers\store owners\bus men and anyone else who will bear your Spanish! Watch local TV, listen to music in Spanish, try and even encourage your students to change the settings on their electronic devices to Spanish. Finally at least once a week, read either a newspaper or magazine in Spanish.

Most importantly encourage your students to refuse to talk their native language to anyone except maybe their family back home!

EA School Tours South American itineraries' all include options to leave the big cities of Buenos Aires and Santiago and head to small rural communities/ natural attractions to break away from English speakers. Clearly this is a really great idea for both the travel experience and the obvious Spanish learning benefits. Remember on EA School Trips & tours to South America we always provide bilingual guides.

2. Keep it fun: Psychologists tell us (although lets face it, it is fairly obvious) that we learn a a whole lot better if we enjoy something. Playing games in Spanish, from board games to flirting games will help you learn the lingo. Making fun of your friends or even recalling the latest telenova episode while drunk will also do wonders for your Español.

3. Stretch your group: We know we like to think we're not but sometimes we can be a lazy bunch and it's tempting to take the easy option. In today's world of information overload, we tend to only learn or concentrate on what we really need to. Put your students in real life situations where they have to stretch their linguistic capability to breaking point. The absence of Spanish at a certain moment may be unsettling or frustrating but your students won't forget it again should the situation re-occur!

4. Try and speak the language as a native speaker does. As self conscious as your students may be rolling an 'R', try it! The sooner they can adopt local accents, language and style, the sooner they will benefit from real communication with locals. Speaking well will stimulate your Spanish as it rewards your efforts and encourages students to then work on the other components of learning a language; grammar, reading, theory (the boring stuff) etc.

5. Earwig: Encourage students to listen to how your guide and locals use the language, how they stress certain parts of a sentence, how they use certain slang words or how they pronounce a strange sound. Of course always listen to any feedback a teacher or friend gives you on your Spanish.

6. Zero tolerance for English hijackers: Remember for economic and cultural reasons it is generally more imporant for South Americans to speak English well than for you to speak Spanish. Often your South American counterpart will use every opportunity they have to get a word of Inglés in there.

A Spanish speaker attempting to speak English with you will often disguise his or her "gesture" as an effort to help you communicate or as an act of friendly charity or a sociable reaching out. Bulls***. A quick response, such as the following should do the trick "ah perdón, yo no hablo Inglés, mis padres vinieron de Estonia" (translates as "sorry, I don´t speak English, my parents come from Estonia")

7. Patience: Learning a language is a funny old business and progress can, unfortunately, be brutally random. Generally your students will find it a bit difficult in Spanish speaking country at first. Soon however, they will make key breaks as they reach the threshold where they can really engage their new language. Engagement leads to accelerated learning and in no time your students will be confident enough to proactively make conversation. In addition, as it's tricky to make the step from sounding like a text book to speaking more colloquially, you may find that your students will get used to their less ‘natural' Spanish. Encourage your students to stay patient. Stress is a wasted emotion and you won't learn any better or faster - just remember you can't get worse at a language only better. So keep your students relaxed and encourage them to enjoy what they already know then expand their vocabulary by reading as much as possible and interacting with native Spanish speakers as much as possible.

8. Take note (and stay organised): As you go about your daily life learning Spanish in South America encourage your students to take notes in a little notebook. Get them to note down words they don't understand or things they haven't been able to communicate. Then produce these notes to you the teacher or your guide. Set out a general plan for your students to follow in South America in conjunction with what they are learning at school, get them to set goals that must be met after certain periods of time. For instance, "by the week after next I am going to use the future tense in conversation" or "when in a restaurant I will not point to the menu but order at least 5 items in Spanish."

9. Concentrate on trouble areas early on: Having well-rounded skills at Spanish (so being OK at understanding, writing and speaking) will massively assist you in learning further. This will ensure that your students are open to learning. If they lack one of the above three then it is critical that this is addressed as soon as possible. Arrange some extra classes in that area or just encourage them to spend some free time concentrating on improving that aspect of their Spanish.

Check out all our South America itineraries here, and remember if South America isn't the right destination for your school group, we can arrange personalised tours in places like Spain and Mexico, so contact us and we can create something specifically for you school group.

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