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Learning Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico

Angela Mendoza at a booth of the language school, Isituto Cultural Oaxaca, in Mexico.
Angela Mendoza. Photo courtesy of Carlos Hernandez Topete / Instituto Cultural Oaxaca.

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ka) awakens the senses.

This is not a hyperbolic promotion but rather a candid assessment of a place ideal for a learning vacation. Immerse yourself in unique sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures. Over the years, I have lived in Oaxaca and had the privilege of getting to know many students. One friend and native New Yorker said, "When you hang out with Mexicans and you speak Spanish, you are in a different Mexico."

Who Takes the Language Classes?

There are two primary groups who take classes:

  1. Some attend schools for a quick week-long immersion to prepare themselves for continued travel in the region.

  2. Others take classes for several weeks or months to develop their language skills further.

It is also not uncommon for couples to arrive where one spouse already speaks Spanish and the partner attends classes to get up to speed.

Where to Stay in Oaxaca

Language schools often assist students in finding homestays. Living with families helps students with language learning and cultural assimilation. For those who prefer not to live with a family, hotels and apartments are available.

How to Learn Spanish Effectively

The keys to successfully learning a foreign language involve having a strong desire to learn while putting yourself in a position where learning is enjoyable. Experiential learning — creating meaning from direct experience — extends beyond the classroom. Learning Spanish by practicing the language takes a plethora of forms in  Oaxaca, where you can learn to dance at the Salon de la Salsa, or play rugby with the Zinacantli Rugby Club — which practices on Saturdays at the Ciudad Universitaria.

Other opportunities include taking cooking classes in a place that renowned chef Rick Bayless says offers a taste of real Mexico. Oaxaca City's Abastos Market regularly receives seasonal produce from all over the state and the country. Asking the sellers how to prepare huitlacoche — mutated corn smut — or anything else that strikes your fancy will begin a long and tasty conversation!

Oaxaca offers many cultural events, book readings, and art openings.

Some of the language schools in Oaxaca go beyond the classroom, holding their own events. For instance, the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca has launched a series of Fair Trade expos, inviting local artisans and chocolate producers to sell directly to students, providing a unique and immersive learning opportunity.

When to Learn Spanish in Oaxaca?

To fully immerse yourself in the Spanish learning experience, it's crucial to be aware of the calendar of traditional festivals and celebrations. These events, celebrated with reverence in nearby villages overflowing with good food and activities, are a rich cultural experience that can enhance your language-learning journey. The city's chief holidays, such as the Day of the Dead (Nov 1-2), Guelaguetza (July 20 & 27), and the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Radish Night (December 23) just before Christmas, are not to be missed.

Where to Learn Spanish in Oaxaca?

(Please note that each language school has various programs of study from which to choose: beginning, moderate, intensive, group, private classes, etc. Many of the programs also include options such as cultural activities and optional homestays.)

Instituto Cultural Oaxaca

Becari Language School

Don Quijote in Oaxaca

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