Work Abroad but earn in USD

Monday, May 24, 2004

Learning Spanish In Argentina

If you're coming to Argentina and you've decided to take Spanish courses while you're here, congratulations are in order. Not only will the porteños appreciate your attempt to speak their language, but you'll also be on your way to becoming a better ambassador of your country. If you've traveled outside the United States, even a little, you already know that Americans are probably the only people from a developed nation who do not generally speak a second language. It says something about our culture when we expect the rest of the world to speak our language, but we make no effort to learn another language ourselves.

There is no question that the best way to actually learn a foreign language is to study it directly in a foreign country. If you're coming to Argentina for the sole purpose of learning Spanish, there are several things to consider. If you're going to be in Argentina for an extended period and you want to take Spanish lessons on a part-time basis, there are other issues to think about.

Full Time Spanish

If you're going to go all-out and make learning Spanish the primary focus of your trip, you first need to ask yourself, "Is Argentina the country where I want to learn Spanish?" Now, I'm not one to discourage people from coming to Argentina, just the opposite, but there are several issues to consider. Porteños have a very distinct dialect and it will be forever known to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world that you learned your Spanish in Argentina. That may be an issue for you or not; it just depends on where you will be using your Spanish.

Additionally, if you want to become fluent, you'll need to really live here for 6 months or so, with a host family, if possible. Argentina isn't the cheapest Latin American country. Ecuador, Peru, or even parts of Mexico will be cheaper than Argentina. If you're going to be living in a place for 6 months, you may want to pick someplace that will be easier on the pocketbook. Even after the devaluation, prices for language institutes have not dropped. You'll be charged in dollars, not the newly devalued pesos.

On the other hand, Buenos Aires offers a fantastic nightlife and a better overall living experience than Quito, Cuzco, Oaxaca, or Guadalajara. If you're going to be living in a place for six months while you attempt to become fluent, you're probably going to want to find a place where you can go out and have some fun at night. Buenos Aires fits the bill. Coming from Arizona, where the bars close (by law) at 1:15 a.m., Buenos Aires is certaily a big change. You'll find bars and clubs here that are open all night long and you'll still find people arriving at 2:00 a.m. and beyond.

Part Time Spanish

Learning Spanish part time in Argentina carries its own set of challenges. First, what is your schedule like when you're here? If you're going to be traveling around the country extensively for tourism, it probably isn't possible to take Spanish lessons. If you're going to be in Buenos Aires or Cordoba, or another city for a longer period of time, you'll have more luck. If you do intend to be in the city for a good amount of time, what is your schedule going to be like there? Will you be in meetings from 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM all day? Will the weekends be your only free time?

The reason you must consider all these schedule issues is that the most economical way to take Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires is typically through group classes with other foreigners. These classes are typically geared toward people who are staying with host families and learning Spanish is the primary objective of their stay in Argentina. If you're visiting on business and you're going to have work during the weekdays, it probably isn't going to be possible for you to take group classes at a language school.

You're going to want to look for private individual tutoring that can work with your schedule. There are even tutors available who will come to your place of business or your hotel/apartment and tutor you there, saving you a good deal of travel time to and from the language school. Your needs will vary depending on the complexities of your schedule.

Learning At A Language Institute

If you want to learn Spanish at a language institute, there are a number of choices for you in Buenos Aires. A strong expatriate and foreign community has been developing in Bueons Aires since the devaluation and there are a number of Spanish institutes to meet the needs of foreigners who want to learn the language. Included below is a table that will get you on your way to finding a place to study.

Note: I have not used any of these institutes personally, so you will want to check references before you make a comittment to any particular school. Ask the admisstions director for a list of previous students and give them a call or send an e-mail. Just like in the United States, you're going to need to do your due dilligence before comitting yourself to any specific place. It will be difficult to change schools once you are in Argentina if you find out that you dislike the Spanish school you're studying with. So, make sure you or an assistant puts in some quality research time before deciding on a school.

No School Name Group Price (1 hr) Individual Price (1 hr)
1 Argentina I.L.E.E. $10 $16
2 Universidad De Belgrano N/A N/A
3 CEDIC $6 $9
4 International Bureau of Language $4.35 N/A
5 Latin Immersion $8.50 $13.50
6 Asociación Argentina de Docentes de Español $5.35 $6.42

Please Note: All prices in the above table are as of 4/11/04, using data from the schools' own websites. Peso-based prices have been converted to USD at the current exchange rate of 2.80:1. Prices & exchange rates may have changed since publication. You should check with the individual school to obtain up-to-date pricing information.

The Selection Process

As you can see from the list above, the prices vary widely. The quality and professionalism of the schools varries widely also. Remember the old adage, you get what you pay for. Before you even start to negotiate price with a Spanish school, make sure you contact their references first. It isn't even worth considering a school if they can't provide you with references and they don't want you to speak with their former students. Once you've checked references and narrowed down your list, then it is time to start the negotiating.

Hints For Getting The Best Deal

Although I never attended a langauge school, I was considering it at one time, so I did contact them to negotiate the pricing. If you are staying for an extended period (4 weeks or more) or you are coming down in a group of 2 or 3, you may be able to negotiate a discount. However, be careful about the way you go about this. Do not say, "I know you are overcharging foreigners, so I want the local price." You will not get anywhere. Remember, Argentina is a capitalist country and the businesses deserve the opportunity to make a profit. However, if you go about it tactfully and say you are looking for the best deal possible, they will respect that and probably take 10-15% off the listed price in an attempt to earn your business.

Independent Private Instruction

Although most of the language institutes offer private classes, a language institute is not your only option for private instruction. In fact, I'd urge you to consider other options as well. Going with a language institute will give you high quality instruction from teachers who are experienced teaching to foreigners. On the other hand, you're going to be paying foreign prices. Don't think for a minute that porteños pay the same rates when they go to an institute to learn English.

One excellent option (the one I ended up using) was going with an independent private instructor. The instructor I used was actually a Spanish teacher at one of the many language institutes in Buenos Aires, but she taught me on an individual basis -- she was moonlighting. This option eliminates the middleman (the language school) and lets the Spanish instructor make a little more money for herself on the side and it lets the student pay a more reasonable price. The quality of instruction is the same, the hours can be tailored to your schedule, and the instructor can come to your residence or place of business. I found it to be the ideal option.

Finding Someone To Teach You

Of course, most private instructors are not going to have websites. And the ones who are moonlighting from their day job as an instructor in a language institute are certainly not going to advertise what they are doing. So, you have to ask around to find someone. If you don't have a large network of contacts in Argentina, you can often times rely on a local to help you out. If you're being sent to Argentina by your company, surely you have a contact there in your company's Argentina office. Give them a call and ask if they know anyone. Perhaps they can give someone a call at the one of the universities and see if someone's available.

It can take some more work to find someone this way, but if you plan on taking a lot of classes and you need someone to work around your schedule, this is the best way to find someone at a reasonable price.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the program at the University of Buenos Aires. It's much cheaper than the programs you have listed. I'm not in BsAs yet, but plan to takes classes there starting in October.


5/24/2005 11:13:00 AM  

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