When I was younger and was given the opportunity to learn Spanish in Costa Rica, I did not hesitate for a second. There was not a lot of information or ways to learn to Spanish as there is now. However at the end of my 3 months in Costa Rica I learned alot about what to do and what not to do.
The best ways learn Spanish in Costa Rica is through complete immersion, through the university or living in a small rural town. How fast and how well you learn the language depends on the way you want to learn and the amount of time you have.
I will explain in this article the various ways you can learn Spanish in Costa Rica and the pros and cons of each so lets get started!
Factors for Learning Spanish in Costa Rica
There are a lot of variables to consider if you want to come back from Costa Rica fluent. The most important ones you need to think about are:
- How much one studies or knows before getting to Costa Rica
- How much effort is put into learning Spanish while in Costa Rica
- How much one is able to immerse themselves in the language and culture
- The quality of the school that one chooses to go to
All these factors need to done with maximum effort when you decide to learn Spanish in Costa Rica. Because if you don’t you will not come back home as fluent as you could.
Learning Basic Spanish Before Arriving In Costa Rica
I recommend that you have at least a basic knowledge of the language. Being able to understand basic expressions will not only make your first few weeks and months easier – it will reduce anxiety should you have some type of emergency.
If nothing else, being able to tell the taxi where you’re going, understand how much money he wants, and then give directions back to your home is pretty nice.
Learning Spanish in Costa Rica on Your Own
To learn Spanish in Costa Rica takes a tremendous amount of self discipline and is not something I would generally recommend. However if you are self motivated enough and combine self study with full immersion into Costa Rica society, you can certainly learn this way and save some money at the same time. The ways to make this work are:
Spanish Books and Courses
If you are moving to Costa Rica or you are going to spend an extend an extended period of time in the country, some people decide to purchase a book, audio course, or online course and progress through the chapters/lessons themselves.
Learning Spanish this way is the least expensive and will take some self discipline. However, the advantage is that you can study on your own schedule and at your own pace.
Keep in mind it is important to include an audio component when deciding to learn this way, otherwise you won’t know how the words are actually supposed to sound.
Online Spanish Classes
This is getting easier and easier but for people that are going to stay in more rural areas of Costa Rica. There are numerous online schools that give one-on-one tutoring with a progressive learning curriculum.
They usually teacher via Skype or similar. You will need good internet connection for this, which could be a challenge in certain areas of Costa Rica.
Live in a Small Town in Costa Rica
This is a great way to go if you have the flexibility and are willing to live in a small town. Most people that learn this way are moving to Costa Rica and want to live in a small town.
If you don’t fall into this category, you can rent an Airbnb and just immerse yourself with the people of the town. More likely then not their only language will be Spanish and you will therefore be forced to learn and communicate with them in Spanish. You will be amazed at how quickly you will learn Spanish if you decide to this route, especially if you go by yourself.
Live with a Costa Rica Family
This happens when you decide to attend one of the language schools. Its mostly a package deal where the school has a list of family homes that have regisitered and checked out by the school.
You live with the family during the time you are at the school. The families are instructed to only speak to you in Spanish and they provide a room and some meals ( if you choose that option).
You don’t have to attend a school to learn Spanish with a family. You can a look at doing just a homestay program and studying on your own.
Spanish Language Options in Costa Rica
The best Spanish classes are often taken in the larger towns of Costa Rica, for example in San Jose and Liberia although there are classes in the smaller towns like Quepos and Tamarindo.
The quality of the teachers can vary widely depending on where in Costa Rica you decide to go to school and how much you can afford to pay.
If you decide to take classes in these smaller towns, you should ask for the credentials not only of the school but of the teacher as well.
The best way to go if you have the time, and by this I mean 3 or 4 months or a semester in school terms. If you take courses, for example at the University of Costa Rica, you will be immersed with student body and get a very intense and instructive class, taught by university level instructors.
Not to mention you will have plenty of chances to practice your Spanish outside of class with students from Costa Rica who are trying to learning English.
This is what I was talking about in Spanish Immersion. These are done with language schools with students from around the world. Usually you are given a test either before you arrive or your first day to see what level Spanish you are at and then you are placed in a appropriate level class.
The classes are usually about 1 week to 1 month in length and the time you are in class can be all day (not recommend) or just a few hours.
The one downside that I see with this way of learning classes, is that students have a tendancy to speak English outside of actual class time so they don’t learn or become as fluent as they could be.
This is a great way to go if you can afford it. Since its a one on one situation you are more likely to learn much quicker and the your own pace. Usually its done by companies that are moving employees to Costa Rica and they need to learn Spanish quickly. Depending on who is hired, the classes can be at a school, the students home or they meet at particular location.
Tips on Learning Spanish in Costa Rica
This could apply to before getting to Costa Rica but if you want to learn Spanish more quickly, then incorporating these additional strategies from Brianna Richardson in addition to your day to day Spanish lessons will help immensely.
Go to the library or look on Amazon for some reference books on Spanish grammar. Reference books give far more details and explanations than most textbooks and are structured in a way that makes it easier to look up whatever specific grammar concept you want to learn about without wading through other chapters of information.
I’m not big on using apps to truly learn how to speak, but resources like Duolingo are good for learning vocabulary early on. Word Reference is a great website/app for looking up individual words. Reverso Context and Lingee are great for looking up words/phrases in a real world context.
Read what interests you. Find blogs, magazine articles, and news websites that interest you in Spanish and use them regularly. These reading options allow you to take in vocabulary about a variety of topics, plus the length of the writing pieces aren’t terribly long and overwhelming.
Aside from reinforcing vocabulary it also helps with reinforcing grammar concepts and how to apply them in real life.
Use YouTube, Netflix and other online video streaming services to practice listening. I would wait to do this until you have a solid reading level. That way you can watch videos (I started with kids shows) with Spanish subtitles to learn pronunciation.
As time goes on you’ll get better at recognizing words without the subtitles and can slowly transition to watching/listening to harder dialougues and phasing out subtitles all together.
Lang-8 and italki are my go to websites to practice writing. Write a short blurb about your day or something that fits with whatever new words you’re learning and get feedback from native speakers on how to correct your grammar mistakes and sound more natural.
Now I write answers in Spanish on Quora to practice my writing. It pushes me to express thoughts on complex topics in a way I don’t ever typically have to in real life and many native speakers are happy to give grammar corrections if my answers have any.
I think the easiest way to learn a new language at an advanced level without living in a country where it’s spoken is to practice with native speakers on Skype. Make a profile on a language exchange site, find a partner you vibe with and is serious about practicing on a regular basis and set a schedule to practice and help each other.
When I was learning I found 2–3 partners who were willing to practice long term that helped me immensely. We spoke an hour in English, an hour in Spanish and at the end of each part the native speaker of then language being spoken gave corrections to the learner. I prefer Skype over meetups because you can strucure how the sessions go much more and you HAVE to talk.
Moreover, both people are getting something out of the exchange instead of bugging/taking time out of someone’s day who perhaps knows your target language, but isn’t interested in being bothered to listen to you struggle through basic conversation.
If you can integrate your improving language skills into your job and other day to day activities (ex. eating at a Costa Rica Soda where the menu and all the staff only speak in Spanish), even better.