Speak with the longer-serving Spanish teachers in Colombia and they’ll tell you that, just 15 years or so ago, their classrooms were populated by a handful of adventurous souls who had come to the country only because of a Colombian wife, boyfriend or partner.
Much has since changed and the country has now earned a well deserved place on the list of Latin America’s top study destinations. Thousands of people flock to the country each year to perfect their language skills, meaning classrooms have got much busier. With such an array of great locations and language institutes to choose from, it can even be difficult to know exactly where you should go to study Spanish in Colombia.
Ultimately, where you decide to go will be a matter of personal preference, but in this little guide we’ll give you a few pointers as to things which can help you decide.
Why Study Spanish in Colombia?
We’ll start, though, by trying to remove any lingering doubts you might have about studying Spanish in the country. Colombia is an excellent place to learn and is a country that offers a wide variety of private teachers, Spanish schools and universities courses at competitive prices.
The country is beautiful, the people are welcoming, and the fact that there aren’t that many English speakers about means you will have plenty of opportunities to practice your new linguistic skills. Forget any images of the country you might have formed watching Narcos; things have moved on greatly since then.
Another advantage is that Colombian Spanish - at least the version spoken in Andean cities such as Bogota and Medellin - is famously easy to understand. Locals generally pronounce words clearly and the pace of speech is slow. Colombians often claim that their Spanish is the best or most “neutral” in the Latin world.
Local speakers still do have distinct accents and the Spanish used in the country includes a wide variety of slang and other national variants. However, such aspects of the language are significantly less marked than they are in somewhere like Chile, making it much easier to learn and understand than the Spanish used elsewhere.
Spanish Tuition Options in Colombia
Before deciding on where in the country you want to study, it makes sense to first consider the type of tuition you’re interested in, as this might affect your choice of destination.
Want to speak Spanish with Colombians as naturally as you'd chat in English with your friends back home? Well, you'll need to learn a load of local slang and expressions first.
Thisshows you the fun stuff that your textbook missed.
Looking to turbo charge your Colombian Spanish?
Fast track from dull ‘textbook Spanish’ to sounding like a native with our Colombian Spanish Language Hacks email course.
Sign up now for 7 days of expert tips that will instantly transform your Spanish!
Off to Colombia?
Well, you better not leave without first signing up for our FREE email course to the best of Colombia's Spanish and slang.
Learn all the coolest lingo that you'll need to have fun with locals, but which the textbooks will never teach you.
Broadly speaking, you have three categories of Spanish courses available to you: 1) to study at a university; 2) to attend classes at a standalone language academy; and 3) to take lessons with a private tutor. There are comparative advantages and disadvantages of each, and the option you choose will largely depend on your budget, flexibility and studying aims.
For the most part, tuition in Colombia is competitively priced, but is not as cheap overall as some schools in Central America (where prices can be eye wateringly cheap). However, the level of professionalism among teachers in Colombia is higher as language institutions place greater demands on potential employees in terms of qualifications and teaching experience.
In Colombia you’re also pretty much guaranteed to get a teacher whose mother tongue is Spanish. This is not necessarily the case in countries like Guatemala and Bolivia, where some of the cheaper schools are staffed by teachers who grew up speaking mainly is Quechua, K’iche’, or another indigenous language.
University Courses vs. Language Schools
If you’re a committed Spanish student and/or are intending to stay in Colombia for a while, university courses might be a good option for you. These places offer tuition both to people on formalized exchange programs and to anyway who just turns up at their language centers with an interest in learning. Universities hold regular classes with a set syllabus for each level, have a fixed schedule, professional teachers and structured tuition.
Another point in favor of university Spanish courses, is that if you want to stay in Colombia longer for the 180 days allowed on the tourist visa, attending classes at a formal institution can be a big help.
For long-term students, universities will be able to issue formal letters that enable you to get a student visa (valid for the duration of your course). If studying at a public university though, bear in mind that campuses are a hotbed of political activity with frequent strikes by students and staff which can disrupt course schedules, sometimes dramatically.
Before getting to this stage though, you will likely have to take a short written and verbal test at the university’s language center to assess your Spanish skills. Afterwards you’ll be placed in a group of students at a similar level. Group classes at such institutions cost around 700,000 COP to 1,000,000 COP for 20 or 40 hours of tuition, organised into 2 or 4 hour daily blocks. Discounts are often available if you book several courses at once.
These formalized language institutions offer additional activities to help you practice your Spanish outside of the class and to meet people. The best places also let you attend / participate in any of the hundreds of other courses being run at the university for free, and have conversation programs to pair you up with Colombian students wishing to practice their English.
Some schools let you combine language tuition with salsa classes or other activities
However, these sorts of organized social activities are generally done better by the standalone language academies. Lacking the status of universities, these Spanish language centers often try to compensate by offering a much better social and cultural component to their courses.
They frequently organize outings to nearby attractions or group language exchange sessions, and some even offer the option for students to combine language tuition with salsa classes or other activities.
A few also offer homestays so you can live, eat and drink Spanish with a local family throughout your course. This is a good way to immerse yourself in the language, particularly if you are studying in group classes where there will always be the temptation to speak English with your fellow students outside the classroom. If you get lumbered with a bit of an anti-social family, however, you might be heading for an awkward few weeks.
Anyone interested in getting a formal qualification in Spanish will probably need to study for the DELE (a Spanish acronym for Diplomas in Spanish as Foreign Language) exam. These sorts of courses are offered by only a few select institutions in Colombia so do your research first. In Medellin, specialist courses and examinations are only offered by EAFIT University; in Bogota they are available at both the Spanish World Institute and the Universidad Externado de Colombia.
Private Spanish Classes in Colombia
Instead of doing group classes, you might want to opt for your own private tuition. Some of the universities and language academies listed in this section offer private courses, but these end up being outrageously expensive as you have to essentially pay the total price for the several students that would have attended a group class with your tutor.
You are much more likely to get a competitive price by finding an independent teacher. Experienced or qualified private Spanish teachers in Colombia to charge in the region of 30,000 COP to 35,000 COP per hour, with discounts available if you commit to buying a series of classes.
An experienced or qualified private teacher is likely to charge in the region of 30,000 COP to 35,000 COP
There are several ways to find private Spanish teachers. Some of the tutors from the universities and language academies offer private classes outside of their institution for a more reasonable price. You may wish to approach them to ask (out of earshot of their boss) if they’d be interested in teaching you privately. Their host institutions are understandably not keen on promoting such arrangements as it takes business away from them. This means that you may only be able to gain access to one of their teachers after having already studied a course there.
The ideal thing to do when looking for a teacher is to ask locally for recommendations, as the quality and legitimacy of advertised tuition can vary greatly. If you are not able to get a recommendation then a good place to look for adverts is on hostel noticeboards, most of which will have at least one local offering such a service.
Indeed, some of the hostels themselves have in-house tutors, or teachers who regular visit to give classes to foreign students. Such courses are useful if you only have limited time to study, if you want an entirely tailored course, or if you wish to study a particular area of the language in depth.
Choosing Where to Study
Once you’ve decided on the type of Spanish language tuition you’re interested in, the next step is to think about where in Colombia you want to study. There are options throughout the country, but it is Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena that house by far and away the largest number of Spanish students.
SEE ALSO: Is Colombia Safe for Tourists?
The price of equivalent quality tuition across all three is fairly similar. Deciding which is the best place for you to study Spanish will largely be dependent on what you wish to be doing outside of the classroom and the type of environment you would like to be in.
Studying Spanish in Bogota
People studying Spanish in Bogota tend to be doing so on a more long-term, serious basis than in some other parts of the country. Bogota is the capital city and offers plenty of cultural activities, but is certainly free from the tempting study distractions of sunshine and beaches available along the coast, for example.
That said, the cool climate is much better suited to helping serious study than the sweltering heat of Cartagena. Students here include backpackers in the city just for a short period, but the bulk is made up of people classes around other paid or volunteer work in the city.
People studying Spanish in Bogota tend to be doing so on a more long-term, serious basis
Of the various language schools in Bogota, Learn More Than Spanish comes highly recommended. A particularly positive feature here is the small class format, limited to two students, which allows for rapid progression. There are also a wide number of universities and other institutes offer classes in the city, including the following: Universidad Externado de Colombia; Universidad del Rosario; Universidad EAN; Universidad EAFIT – Bogotá; Universidad Nacional; Universidad de La Salle; Universidad de los Andes; Universidad Central; Universidad Pedagógica; Universidad Santo Tomás; Universidad Sergio Arboleda; Pontificia Universidad Javeriana; Spanish World Institute.
Spanish Courses in Medellin
Medellin is a very pleasant city, which is significantly smaller and easier to navigate than Bogota. The weather here is also a dramatic improvement on the capital; consistently warm and sunny, without getting hot or particularly humid.
Admittedly, the city offers less in the way of cultural activities than does Bogota, but this is more than made up for by the lively nightlife, agreeable surroundings, and welcoming and friendly local inhabitants. This provides plenty of easy conversation opportunities that help you maximize your Spanish practice time.
The standout program offered in Medellin is that at the language center in the Universidad de EAFIT in Poblado. The standard of instruction and teaching is high and courses run frequently. Sign up and you’ll also get access to the university’s beautiful campus which includes large outdoor spaces, swimming pool, multi-storey gym, and a library equipped with personal cinema booths for you to go watch a movie.The second largest programme is at the Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana in the Laureles district, which is cheaper than EAFIT but does not offer the same level of facilities. In terms of private language centers, the largest is Toucan Spanish School, which offers private and group tuition, as well as specialist classes for business Spanish. It also provides the option for students to combine Spanish classes with other activities, such as salsa lessons and homestays.
Learning Spanish in Cartagena
Cartagena is Colombia’s primary tourist destination and, for casual Spanish students, is probably one of the best places to study. Backpacker students are, understandably enough, attracted by the thought of attending their Spanish class in the morning, before heading to one of the surrounding beaches for the afternoon.
Many backpackers are understandably attracted by the thought of going to class in the morning and the beach in the afternoon
That said, studying in Cartagena is likely to mean that your progress with the language is likely to be significantly slower than in either Bogota or Medellin for two main reasons. Firstly, the city is very hot and consistently humid; a combination which makes the prospect of a trip to the beach far more tempting than swotting up on Spanish grammar.
Secondly, opportunities to practice the language are more limited. More of the locals speak a degree of English and there are far more tourists here. Both these factors increase the temptation to speak English rather than persevere with your Spanish.
It also worth bearing in mind that the Spanish spoken on the Caribbean coast is heavily accented and more difficult to understand than that spoken in the country's interior. If you’re looking to learn just a few basic expressions whilst having a good time, Cartagena is a great option. For those wanting to progress a bit more, Medellin or Bogota are better options.
If Cartagena still seems like the place for you, then check out any of the following three main places for learning Spanish: the Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar (offering combined courses of Spanish with cooking, salsa, literature etc), Nueva Lengua and Babel International Language Institute.