Costa Rica Spanish

Created: 2023.10.19

So you want to learn more Spanish than just a vacation

OK, I know, there are 1000 people and courses that tell you how to learn.

There is one school in Costa Rica that charges $250 per person for what they say is 4 hours/week (the fine print says 4 hours is 2 - 1 hour and 45 minute sessions - so it is only 3.5 hours a week). They change you a $50 to $75 1 time registration fee, then $31 for private ONLINE classes per hour based on fake time, and $35/hr based on what they call 'real' time. Or for couples (at the same time, 1 instructor) $56/hr. If you don't want individualized training, and are OK if someone else monopolizes the instructor's time occasionally you can get in person classes for $18/"hour."

Pimsleur will set you back several hundred dollars to get a very basic education. I think I got it on ebay, the 5 courses, second or third hand for about $500. More expensive if you buy it 'new'. But your spouse and children can use it after or at the same time as you. I did find this useful and worth the cost as a starting point for a slow learner (me.) If you are really good at picking up new languages, you may find Pimsleur too repetitive - but let's be realistic, you wouldn't be reading this blog if you found learning a new language easy!

Rosetta Stone is much cheaper for one person, about $300 (or watch for sales if you aren't in a hurry) or less if you go monthly and don't slack off! No second hand option, this is a named license, and I think as a set of tools it gives a far better education than Pimsleur. But if multiple people are learning, it gets expensive pretty quickly.

Anki is basically free.

So here are MY thoughts:

  • You should NOT be paying for individualized training at the beginning.
  • The 'high school/university' based way "practice these declension tables" learning by rote, is only good if you are forced to take it (like we Canadians basically are forced to take French - but some schools now allow Spanish, Chinese and others if they are big enough.)
  • In general, the more advanced you are, the more expensive it is going to be to get 'useful' training that helps you advance quickly.

So what do I recommend for most people:

  • Take a free course offered at a local church or similar, learn basic pronunciation and other basics.
  • Then spend a bunch of time with Anki. Get about a 600 to 4000 word vocabulary first. (I got 4000 before going on.)
  • While doing the above two, listen to Spanish singing and speaking to gain an 'ear' for the language. Keep doing this as you go along to keep your ear tuned - and you will start to pick out more and more words.
  • Then use Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone or some similar to super charge your 'beginner level' learning. (Don't be fooled by what THEY claim is intermediate or advanced. That is a marketing gimic. When you are done everything they offer you will might be a very good beginner, but if you successfully learn everything they teach you, you will not be even close to intermediate. Where I have run into this - after taking the whole Pimsleur the whole way through, I knew 2 or 3 ways to say hello and goodbye, and while that was fine for ME speaking to Spanish People … THEY would use 10 or 20 ways - and most of the time I didn't have a clue what they were saying until they said "I'm saying Adios" … oh but then be careful, Adios in Costa Rica means Hello, everywhere else I go it means goodbye.)
  • Use other tools like reading in Spanish, watching Spanish TV, reading Spanish children's books. I'd really like to find a 'read-a-long' set of books that are reasonably priced. So I can listen while reading the words.

All of the above should ideally be done for at LEAST 2 years before you move or spend a lot of time in a Spanish country. At least if you learn like I do and only can dedicate 7 to 14 hours a week of dedicated study.

Oh and those courses that say "Fluent in 30 days" or "Fluent in 90 days" … any I've seen, you might be a good beginner at the end of 90 days, no where close to fluent.

If you have 10 years better. If you only have 5 months - well, still, better than nothing.

If you move to Costa Rica or another Spanish country permanently or just spending a significant portion of your year there, ideally: Can you spend 1 or 2 weeks of INTENSIVE language only training? Where you are one on one with a native, doing Spanish 40 hours a week. (Yes your brain will hurt). Then go back to your old study habits, and keep doing a bit each day for 3 weeks. Now do 1 week intensive/3 weeks off. Keep doing this until you feel you can do almost everything you need to do in a normal day. Now do it 1 day a week for 3 hours. And gradually decrease.

If you are hiring someone local to work full or part time, here is an alternative I think is worth considering:

  • The 1st 2 weeks, have them be VERY intensive with you. Neither you nor they will get much done. Perhaps you will simply help them with THEIR job - assuming they can't do your job or work 'with' you at your job.
  • Then after the 1st 2 weeks. Have them do 30-60 minutes a day 6 days a week intensive with you.
  • Then after the 1st 2 months. Work with them to pick, each week, ONE area that you are weak in. Perhaps plurals. Perhaps future tense. The personal "a", Gustar and friends verbs (appear backwards word order to other verbs from an English perspective) and have them correct you EVERY single time you make mistakes in this area. (NOT every single mistake you make.) Ideally at first - let THEM tell YOU what you need to work on most - pick the worst. And if after 1 week that is STILL your worst, either do a second week of it, or take a break and come back to 'that' mistake after a week. All depends on HOW bad you still are and whether you feel a break will help or hinder your progress. Have them spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day where all you do is work with them to improve.

Throughout all of this, keep up with your Anki until you have locked down solid 15-45,000 words. Yes this will take a decade or more. But it will help you keep getting more and more fluent. After 10 years, I do it while multi-tasking. I do it every single day, 7 days a week - but you might try 6 days if you want a break once a week.

Note with interest: I at no time recommended for most people the going 'to school' route. I think the costs - $18 to $56/hour are simply not worth it. Maybe if you are learning English in an English country where wages generally are higher, those rates make sense. But in Costa Rica, sorry, I don't think it is worth the money, I think the way I am recommending is cheaper and far more effective.