Learning Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico
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With the typical disorientation of a traveler, I knew I wasnâ€™t in my own bed from the moment I awakened. The birds outside my roomâ€™s open window were welcoming the day with songs different from those of the birds back home in
I slid out from underneath my blanket and walked to the window, where I was greeted by a luminous blue sky floating above a small garden brimming with bougainvillea, roses, and orchids. Iâ€™ve been a frequent visitor to Mexico since I was a child, and at the age of 47, Iâ€™ve truly lost track of how many trips Iâ€™ve made, but I never tire of this magnificent nation, with its stunning landscapes, fascinating culture, and most importantly, its friendly and caring people who understand the value of savoring all that life has to offer.
As I walked down the hall toward the bathroom, I heard members of my host family chatting cheerfully in Spanish while they prepared breakfast in the kitchen. My mood dipped as their words innocently resurrected the one problem that I had always encountered in
My Spanish language skills were horrible.
But this time it was going to be different. This time I would not make the same old vague promise to enroll in a conversational Spanish course when I returned home. This time I was going to experience
There are also dozens of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and apartment rentals available in
I tried to see as many local landmarks as possible and these were a few of my favorites: The Palace of Cortes/Cuauhnahuac Regional Museum: Built in 1533 atop an Aztec temple, the palace was the summer residence of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and today it is also one of Mexicoâ€™s finest museums, housing some of Diego Riveraâ€™s most famous murals. The Cathedral of Cuernavaca/Former Monastery of the Assumption: This amazing complex is an atrium surrounded by battlemented walls. It contains many murals and paintings, and itâ€™s also famous for its Sunday Mariachi
Instituto Chac-Mool accepts students at all levels of Spanish-speaking ability, from very beginners to native speakers. On Monday mornings before beginning the class, new students are tested and interviewed, then placed in the group appropriate for their skill level. Since I had taken three years of Spanish in high school and college, I was not a beginner, but I definitely wasnâ€™t selected to join an advanced class either!
There were so many things I loved about this school, but I think my absolute favorite was that the class sizes are limited to no more than five students. Our sessions felt more like a small group of folks meeting to pursue a common interest than a rigid classroom experience. My class had four students, all of us from different backgrounds, and all of us stuck at a stage of Spanish language ability in which, although we could make our way through Spanish-speaking environments, we just didnâ€™t feel confident. Our teacher was fantastic " she had limitless patience, even when one of us would blurt out an English word in frustration, and she made us feel very comfortable, which helped us more easily absorb all the new words and grammatical concepts we were presented with each day.
Although I did not take a specialized course, there are also courses offered for specific professions including doctors, attorneys, teachers, social workers, and others. There are also special courses for children, senior citizens, and business executives, and the school is accredited as an institute of higher learning for students wishing to receive college credit.
On Monday through Thursday afternoons, students may attend private tutoring sessions, cultural presentations, and instructional lectures. Early evening activities include cooking classes, Latin dance lessons, arts and crafts instruction, and other fun learning opportunities. (I highly recommend the dance lessons, although I wonâ€™t torture readers with the story of my personal experience, other than to note that laughter is a positive thing.) On Monday nights, the school often takes students to Las MaĂ±anitas Restaurant for a festive evening of dinner and conversation with teachers from the school. The food is beyond delicious try the Red Snapper MaĂ±anitas.
Weekends are reserved for school-sponsored excursions (there is a small fee for each trip), and I was not about to miss out on two such adventures a day-trip to
Other excursion destinations include: TeotihuacĂˇn, which arose around the time of Christ as a new religious center in the Mexican highlands. Bring your sneakers and climb the Pyramid of the Sun. Itâ€™s a thrill. TepoztlĂˇn is known as a mystical center. The Tepozteco pyramid, situated on the side of a mountain overlooking this small ancient town, is thought to have been built in the early Aztec era. Be sure to visit the marketplace and donâ€™t miss the carnival, one of the best in
Overall, my two weeks at Instituto Chac-Mool comprised one of the most fulfilling travel experiences of my life. I may never speak Spanish with true fluency, but I am so much more skillful than I was, and I plan to continue practicing and improving. As they say in EspaĂ±ol, â€śPoco a poco, se anda lejos!â€ť*
*Little by little, one goes far.