Learn Spanish in Latin America

Frequently Asked Questions

We have divided the questions into the following subjects:

 

Who is behind SLT?

SLT was founded by Nanouk Brouwer, a Dutch woman with more than 20 years of experience selling language courses in Latin America. Nanouk founded NB Reizen (Travels) in 1994. In 2004 she came to the conclusion that it is also possible to sell language courses over the Internet. This allowed more flexibility in travelling for the business: visiting and searching for local schools and volunteer projects. Also the courses can be offered at a much cheaper rate when you don’t have to pay for overhead like rent, phone bills and brochure costs. For two years both companies, NB Reizen and Spanish Language Travels (SLT) operated simultaneously. Starting January 1st 2007 NB Reizen closed down because SLT started seeing increasingly better results. Nanouk has a lot of experience in selling Spanish courses in Latin America and knows all the schools and places where the schools are situated. That is a the great advantage of booking with a small company; you will be sure that the person answering your questions knows the school and has indeed been to the school.

Why does SLT only work via Internet and email?
Today´s customer can find a lot of info and even the schools online and is less willing to pay extra for services and information. We understand that very well. By keeping our costs low, by not sending brochures or receiving customers in an office for hours while giving them information, we can offer the Spanish courses at a very low rate. Recently we have added the option to chat; we do ask you to send an e-mail in advance if you want to use our live chat service.

Why is it to my advantage to book via SLT? There is an important difference between SLT and other tour operators. Other tour operators calculate their profit based on the commission they receive from each school and apart from that they also charge a booking fee. So they will most likely want to send you to a school which will give them the highest profit. As a result they won’t offer smaller, cheaper schools because they almost don´t make any profit selling these schools. We do offer these schools because you won’t learn any better Spanish on a more expensive school than on a cheaper school…Our profit is the same for each school regardless of the amount of commission we receive. As a result of this we might be more expensive than other providers when you take one or twee weeks of classes but we will always be cheaper when you take a course for more than 3 weeks. But no matter what, when it comes to prices: SLT will inform you objectively! We can also compare various schools for you if you tell us what you are looking for apart of course from good Spanish instruction. Things to think about are the differences between a big and a small school or the location of the school with respect to the sights of the town. With years of travel experience SLT can also help you with your travel plans if you want to plan a longer trip through Latin America. Because we have sent many students to the schools we work with, they are also eager to offer the best teachers and accommodation to the SLT’s customers.

How does SLT work?

How can I reserve my Spanish course and accommodation with SLT?
Once you have decided in which country in Latin America you would like to learn Spanish, you should first reserve your flight. To make a reservation at a school you will need at least an arrival date and flight number. Without this information we cannot start with processing your reservation. It is possible you arrive to the place where you want to take your course ‘over land’, in that case let us know and we will be able to accept your reservation. Once you have your flight reservation you can fill out the reservation form for the school in the city and country you want to learn Spanish and send it to us. Within one day (even on Sunday) you will receive an email with an invoice, which we request you send back to us per your agreement. We will make the reservation at the school for the course, accommodation and often the transfer. We expect to receive the payment no later than 4 weeks before your departure date. If you book less than 4 weeks before you leave we ask that you make the payment right after we receive the reservation confirmation from the school. After receiving the payment we will send you the payment confirmation from the school (voucher) and a document named ‘travel info’ with information about the school, the town and the country you will visit.

Is it possible to make a reservation for a course starting 6 months from now?
Yes, even if you don’t have a flight reservation. Besides, booking early is to your advantage; the earlier you book the more chance you have of getting the best teachers and host family. We will forward your reservation to the school, regardless of the time you make it. The moment you make the reservation does in no way affect the time you have to make the payment. If you reserve 6 months before you leave for your course the payment to SLT will still be 4 weeks before departure.

What happens if I forget to pay?
SLT will send you a payment reminder if we have not received the payment 26 days before you leave for your course. If we don’t receive a reply to this reminder we will cancel your reservation at the school in order to avoid paying cancellation fees.

What is SLT’s cancellation policy?
The payment term is 4 weeks prior to departure (= departure to the country where you are going the study Spanish). If you have to cancel before you make the payment then no extra costs will apply. In case you made the payment more than 4 weeks before departure, we will immediately refund the entire payment to your account. Cancellation between 4 to 2 weeks before your departure date: we will refund 75% of the total amount. Cancellation between 14 days and 1 day before departure: we will refund 50% of the total amount paid. Cancellation on or after the day of departure: no refund will be possible for the classes or accommodation.

What is the SLT’s payment service and how does it work?
|Are you unsure about make a reservation over the internet? Use our payment service: We know there are some people out there that run scams over the internet. We understand that might make you hesitant to book over the internet. We tried to come up with a solution and found one: we will pay the school first; the school sends us a payment confirmation which we will forward via email. If you want you can contact the school directly and ask them if they have indeed received the payment. After which you will pay us. SLT is a financially healthy company and we can offer you this service without charging any fees in interests. We do ask you to make the payment to us within two weeks of receiving the payment confirmation from the school, to keep our investment within reasonable limits. Please ask us if you would like to use this service!

How can I make the payments for the course and how long does this take?
There are several payment options. You can make a deposit into our Dutch bank account. This is the best option for European clients. Payments made from banks within Europe (SEPA region) are in our account no later than the following business day and are free of charge. For customers from the United States there is the possibility to make a deposit into our Guatemalan bank account (wire transfer), in this case the costs are for the client and it can take up to 4 working days. You can also pay via PayPal. In that case the payment is immediate. You do need to have a PayPal account. This is free to set up. Once you have a PayPal account set up you can use this account to send us payments using your credit card, from your bank balance or your PayPal balance.

Can I ask SLT for information about Latin America?
Yes of course, via email or chat. It would make it easier if you can ask your questions using bullet points, we will then give an answer in capital letters behind each question We found this to be the most efficient way of communicating for both.

Schools – Courses

Does the teacher also speak English? Yes, most of the time he or she does, and that is easy for a beginner but if you already speak a bit of Spanish it is better to have your classes in Spanish only. Non English speaking teachers are trained in teaching non-Spanish speakers and use various methods to teach the beginners with Spanish only.

How long should my course be if I want to speak the language fairly well?
Obviously this will depend strongly on the amount of Spanish you already know, your language skills in general and how much you apply yourself (do you do your homework?, do you practice with the local people?, do you study outside of the classes?). In general we can say that someone with not a lot of previous knowledge of the language but with a decent sense of language will be able to communicate in Spanish fairly well after about 6 weeks.

Do I have to make homework?
If you take private classes you can let the teacher know if you want to do homework and how much. If you take group classes you will receive a small amount of homework each day, count on about 1 to 2 hours a day.

What is the average age on each school?
Every school will have students with ages varying between 18 and 65 years old. The average age will probably be between 20 and 25 years old.

At what time do the classes start?
Some schools start at 8 am in the morning and others at 9 am. It is also possible your classes will be in the afternoon starting at 1 or 2 pm.

How long do the classes take?
Usually you will get 4 hours of classes per day and a coffee break of about 15 to 20 minutes. That makes 4 hours of classes effectively 3 hours + 30/45 minutes. Or you can also say one class is about 55 minutes.

Do private classes mean you are really the only one?
Yes; you will sit across from the teacher so you can’t hide behind a fellow student; you are really engaged to speak. You will book greater advances in comparison with group classes especially your verbal skills will improve faster. The effects of 4 weeks of group classes are the same as 2 to 3 weeks of private classes.

What do the classes focus on? Speaking, reading or writing?
On all facets of the language but in general the focus will be on verbal communication in Spanish. If you take private classes it is of course all up to you. Someone with an advanced level of Spanish can even request that the focus will be on writing flawlessly.

From which countries will most of the students be?
Most students will be from Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, England, Holland, the US, Canada and Japan.

Do I have classes on the weekend?
No, the classes are from Monday to Friday.

Should I take a dictionary or other lesson materials?
Yes, bring a dictionary of your native language with translations to Spanish and Spanish to your native language. Dictionaries English – Spanish will be available but what when you are for instance Danish…better to take your own dictionary or use a dictionary on your laptop of mobile device. Bring a notebook and a pen.

Host families

How do I communicate with the people of my host family if I don’t speak any Spanish yet?
The host families are used to students who don’t speak any Spanish and the first few days the communication will be mostly using hand gestures, but soon you will be able to have simple conversations with them. Staying with a host family will be most effective for your Spanish if you already speak the language a little bit.

Do I have my own shower and toilet?
No, most of the time you will share the shower and toilet with the other people in the house. Often it will be possible to pay extra and request a more luxurious host family where you will have your own shower and toilet.

What do you usually get to eat at a host family?
This depends on the cuisine of the country and the person cooking. But in general you can say that the meals have been adjusted to the western eating habits and you will for example not only receive beans and rice. Lunch is without doubt the most important meal in Latin America.

How will my room be decorated?
Usually very sober compared to our standards but clean; if there is no table or desk in your room to study at then you can sit in another area of the house. Most houses will have a separate dining room that you can use or you will have the opportunity to sit outside on a terrace to study.

If I travel alone will I have to pay extra for a single private room?
No, in a host family a single room is standard. With other types of accommodation there will be different prices based on double or single occupancy.

What is the social economic status of the host families?
On average the families will be from what is considered the upper middle class in Latin America.

How many students will there be in the host family? That can be very different in each situation. You can let us know your preference to be placed either alone or with more students.

I am a vegetarian, will that be a problem?
No problem at all. You can just let us know at the time you make the reservation and we will let the school know.

How free am I to come and go when I stay at a host family?
You will get a key to the house and you are free to come and go as you please. However there are certain rules when it comes to meal times. If you suddenly decide to eat elsewhere it is expected of you to call the host family to give them the message you will not be eating with them so they don’t have to wait for you or get worried.

 

The transfer

How is the transfer upon arrival arranged?
It depends. Either the school will arrange the transfer or we will do this via a local tour operator. In each case the person picking you up will be waiting at the passenger exit holding a sign with your name on it. He or she will take you to your host family or hotel.

How can I arrange my transfer back to the airport?
In the town of your school is located there will be tour operators offering transfers to the airport. You can buy a ticket there and arrange the time you want to be picked-up; take into account you have to be at the airport two hours before departure.

General questions about traveling in Latin America.

Should my holiday insurance cover cancellation?
No, but please take our cancellation policy into account. Besides the risk of not being able to leave a cancellation insurance will also cover unused vacation days in case you unexpectedly have to return to your country of origin.

Should I take out a holiday insurance?
It is not mandatory but we strongly recommend it.

Can I rent a car locally?
Yes, in almost all Latin American countries you will find local offices of ‘Hertz’ or ‘Avis’.

Can I combine central and south America in one journey?
Yes, but you cannot travel overland from Panama (Central America) to Colombia (South America). The Darién gap, the connection between Panama and Colombia, is a smugglers route and therefore very unsafe. You will have to fly from Panama or Costa Rica to one of the countries in South America. Often the cheapest way to fly to South America is via San Andres (a Colombian island of the coast of Nicaragua) and from there to other countries in South America. Anyway, it is no punishment to spend a couple of days on San Andres, in that case also visit the idyllic island Providencia only a short boat ride away from San Andres. The water around San Andres has 7 different colors, I didn’t believe it at first but I counted them and it turns out to be true! You can also travel with a sailboat from Panama to Cartagena in Colombia. Do some research on line about the different offers but be careful: this is also a smugglers route and you don’t want to end up on a boat that transports cocaine…The sailing trip makes a stop at the San Blas islands! You do have to take into account that when you combine Central and South America on your trip to Latin America this will make the journey as a whole more expensive.

How do I stay in touch with the people back home?
Via email, Skype, chat etc. All schools offer free Internet!

Which type of credit cards should I take?
Visa is the most commonly accepted credit card in Latin America; at bigger banks in the cities you can usually also use your Visa card to withdraw cash but please note you will pay a 10% fee! So only use your credit card in case of emergencies; you can only pay with credit card in more expensive shops and restaurants or, if necessary to pay a hospital bill.

ATM cards or debit cards?
Try to take two different debit cards. A card can get lost, it can break or it can even get stolen. Keep them in different places. Also take a few dollars in cash; this will be useful right after arrival when you don’t have the local currency yet or if an ATM suddenly turns out to be empty. In some places it can take two or three days before an ATM is restocked and you will be happy to have the extra dollars in cash.

Is it expected to bring something for my teacher of host family?
In most places it is customary to bring a small gift something for your teacher or host family. Besides this it is nice to bring some photos or postcards of you family and the place you are from.

Apart from the Spanish course how much money do I need to get by on a ‘low budget’?
This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on the country and ‘low budget’ means something different to different people. In general you can say that Central America is cheaper than South America, with the exception of Costa Rica and Panama. In South America Bolivia is by far the cheapest country and Argentina the most expensive. Peru is more expensive than Ecuador. Travelling in cheaper countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador you can get by on $30 a day, in the more expensive countries you should count on $40 to $50 a day. This includes accommodation in a hostel, 3 meals a day in cheaper restaurants and the occasional drink in a bar and local bus fares.

Should I take US dollars?
Take some dollars in cash and change them at arrival at the airport or check if there is an ATM at the airport; the exchange rate at the airport in usually good. Also take some smaller denominations with you. Be careful: damaged bills will not be accepted. These days you will be able to take out money from an ATM, the exchange rate is usually better than at a bank or ‘casa de cambio’. You do pay a few dollars in fees when you withdraw from an ATM so don’t take out small amounts to often. If you travel for a long time make sure you always have 2 ways to get money. An ATM card can break, get lost or get stolen..!

Should I take a mosquito net? In general there will be mosquito nets in the places where they are necessary. When you stay at a height of 1500 meters (4920 feet) or more a mosquito net won’t be necessary because there will hardly be any mosquitoes. If you go to a lower altitude take a small role of duct tape, to tape up holes in the mosquito nets if necessary (this will come in handy anyway to repair various items for example a hole in your back pack or train coat).

What type of clothing should I take?
The temperature is mainly determined by the altitude of your location. If you are higher than 1500 meters (4920 feet), like for example Antigua, Quito, Otavalo or Cusco, it will be chilly at night and you will need jeans and a sweater or a fleece. In these places it will be pleasant during the day, not too hot but the sun will be stronger at higher altitudes. At lower altitudes it will be warm during the night as well. In general people dress casual and a little bit more conservative than in Europe or the US. We would advice you to take an umbrella you can fold instead of a raincoat; in the warmer areas you will soon feel too warm in a rain coat.

Can I drink the water from the tap? No in all Latin American countries it is not recommended to drink the water from the tap. You buy water in bottles.

Should I take a travel sheet?
If you are not very comfortable using a bed where a lot of different people have slept on then a travel sheet is a good idea. In the host families the bedding will be changed at least once a week, sometimes more often. If you stay in cheaper hotels in Latin America a travel sheet is definitely recommendable.

Which items are difficult to get?
Tampons and shower gel are still very difficult to get a hold off in Latin America and often very expensive. Take those items with you. Other then that you can really get most everything. Do you use a certain type or brand of shampoo take it with you because chances are of course that your specific brand won’t be available.

Will my mobile phone work?
This depends on the country you will go to, the type of phone and your provider. Ask your provider back home, they will be the ones who can let you know. In most places it will be easy, to buy a local sim card and put a few dollars of credit on it. When you buy a sim card always bring along your passport!

Should I take mosquito repellent?
The mosquito repellent in Latin America does only contain a small percentage of D.E.E.T.. Usually you can only buy ‘Autan’ or ‘Off’. We advice you bring stronger repellent from home, which are recommended for the jungle or the beach. Please note: above 1500 meters ( 4920 feet) there are hardly any mosquitoes so if you want to learn Spanish in Antigua, Cusco or Quito and you will not be doing any travelling there is no need to take mosquito repellent.

How is the public transportation arranged?
In general it is very good in the sense of frequency, but the local buses do tend to be packed. For longer bus journeys it is better to buy a more expensive bus ticket for a so called ‘pullman’ bus because those buses are more comfortable; often with air conditioning and t.v..

Is it useful to take a sleeping bag or tent?
There is only a small chance you will use them and in places you will go camping (Incatrail to Machu Picchu) you can also rent these items.

Which vaccinations are recommended?
Consult your local health provider because these types of recommendations are subject to change. It is best to go at least 6 weeks before departure. You can also check http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ for more information.

Is it safe to travel through Latin America on your own?
Yes, as long as there is no outbreak of a civil war or natural disaster you can say that the chance something serious happening is minimal. I myself in a total of 3 years of travelling alone have only been robbed once (camera). And as far as we know the thousands of customers we have send to Latin America over the past 20 years have also not met with any serious crime. Robberies do happen, just as in any western country. But you can influence your chance of being the victim of a robbery. Take good care of your stuff. Here are a few tips: – Don’t leave your bags anywhere without supervision. For example don’t go swimming in the sea and leave your bag unguarded at the beach, even if you think you can keep an eye on it… – Don’t walk around with a money belt if it noticeably contains valuables. – Don’t open your wallet visibly for others if it contains a stack of bank notes, even if it are only 20 notes of $1… –  In a school you can probably trust your fellow students, but it is always possible people sneak in. Don’t leave your laptop, camera, I-pod, tablet etc. lying around, and put these items away when you are not using them. – Don’t go out at night with your passport, all your money and your ATM cards in your pocket; just take the cash you need for that night. – Most school accommodations have lockers, use them; they are there for a reason. Yes, recently a student got robbed of $800, the money was in the room in an unlocked suit case. The room had a safety deposit box…..and why does anybody have that much cash with them? You can just as easily use the ATM once a week. – At host families in general there won’t be any safety deposit boxes or lockers but the chances at being robbed while staying with a family are very small. But also don’t leave your things lying around; put them in a suitcase or backpack you can lock when you leave the house.

How long can I stay in a country on a tourist visa?
Upon entering a country at the customs office you will typically get a tourist visa = stamp in your passport, for 90 days.

What if I want to stay in a country longer than 90 days?
By far the easiest way would be to leave the country and reenter shortly after; you will get another stamp in your passport valid for another 90 days. BUT PLEASE NOTE: you will need proof you will leave the country again, a so called onward ticket. If you are not flying back home from the same country then you won’t have that and you do need a flight ticket to proof you are leaving the country again. Consult with us if this is the case for the country you are going to. The rules are different in each country.

Volunteer work

Can you give the addresses of the volunteer projects that you mention in your volunteer page?
No, but you will be able to find out easily once you are there by asking your school or the local tourist office.

Will there be supervision during the volunteer work?
This is different for each project. Ask us!

What do I pay for my accommodation during volunteer work?
In Guatemala and Nicaragua it is very affordable to stay at a host family (including 3 meals a day) for US$80/90 a week. In Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador for US$165 including 2 meals a day. In Peru this will cost US$120 a week (including 3 meals a day).

Why are the accommodation and meals not free while you are doing volunteer work? Because for the amount of money the organization would spend on your accommodation and meals they could also pay for a local worker and that is exactly what they do not have the funds for.

How long does volunteer work take? |
This depends on the type of work. When you work with abandoned children they usually ask for a minimum 3 month commitment. In projects like forestry it is often possible to work for shorter amounts of time.

Where do you eat and sleep during the volunteer work?
Most of the time with a host family where you also receive your meals and sometimes a house is available where you live with other volunteers and cook together.

What type of volunteer work is available?
Mostly work in orphanages, projects where you take care of street children, hospitals, forestry (anti-deforestation projects) and animal welfare projects.

How good should my Spanish be to participate in a project?
If you work with people it should be pretty decent; one month of Spanish group classes is an absolute minimum a lot of people need 6 weeks to hold a simple conversation.

Where can you do volunteer work in Latin America?
Really just about anywhere. In the whole of Latin America western help is welcome even in the richer countries like Chile, Costa Rica and Argentina.

Are you sure there will be volunteer work available for me?
Yes at any time of the year there are project where your help is appreciated.

Useful links

 


www.firststepworld.com
www.translation-services-usa.com

  Go back to the homepage to see how our website is build up: into Spanish courses, volunteer work and tours with or without Spanish Classes.

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