How Much

 

I arrived in Costa Rica with very limited Spanish knowledge.Though I’d taken the language for two years in high school, I had retained little beyond “Hola” and “Como esta?”.

Though I knew it would be possible (and inconvenient) to backpack Central America without learning the language, I saw learning Spanish as a sign of respect for the people of these countries. After all, Spanish is one of the most popular languages in the world – it’s not like I was planning on learning Thai for a few months in Thailand. Additionally, I’d been telling myself for years that I was going to learn Spanish. I decided there was no better time to do it than now.

With that mindset, I went straight to Montana Linda after landing in Costa Rica. Montana Linda is a Spanish school located in the beautiful Orosi Valley, about an hour or two outside of San Jose. Studying there was a wonderful experience and you can read my review of my stay here.

When I speak about the weeks I spent at Montana Linda, the first question is typically “Well, how much Spanish can you learn in 3 weeks?”

The answer?

Quite a bit.

It depends on your study habits, of course. I’ll say that I put a moderate effort into studying and taking classes. On most days, I would study for an hour or two prior to my 3 hour class and occasionally a bit more in the evening. During some weekends, I’d study as well. But, for a full disclosure, I absolutely could have studied more. While learning Spanish was my priority, I also enjoyed many nights playing cards and chatting with my fellow hostel-mates. I didn’t find it necessary to choose between studying and socializing and I’m happy with the balance I created.

Here’s a quick run-down of what I learned in 3 weeks studying at Montana Linda

Verbs, verbs, and more verbs!
Present Tense
Preterite Tense
Imperfect Tense
Future Simple
Por/Para
Ser/Estar
Basic Travel Spanish
Present Perfect

For 3 weeks, I think that’s a decent amount of material to cover, considering I was coming with a very basic understanding of the language.

When I arrived, I refused to speak even “Hola” to the locals. When I left, though I often found myself leaning on English, I could have basic conversations in Spanish. In Granada, I translated for an older couple who were having problems placing an order. Significant progress, for sure.

Am I fluent? No way.

At this point, after 3 weeks of classes, I feel that I have the basic building blocks to learning the language. I understand conjugation and basic language structure. However, I also get hung up on basic words and feel that my vocabulary is limited. I get confused on which past tense to use and the difference between por/para and ser/estar on occasion. I get tongue-tied when I speak, though this has less to do with my knowledge than it does with my own nerves.

The most important thing for me, however, is those building blocks. From here on out, I feel that I will be able to better utilize online resources and books. Spending three weeks with a Spanish teacher took me from barely any comprehension at all to a place where I feel confident to continue learning on my own.

If i had more time, I would have spent at least another week studying and that’s what I recommend to others. If you have the time, spend a month studying Spanish. I feel that additional week allows you to put all of the pieces together even more.

However, if you’re short on time, 3 weeks is absolutely enough to get a grasp on the basics, even if you’re a beginner.

Have you studied Spanish before? If so, for how long?