As a young person who stayed up too late during my college days, I found it exceedingly difficult to make it out of bed in time for my 8 am Spanish 101 course. Multiple absences forced me to drop the course and, as a result, for about seven years my Spanish was limited to the most basic of words: gracias, cerveza, and agua. Once I started working in restaurants and bars (since that English Lit. degree wasn't as useful as I'd hoped), I was able to add plato, pan, and por favor. When I made the decision to move to Playa del Carmen, I realized with shame that my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish wasn't going to cut it if I wanted to live among and integrate myself with my new community. I made it my mission to learn Spanish come hell or high water, and as quickly as possible.
Since total immersion in a foreign language is arguably the most effective method for learning, I decided to investigate my options. Fortunately, Playa del Carmen is not just a destination for beach bums, but is also a destination for world travelers looking to improve their Spanish, and students can choose from four local schools: Solexico, Playa Lingua, El Estudiante, and International House. Intrigued by their beautifully landscaped grounds and pedagogy, I decided to take 2 weeks of intensive Spanish lessons at Solexico.
In Playa del Carmen, Solexico is located on 6th street between 35th and 40th avenues. The grounds are immaculate and lush, with tropical vegetation, palm trees, and a number of outdoor, open-air classrooms with lovely palapa roofs.
Prior to entering the classroom, Solexico students are given a placement test, ensuring that each person will be learning at their own level of familiarity with Spanish and that no one will be “held back” by already-covered material. I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to "place" into an intermediate level course without having to copy off the person next to me. Class sizes are limited to only 5 students; the “U-shaped” layout of the room encourages class participation and understanding.
Solexico's courses cover Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Spanish in levels I, II, and III, with students placed according to their own level. Solexico offers several different programs to best fit each students' needs. Their Regular program of 25 lesson hours per week is most popular, as it includes three hours of conversational grammar and two hours of practical conversation daily. Since I live in Mexico and have daily opportunities to practice Spanish, I opted for the Regular program of 15 lessons hours per week, but I often felt a bit jealous of all the fun it seemed the other students were having in their practical conversation classes! Other options include the Individual program (15 individual lesson hours + 10 group lesson hours per week) and the Executive program (25 group lesson hours + 15 individual lesson hours per week). Strictly private lessons are also available in the afternoons at an extra cost.
During the afternoon practical conversational classes, lectures are given in Mexican history, Zapotecan culture, national holidays, and other topics important to Mexican life.
In addition to their focus on rapid absorption of language through interactive, conversational grammar lessons, Solexico's biggest asset is their teaching staff. All classes are taught completely in Spanish. The professional, friendly Mexican teachers maximize students' learning capacities and create a fun, enjoyable learning experience. What I found most impressive about the teachers is their enthusiasm, patience, and dedication to helping each student in the class understand what he/she is learning. Since class sizes are so small, it is very easy to bond with your teachers and fellow students. Each week, students are placed in a group with 4 or less other students, assigned to one teacher. The next week, the student will most likely be placed with another group of students and a different teacher. In just 2 weeks, I felt as if I was very much a part of Solexico, and was extremely comfortable with my instructors. In fact, looking around during breaks, it is not uncommon to see teachers and students hanging out together in the concession area chit-chatting, sharing gossip (well, I was gossipping, anyway), and laughing.
Solexico's mission is not just to immerse students in Spanish language, but also to introduce cultural and social activities. Activities ranging from cooking lessons, salsa dancing classes, social nights, guided excursions, and other recreational diversions offer something for everyone (additional costs are associated with some of these activities). Of course, many people consider the incredible white sand beaches and turquoise Caribbean Sea of Playa del Carmen the #1 free extracurricular activity!
Solexico extends to its students use of the library, which is stocked with books on Spanish grammar, the Mayan culture, religion, and travel in Mexico, as well as many other publications. Solexico also has a cafeteria, volleyball court, and garden areas for students to relax during breaks or before/after classes. While I never made time to play volleyball, I ate enough quesadillas at the snack bar to choke a pig.
If you come to Playa looking to study Spanish, you'll have plenty of lodging options. Solexico has designed a popular homestay program, whereby carefully selected local families open their homes to students. Students generally take one or two meals with their family, and the board is built into the cost of the stay. This one-of-kind opportunity provides an invaluable introduction to Mexican daily life and culture and enables students to make personal connections they might otherwise miss.
For those who prefer private accommodation, condominiums, houses, and hotel rooms are also available, with board separate. Solexico staff members are willing to organize these living arrangements and do their best to help each student find their perfect "home away from home."
What I took away from my two weeks at Solexico was a lot more than the verb conjugation I learned. I was most impressed with the individual attention I received, as well as the sense of community the dedicated teachers and staff members founded by providing students with a total cultural and social experience, as well as complete immersion in Spanish.
|PlayaLingua del Caribe:
20th Street between 5th and 10th Avenues
Telephone: +52 (984) 873-3876
|International House Riviera Maya:
14th Street between 5th and 10th Avenues
Telephone: +52 (984) 803-3388