Want to see some pink dolphins?
How about bike around one of the world’s biggest bicycle routes?
You can do it all in Colombia.
Like practically any country you visit, Colombia will never be what you expect.
While you’ve probably heard about the peace talks in Colombia, or the struggles over land, you probably don’t know that it’s also one of the 17 megadiverse countries that house 70 percent of the world’s biodiversity.
It’s a complex, varied and exciting place—and a great option for any Spanish learner.
There are many vibrant cities in Colombia for Spanish learners to explore, which are home to formal language programs that’ll help you take major steps toward fluency. We’ll show you four such programs that aren’t just great for learning, but also for getting to know this exciting country.
But first, what makes Colombian Spanish what it is?
Features of the Local Language: Clear Accents, Creative Slang and More
Though the Colombian accent varies between the coast and the center of the country, and between rural areas and cities, it’s generally among the easiest accents for Spanish learners to understand.
As a bonus, once you’re away from the tourist hotspots, most Colombians don’t speak English, so your Spanish skills will be put to the test. And, unless they’re hard at work, they’re usually really happy to have a chat.
Latin America rocks creative slang, and Colombia is no exception. While in Colombia’s close sister country Venezuela, a mate or friend is a pana—short for panaderia (bread shop)—in Colombia a pal is mi llave or mi llavero (my key, or my key chain).
Meanwhile, your group of friends is your parche (patch). On the romantic side of things, Colombians say they were “swallowed” (Estoy tragada) to say they’re head over heels for someone.
And in both Venezuela and Colombia, you’ll hear the word vaina all the time. It’s a substitute word for when people can’t be bothered to express themselves more clearly (sort of like “thing” in English).
So they’ll say, “Pass me la vaina,” and “How’s la vaina?” and “¿Qué es esa vaina?” (What’s going on?) or even just vaina to show a strong emotion.
Quick Facts for Visiting Colombia
If you have the funds, Colombia is a great launch pad for a long trip around the continent. It’s not uncommon to start there, pick up some decent Spanish, then catch buses north through Central America and up to Mexico, or south along the western coast of South America, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, then perhaps on to Argentina or Brazil.
As an airport hub, Colombia can also be one of the cheaper countries to fly to.
- Climate: Because Colombia is located close to the equator, it tends to have a warm, tropical climate, though it gets cooler as you move into the center and up the Andes to cities like Bogotá.
Temperatures tend to be fairly constant year round, though they’re a little cooler around December to March.
- Culture: Colombia is a very culturally rich country, with indigenous, African and Spanish heritage. Catholicism is dominant, but carnivals, which tend to incorporate all three ethnic elements, are popular.
Note: tipping isn’t common in Colombia.
- Cost of living: When studying in Colombia, monthly expenses are pretty low, though they’ll obviously vary depending on your lifestyle. If you cook a lot, you’ll only need 100 to 250 USD per month for groceries.
- Accommodation: Tourist cities are full of hostels that include breakfast, internet and often leisure, tourist or social activities. There’s also the full range of hotels and it’s not too difficult to rent an apartment for longer stays.
A one-bedroom apartment in Bogotá could cost 400 USD per month, and a hostel dorm bed is typically around 10 USD a night.
- Transport: In most cities, and even between cities, you’ll get around by bus. Buses are very cheap, and the interstate ones tend to be huge and comfortable. You can check out other cities for just 10 to 30 USD.
For the longest distances, however, sometimes catching a plane can be almost as cheap as going by bus.
Great Cities and Regions to Study and Pick Up Spanish
Medellín is one of the most popular cities to study Spanish in. Because lots of people go there for tourism or study, there are plenty of accommodation options and a vibrant nightlife.
Medellín is a dense city, with plenty of city sights and great day trips on offer to lakes, colorful towns and to Colombia’s coffee region. Set in the mountains, Medellín is comfortably warm, year round.
Colombia’s capital is a cultural and historic center, featuring the clearest accent of the various regions of Colombia. People who study Spanish in Bogotá will often participate in more long-term study programs through universities.
Bogotá has a fresh, cool climate, and is the third highest capital city in South America at about 8,675 feet (2,644 meters). With a population of 8 million, the city is packed with museums, interesting sites and shopping malls.
Cartegena is a beautiful city, and it has great weather—if you like it hot and humid. Located on the coast, it does attract a lot of tourists, meaning that the city has all the necessary facilities, but also a good proportion of locals speak English.
Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress are a World Heritage Site.
This city is warm, modern, clean and less overwhelming than some of the other bigger cities. It’s also off the tourist and Spanish student beaten track, and surrounded by impressive waterfalls and valleys. The lack of foreigners means less Spanish class options, but a great deal more immersion.
You can study at one of the few universities (as you’ll see below), or hostels will often offer packages of classes. Bucaramanga is one of the best places to go paragliding.
Want to Learn Spanish in Colombia? 4 Local Immersion Programs You Should Know
The great thing about studying in Colombia is that there’s a range of methods available that we’ll touch on below.
Longer university programs can see you walking away with some solid skills and a certificate, and the teachers are more rigorously vetted and qualified. Those courses tend to cost a little more though, and if you want to stay in Colombia for more than six months, studying can help you with a visa.
Shorter private language classes and tutoring on the other hand tend to be more flexible and embody more opportunities for tourism and fun.
To prepare for your study abroad experience, it’s a good idea to review your Spanish skills. You can do that from home with the immersive language program of FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos, like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
Despite being a university, Rosario actually offers a range of programs for study, including intensive programs with a stronger academic focus and courses with just 10 hours a week and cultural trips.
Tourists, those planning further study and business people often study here, and students have access to university facilities like the library, gym and rest areas.
Sixty hours of study will cost around 300 USD, making this university one of the most affordable options.
Toucan Spanish School has a number of schools around Colombia, and its Medellín one is particularly popular.
The school offers intensive classes with 20 hours per week, or a more flexible option of private classes, at 10 to 20 hours per week, as well as classes over Skype—for only a fraction cheaper.
The Medellín school includes 14 class rooms and modern facilities like air conditioning and projectors. 20 hours of intensive classes cost around 215 USD and include daily cultural and social activities.
The Centro Catalina school is based in Cartegena, and they have a new school in Medellín as well. The school specializes in combining learning with other excursions and activities like water sports, ecotourism, cultural visits and Colombian dance.
It also organizes accommodation with families or in apartments, and the school states that it’s the only school in Cartagena that offers preparation for the DELE (Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language) exam.
You can also study standard Spanish courses, intensive ones or take private classes. A set of 20 lessons at 50 minutes will set you back 239 USD.
Apart from short courses taken through hostels, this is one of the few places where you can study Spanish in Bucaramanga. However, the university also has a campus in Bogotá. Courses are focused on communication and on preparing students for employment, academia and social situations.
The Bucaramanga campus includes libraries, computer labs, sports areas and a cafeteria, and you could study here through an exchange program, if you’re currently enrolled in university and that university has a cooperation agreement with Santo Tomas.
So mi llave, it’s time to head over to this amazing country and get to really know it, while improving your Spanish at the same time!
Tamara Pearson is a journalist, teacher and language lover who has lived in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and now Mexico. She is also the author of “The Butterfly Prison.”
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