I’ve been back in the US for 3 weeks! And you know what, I’ve started taking Spanish classes from a community college again, which put me in a good place to compare the Spanish immersion method such as the one offered at Academia Hispano Americana (AHA) with the non-immersion/academic method.
In part I of this post, I’ve review the physical aspects of the school, now about the rest of the school in comparison to those at a typical community college:
1. Number of hours
If you take the intensive program at AHA, you will be in class from 8:30 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. for the grammar part, 11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. for conversation, 3:45 p.m. – 6:20 p.m. for seminars and for some level 12:30 p.m. – 1:45 for pronunciation or grammatical problem, a total of 30 to 35 hours. Compare this to my Summer class at the community college 12:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. four times a week for a total of 10 hours a week (non Summer session will be 5 hours a week). Just from the amount of hour, we can see that the immersion program forces us to put in more time. And if you believe in you get what you put in, you can see that the immersion program will put you in a much faster trajectory to learn.
When I was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I lived with a Mexican family. As a result, whatever I learned in class, I can try to use it in context while talking to them. For example, on the day that I was learning the form “If I were a …, I would … “, I could right away use it. Here, it is harder to find the chance to do so.
Also, everywhere I went, I heard and read Spanish. Often I found that new things that I learned were reinforced right away. Like when I learned the word “peluche”. In two minutes, as I walked back to the house, I saw a sign with the word “peluche” and a stuffed animals there. That way, it’s easier to remember new vocabulary.
3. Class size and practice time
At AHA, the largest grammar classes were capped at 12. In my 3 months there, my classes were ranging from 4 to 8 students. Even then, I already felt that the 8 students one was big and did not give me time to speak. At the community college, the teacher has more than 35 students, in 3 different levels as well. I don’t know what their reasoning was, but the college combines Spanish 4, 5, 6 into one class. Can you imagine how challenging it was for the teacher to teach these many students with three different levels?
So, what’s the advantage of taking classes here, in the US?
1. The bilinguality and biculturality of the teacher
I think this is one major advantage of taking a class in the US. The teachers know better what we, English speakers, need. They know what statements are common in English but are not translatable to Spanish. They know the false cognates. And they also know the grammar trap for English speakers. The teachers at AHA know English, some know more than others. But the curriculum avoids the use of English. As a result, certain explanations are not clear.
The first intensive session at AHA cost $600. Then you have to pay for lodging – $28 x 28 day = $784. And don’t forget to add the airplane tix. Since I’m coming from California, my tix. was expensive. Here, I only pay $125 for whole Summer. What a big difference!
I think AHA immersion program emphasizes a lot on speaking and listening. As a result, they sometimes don’t pay attention to the writing. Here, in the US, I found that my professors are much more rigorous in correcting our writing. The emphasis here is much more academic and step by step. Over there, it is more learning by practice.
In my opinion, it is good if you can take classes from the community college first before your departure there. Then, to perfect your talking, listening, and idiomatic expression, go take the immersion program. You will get a lot of chance to practice there. If you cannot do the immersion program, find friends where you can practice your listening and speaking skills.
Well, that’s it for now. What do you guys think? Do you have any experience with regard to learning Spanish or other language through immersion vs. through taking classes in the US?