When I first landed in Spain, it had been more than six years since I had studied Spanish in high school, or spoken more than a few Spanish phrases. I thought that I had forgotten everything until I sat on a train traveling from Girona to Barcelona.
At first, I was listening to mostly Spanish speakers around me -- listening to see if I remembered anything. After about 10 minutes, I started to understand a few words here and there. By the end of the 40-minute ride, I could understand bits and pieces of sentences and conversations, and by the time my two weeks in Spain were finished, I felt confident speaking basic sentences again. By surrounding myself with Spanish as much as I could during that trip, part of the language had come back to me.
It might seem overwhelming to jump into the deep end of learning Spanish by surrounding yourself with native speakers, but anyone who is fluent in a second language will tell you that full immersion is the most efficient way to learn it.
Why Learn Spanish By Immersion
Starting off by learning Spanish vocabulary and verb conjugations in a classroom in your home country could be the first step in discovering a new way to express your thoughts, ideas, and emotions in Spanish. However, to truly learn how native speakers communicate, you need to live the experience of being in a country where Spanish is the native language.
One of the wonderful aspects of an immersion program is that many of them offer a homestay, where you will live with a family -- eating meals together and possibly going on excursions together. With a homestay, you'll truly experience how people live in the country where you are studying.
Immersion is also efficient, which makes it an ideal choice if you want to or need to learn Spanish quickly. I studied Spanish for four years during high school in California and learned enough to get by when I traveled to Spain. However, after only three months of living in Italy, as part of a language immersion program, I felt confident enough to have full conversations. If you want to learn Spanish for work or school or want the experience of learning in a country where it's the native language, an immersion program may be right for you.
What to Consider in Choosing a Spanish Language Program
One of the most exciting aspects of learning Spanish is that if you want to study in a country where it is the national language, you have nearly two dozen countries to choose from across four continents. It may be the hardest aspect of learning Spanish too!
It's important to remember that while the base language will be the same across all of the countries where it is spoken, accents, dialects, and words will vary depending on where you are in the world. If you are planning to use Spanish for work, or have a country or region of the world in mind where you'd like to live or study in the future, it's best to pick an immersion program in that country. Take a look at the globe, and see where you could be studying in Europe, North America, Central America, South America, or The Caribbean!
Immersion programs vary from a few weeks to a few months, and it's important to select a program that fits with your schedule and language goals. While it's unlikely that you'll become fluent in a few weeks, short-term programs can help you decide if you'd like to spend an extended period of time studying Spanish in a particular country. Another factor to consider is whether you want to be in a city, are seeking a more rural setting, or want to add on volunteering or work to your language studies.
Here are the top programs on Go Overseas for learning Spanish abroad, based on reviews:
- Language Immersion in Spain with Lita
- Spanish Immersion Program with Agualivar Spanish School
- Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru with Maximo Nivel
- Intensive Spanish Immersion with Tico Lingo
- Spanish Immersion Courses with Buenos Aires TEFL institute
- Spanish Immersion in Panama with Habla Ya
- Personal Teacher & Homestay with Spanish in Nature
- Internship in the Sacred Valley with Linguistic Horizons
- Spanish Language Study with Instituto Estelar Bilingüe
How did we pick these programs?
In choosing the best Spanish language programs, we took into account two main factors: the review scores of each program, and the number of reviews that program had received.
For all language learning programs on Go Overseas, we ask reviewers to rate six variables: (1) Instruction, (2) Support, (3) Fun, (4) Housing, (5) Value, and (6) Overall. We average these scores, compare them to other medical volunteer programs, and take into account the total number of reviews each program has received. In total, we compared over 650 reviews to determine which programs should be included on this list.
From there, our goal is to choose those programs which are truly the best: they have more and better reviews than the average for similar programs and are verified by enough reviews for us to feel confident giving our stamp of approval.
1. Language Immersion in Spain with Lita
LITA scores 9.8 or more in every category from GoOverseas, meaning it's a great choice if you want to study in Spain. You'll spend about five weeks — including a three-week homestay in Northern or Southern Spain — and participate in an optional internship with a local business, or engage in an independent research project with LITA. You'll also have a chance to explore rural areas of Spain, while learning about food, music, history, and ecology. Past participants have said that living with a family was one of the best parts of their experience with LITA.
Alumni, who loved the program, said:
- "I remember being terrified to ask for a cup of water without ice in Spanish while on the plane to Spain, but now I feel comfortable with my speaking ability enough to hold a conversation with anyone." --Karlton
- "LITA was by far one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I left Spain with a high level of confidence not only with my ability to speak Spanish but also with myself." --Bonner
2. Spanish Immersion Program with Agualivar Spanish School
With a perfect score of 10 for fun, and a score of more than 9.8 in the four other GoOverseas rating categories, Agualivar Spanish School is the place to be to learn Spanish while experiencing some of the best parts of Spain. You'll live on a beachfront villa in a homestay in Andalusia, where you'll practice Spanish for 12 hours a day and travel to see and experience the beautiful sites surrounding you. Flexible start dates and class levels make it easy for anyone to make the program fit with their goals.
Alumni love Agulaivar Spanish School, and have said:
- "The program at Agualivar Spanish School far, far exceeded all expectations. I was able to "jump start" my Spanish studies with excellent teachers in a warm, lovely environment. The accommodations were luxurious, the food delicious, and the setting (the farm and the sea) breathtaking." -- Emily
- "The reviews are spot on: The hospitality of the family, the food, the surroundings, all true. It felt as much like a retreat from the busy world as a school. A place to slow down, take a deep breath, and look out over the Mediterranean sea before you. And of course, learn Spanish." -- Kristin
3. Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru with Maximo Nivel
If you aren't sure where you want to study, Maximo Nivel may have you covered with its intensive and professional Spanish immersion programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Alumni give it a 98 percent review score, loving the program's university credit option, homestays, and tandem conversation groups.
Alumni across the world shared their favorite parts of the Maximo Nivel program:
- "I really appreciated how personalized the course was. There were only two students in my classes, so the course was 100% personalized. Outside of class I was staying with a host family, so I was speaking Spanish most of the day. This is really the best way to learn. I am going home from this program speaking Spanish much more fluently and correctly than I did when I showed up only a month ago." -- Rachael
- "I thought the price, compared to other programs that I researched in the area, was great, especially considering the caliber and experience of my professor, the free activities that were offered on various days, and the comfort of my homestay." -- Josef
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4. Intensive Spanish Immersion with Tico Lingo
At Tico Lingo's intensive Spanish immersion program in Heredia, Costa Rica, students enjoy small classrooms, homestays, free coffee, and good vibes, with Go Overseas users ranking the program 9.8 for its support for students.
Here's what Tico Lingo alumni have to say:
- "The people running the school, including my instructor, were also a lot of fun and very helpful. I’m mainly satisfied because I learned a ton of Spanish very quickly with them, but it was also a genuinely enjoyable school environment and such a cool place/country. I really think I had a near perfect experience." -- Jacob
- "If you want a low-key, relaxed but thorough Spanish immersion experience this is for you. The best thing I can say about Tico Lingo is that the school is run in such a chill way that you don't ever feel like a tourist. At the same time the teachers are high-quality and you will learn fast. I recommend staying with a family, who cooked me two delicious meals a day and were great company." -- John
5. Spanish Immersion Courses with Buenos Aires TEFL institute
If you want to study Spanish in Argentina, the Buenos Aires TEFL institute offers intensive Spanish immersion courses, and an option to combine your studies with volunteering. It's a top choice, with Go Overseas users rating it as a perfect 10 across all categories!
TEFL Spanish classes are divided into different levels and small classes are customizable based on students' background and goals. Volunteer options include microfinance, tourism, natural reserves, and schools.
Alumni of the Buenos Aires TEFL institute said:
- "My teacher has made the classes lots of fun and never boring. Buenos Aires has been loads of fun and my first stay in a huge city, there is a plethora of entertainment choices, countless bars, cafes, and restaurants, and it's a terrific city to explore on foot. The school can really help you to get in it with the activities which are offered. I really liked the atmosphere at school." -- Hugh
- "The city has a charming breath and immersed me in its atmosphere instantly. I really enjoyed the fact that the Ibero teachers are ready to help you out with whatever might worry you. No grammar problems are left behind, neither any casual everyday questions unanswered. I feel like thanks to the teachers and the extracurricular activities I have gotten to know this language and culture much better." -- Jean
6. Spanish Immersion in Panama with Habla Ya
Habla Ya has something for everyone, with its Spanish courses in Panama City for business, travelers, groups, or private lessons. With that type of flexibility, Habla Ya gets a Go Overseas rating of 9.8 for support — meaning past participants felt it was easy to align the program with their goals. Students choose Habla Ya to experience the art, culture, history, and buzz of Panama City, while learning Spanish, and participating in outdoor activities like horseback riding, rock climbing, and surfing.
Habla Ya alumni shared why they love it:
- "Every day of class was so much fun! I stayed with a very awesome host family where I got to practice my Spanish even more. I can’t wait to return to Habla Ya and continue learning!" -- Annissa
- "The staff is very friendly, helpful, and determined to make your experience there the best possible. My teacher found the perfect way for me to improve my skills and I had a lot of fun learning from him. The teachers try to adapt the learning method based on the individuals. I really liked this personal touch." -- Elena
7. Personal Teacher & Homestay with Spanish in Nature
Spanish in Nature is a program that is fully immersive, with students living with a teacher in Madrid for one-on-one (or one teacher for a family or small group) language instruction. Past participants have shared their course with their children or extended family, for a cross-generational learning experience. GoOverseas users rated the program 9.7 or more, with a 9.9 for support, due to the program's focus on personal attention.
People who loved their time with Spanish in Nature, said:
- "As any family would be, we were really apprehensive, before we went, wondering and worrying about what it would be like to stay with complete strangers in their home but our worries vanished instantly on arrival because we were made to feel so welcome and by the end of the week, we felt that we had known the family for years. No family could be more friendly and hospitable." -- Wendy
- "The program was full of interesting activities and my daughter loved every minute of her time there. It's obvious that after coming back to Poland, she is now top of her class in Spanish. Highly recommended!" -- Adam
8. Internship in the Sacred Valley with Linguistic Horizons
Alumni of Linguistic Horizons rate the intensive internship and language program as a 9.9 on GoOverseas for growth and support, because they love it as a way to learn Spanish in Peru. Its customized language programs — that are paired with internships in the Sacred Valley, working with local communities — can run from two weeks to two months.
Past participants of Linguistic Horizons said:
- "This program was by far my favorite travel experience. It gave me full immersion into the culture, let me gain experience in my field, and explore the beautiful landscape of Peru." -- Sarah
- "The program and experience was indeed a trip of a lifetime, and it will forever change me as a person. The hardest part was leaving this incredible place, as three weeks was just not enough time!" -- Alex
9. Spanish Language Study with Instituto Estelar Bilingüe
With Instituto Estelar Bilingüe, helping students learn Spanish is as important as being immersed in Costa Rican culture. Go Overseas users give the program a perfect 10 for instruction, support, fun, housing, and value! The program includes cross-cultural exchanges with students in the school's English program, giving it a focus on real-world conversation.
Instituto Estelar Bilingüe alumni love the program:
- "As far as the classes are concerned, I could not imagine a more effective way of learning Spanish. The classes were fun and engaging, and the teachers were all excellent instructors. The classes were really small (2-4 people), which was great because it forced me to practice my conversation skills." -- Brad
- "I came to Instituto Estelar for Spanish classes and received so much more! My teacher was a sweetheart! She was very patient and so friendly throughout the whole course. (And let me tell you, I'm not the fastest learner out there.) She was also so knowledgeable about the city of Liberia and the area in general, and she helped me keep up with some of the slang used in Costa Rica." -- Jeremy
Here is a snapshot of review scores for Estelar Bilingüe:
Wherever you decide to learn Spanish, you're sure to have an experience that will improve your language skills and show you a new part of the world. So spin the globe, and go!
This post was originally published in March 2014, and was updated in October 2018.