Learning Spanish in Costa Rica

It’s no secret…Learning a second language is good for you! There are a ton of health benefits for your brain, leading to improved multitasking, decision-making, and memory. It’s even said to help prevent Alzheimer’s! Learning another language is also believed to increase your ability to understand and empathize with others.

But beyond all this, learning a second language helps us get to know ourselves better. Many people like me find that when they speak a different language they seem to unlock another side of their personality. A Czech proverb claims just as much: “As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being.” This truth is why I am most thankful to have learned Spanish.

What is the best way to learn Spanish on your own?

In today’s day and age, there are many ways to learn Spanish that are available to us at our fingertips. The most effective way to learn another language is through immersion, and there are many tools to make that happen even in the comfort of your own home!

  • Listening to Spanish music – Perhaps the easiest way to improve your knowledge of Spanish and pick up new vocabulary words is by listening to Spanish music. There are numerous styles to choose from in Spanish music but I prefer slower pop or even rancheros! My favorite artists to learn Spanish are Morat, Christian Nodal, Sebastian Yatra and Reik. These artists tend to write music that is catchy, slower, and easier to understand.
  • Watching TV or movies in Spanish – Another great way to learn Spanish, but a bit more time-consuming is by watching TV or movies in Spanish.
    • A great way to start practicing Spanish and learning more on your own time is by opting for the Spanish version of movies that you’ve seen before. This way you don’t have to worry so much about understanding every word in the conversation. You’ll already have the overall knowledge of what’s going on. You can also make use of the subtitles available–use the Spanish audio and English subtitles until you feel more confident with using both Spanish audio and subtitles.
    • If you are more advanced, try finding a Spanish or Latin American TV show or movie that is interesting to you. There are a ton of Spanish titles on Netflix and they are constantly adding more! One of my favorite shows is Casa de Papel, or Money Heist (the English title). This show takes place in Spain and will be sure to suck you in by the second episode! I also have watched several Mexican telenovelas. La Reina del Sur is my favorite.
    • Even when you’re taking a break from watching TV in Spanish, try leaving Spanish subtitles on! This is a great way to see how everyday phrases we say in English would translate to Spanish.
  • Listening to Spanish podcasts – There are many Spanish podcasts available on Youtube and Spotify if you are looking to practice your listening skills. Some renown titles for Spanish-language learners are Espanolistos and Coffee Break Spanish. The podcasts hosts touch on a variety of interesting topics in an engaging way.
  • Using language exchange apps – This is something that I discovered just a few months ago and I can’t believe I had never heard of it before! Tandem is the most popular language exchange app. It does a wonderful job of connecting you to other native speakers of the language you are trying to learn. You can even set your preferences of what kinds of topics you like to discuss. Tandem allows you to send voice notes, texts, and even video call! This app is popular all over the world so there’s a never ending list of native speakers to practice with!
  • Getting a Spanish tutor! – If you are willing to spend a bit of money, meeting with a language tutor once a week is a great way to practice the language with a native speaker. If you live near a university or a bigger city, there may also be some “speech/language buddy” partnerships worth looking into. These allow you to mutually benefit with your partner and provide both of you the opportunity to share your language expertise.
  • Interacting with native speakers – From ordering food in restaurants to helping out with community ESL classes, there are plenty of opportunities to practice Spanish with native speakers. If you live in a bigger city, there are often cultural gatherings and celebrations which also serve as a perfect place to practice.

What is the most effective way to learn Spanish?

These are all tangible ways to learn and practice Spanish in the comfort of your own home, but if you’re looking to become truly fluent, a trip abroad should be at the top of your list. Experts agree that spending time immersed in a foreign language is the easiest and quickest way to learn.

But how long does it take to learn Spanish?

The longer you are in another country, the more fluent you will become, but in as little as 4 weeks you will start to see significant improvement in how much Spanish you understand. Study abroad programs last from 3-6 months, which can get you very close to fluency. Every person is different, but many language experts claim that just studying a language for as little as an hour a day can result in fluency. Think about how much more language you will be exposed to when you are continuously surrounded by it and forced to interact with locals to go about your daily life!

Traveling abroad is the quickest and most effective way to learn Spanish.

What is the best country to visit to learn Spanish?

When thinking about which country you should visit to learn Spanish, there are many different things to consider. As a Spanish teacher who often recommends countries to my students, I first consider the safety of the country, the country’s accent, and the presence and use of English in that country.

When traveling, safety should always be your top concern, especially if you are looking to learn a language. You want to feel safe going out and practicing the language. Learning Spanish abroad depends on the opportunities you have to interact and learn from the locals! Making sure that you pick a safe country ensures that you will have more opportunities to meet new people to practice with.

The accent of the Spanish-speakers from that country is also very important. If you’ve ever compared Spain Spanish with Mexican Spanish, it’s clear that some Spanish accents are easier to understand than others!

As a learner, you also tend to adopt whatever accent the locals of that country use. If you are looking to have a more general knowledge of Spanish, it’s better to have a less distinct accent and an ear that isn’t dependent on just one specific way of speaking. That knowledge of Spanish is more versatile and useful in your home country (where you will be interacting with people from all different Spanish-speaking countries).

So what’s the best Spanish accent?

Most Spanish teachers agree that Colombia, Mexico, the north of Spain, and Costa Rica are all fabulous places to learn Spanish. These countries are known to speak the clearest Spanish. But when considering the safety of the country and the use and general knowledge of English by the locals, my top choice for the best place to learn Spanish is always Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has one of the prettiest and clearest Spanish accents, which makes it one of the easiest accents to understand. Unlike many Latin American countries, there are no odd pronunciation flukes. Costa Rica is said to be one of the countries with the “purest Spanish”.

The Spanish you learn in Costa Rica is also versatile. Although they do use some slang and have some fun words unique to Costa Rica, it’s not an overwhelming amount, like many people find in Mexico. When you leave Costa Rica, the accent you might have adopted is not so distinct that you can’t blend in with other Spanish speakers from Latin America (which isn’t the case if you learn in Spain, Chile, or Argentina).

Even other Spanish speakers love the Costa Rican accent! To the trained ear, it sounds warm, smooth and inviting, just like the country itself!

In addition to this, English is not overly widespread. While there are plenty of fluent English speakers in the top tourist destinations, the majority of “ticos” (Costa Rican people) are not fluent in English. When looking to study or live abroad, this is an important factor. Will the locals bear with you when practicing the language or will they immediately switch to English? You’ll find that Costa Rica is still authentic enough to really gain fluency in Spanish.

In Costa Rica, you’ll also get very comfortable with both two additional subject pronouns—usted and vos. These subjects are not as emphasized in formal Spanish classes (especially vos), but in the real world they are very important! In Costa Rica, both of these subject pronouns are common in everyday speech. This kind of constant exposure if a huge plus to learning how to use these pronouns and conjugate verbs accordingly.

How can I learn Spanish abroad?

Okay, so maybe you’ve decided that it’s time to travel abroad but the next pressing question is what do you do there? Costa Rica has a ton of options for how to occupy your time when visiting this country to learn Spanish.

There are numerous language schools scattered across Costa Rica. If you are looking to take some more formal language classes while abroad or if you’re just looking for some concrete tutoring, enrolling in one of these schools is a great decision! These classes are often taught by native Spanish speakers and provide you with someone that can answer your questions and break down whatever you may be struggling with when you go out and practice the language with the locals.

If you are a student, I urge you to study abroad in Costa Rica. There are a couple universities that are renown in Central America. I studied at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia. This university is located in the middle of Costa Rica, providing the most central place to take off from on the weekends. I could get to just about any attraction by taking a public bus from San José (a short 40 minutes from Heredia). If you’re looking to sightsee while studying abroad (which of course you are), Heredia is the perfect launching pad!

If you are looking for a more laid back experience, like I generally opt for on my summers off, I suggest volunteering. there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica, and you can search for the program that suits your specific interests. There are many reserves and conservation efforts that take long and short-term volunteers. There are also schools that you can volunteer in if you are more education-focused. Volunteering with the medical efforts in Costa Rica is also a wonderful opportunity!

Spending time in one place will also help you make local friends, which will easily convert into the best language buddies to practice with. As you might expect with the laid back, pura vida culture of Costa Rica, ticos (Costa Ricans) are known to be friendly and eager to help. Also, being such a safe country, it’s easy to go out and practice the language at bars and restaurants.

Panoramic view of Arenal Volcano in Central Costa Rica

Last but not least, I couldn’t imagine place to travel if you are looking to just backpack around or hostel hop. Costa Rica is the playground of world travelers for a reason! You will be sure to learn from the locals you interact with but to learn Spanish most efficiently, I would suggest finding a place that you can live in for an extended period time and opt for traveling on the weekends.

Final Thoughts on Learning Spanish in Costa Rica

If you are looking to unlock all the benefits of learning another language look in to traveling abroad. If you are ready to become fluent in Spanish, an extended stay Costa Rica should be at the top of your wishlist! There you will find the clearest accent, the friendliest locals, and the best ways to occupy your time while abroad.

If you’re set on visiting Costa Rica, be sure to check out these top 10 destinations!

About Costa Tica Travel

6 thoughts on “Learning Spanish in Costa Rica”

  1. Quiero volver a Costa Rica mucho más ahora debido a tu artículo bastante interesante e informativo. Gracias Kimi y que sigas aprendiendo y enseñando más de este país precioso. Ánimo!

    -Artem

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