Colombia Immersion: Beyond the Traditional Language School

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Colombia Immersion is a new Spanish school that began with a simple but ambitious goal: to bridge the distance between the typical language classroom and real life fluency.

The scary, gaping hole that exists between being taught in the classroom and speaking to locals, from hearing your teachers’ and classmates’ accents to hearing the inflections of local speech, is something that has been all but ignored.

The vague philosophy of “you’ll figure that out when you get it to it, let’s learn theory for now” is the norm, with no one committed to teaching you how to jump across the divide.

By contrast, Colombia Immersion is all about experience, connections, and learning in ways that move way beyond just memorizing lists.

Here’s their approach:

14925704_1841335392776603_6488704445806851704_nThe Program

Colombia Immersion‘s methodology is: Learn, Practice, Apply. Students learn language skills in class, practice with games and exercises, and then apply out of the classroom by speaking with locals in real life contexts.

This immediate application approach is bolstered by a method that progressively teaches words and phrases in the order of frequency they are used by native speakers, as opposed to block lists of category-based vocabulary.

This and other strategies, they claim, allows them to increase a student’s functional fluency faster than anywhere else. They offer several avenues to get students talking after class. Coaching, which is 1-on-1 speaking practice with a local, will take students into markets to buy fruits, purchase sell phones, or just go out for a beer.
Tours happen every Tuesday and Thursday  and take students into different parts of the city talking to residents, learning about social projects, and eating local food.

The program is designed to promote learning inside and outside the classroom, and to connect students with locals.

“Making connections is why we learn languages in the first place, and frankly, without them, you’ll never truly learn it,” said Luke Tierney, Director of Operations. “That’s why we do everything in our power to engage our students in the city, and have them interacting with native speakers from day one.”

It’s not just for beginners. The school offers all levels of classes, scaling its methodology to suit beginners through advanced students.

They offer the following options

  • 20-hours a week class: 550.000COP
  • 10-hours a week class: 300.000COP
  • Private classes: 275.000COP per 5 hour package
  • Coaching: 35.000COP/hour
  • Full Immersion Program: 2.700.000COP/month
    • 20 hours of classes per week
    • Lunch Monday – Friday
    • Tours 2x/week
    • 5 hours of coaching per week
    • Homestay with local (optional)
    • Language exchanges + daily activities

You can choose to do just a month or renew for several; they’re flexible.

The Staff

The team at Colombia Immersion is diverse, with members from the U.S., the Netherlands, Colombia, Britain, Ireland, and Ethiopia. The founders have experience teaching in many countries, bringing an array of talent to the school.

Though the design of the program is an international effort, all teachers are required to be native Spanish speakers.

colombia-imersion-classrooms-56-1The Curriculum

The goal focuses on function rather than immediate perfection, prioritizing the development of skills and comfort in approaching native speakers.

While grammar and vocabulary are of course necessary, the human, dynamic aspect of language is also essential; the union of these two elements is what Colombia Immersion seeks to address.

They teach language hacks and modern strategies with a “teach how to fish” mentality that seeks to empower students in their abilities to learn outside the school.

Confidence building, approaching others in a new language, and the life-skills involved are a huge focus — making the learning process both quicker and more satisfying.

When I asked what they thought the most valuable lesson learned during the program was, I got a simple but straightforward answer: “That they can do this, in ways that are faster and more fun than they ever thought possible.”

The Spanish language, foreign countries, misunderstandings, being caught on the spot — these are all difficult elements that can make a person back out early and not accomplish their desired goals, goals that go far beyond mere language acquisition.

The Location

The site was chosen strategically. Envigado is a short bus ride away from Poblado; it is up-and-coming, local, safe, and full of Colombians that don’t know much English, if any.

Luke explained: “If we were in El Poblado we would not be able to do this as easily — it’s such a magnet for foreigners that it’s too easy to lapse back into English. In El Dorado (a neighborhood in Envigado) we’re the only foreigners around.”

It helps that a park and micro-futbol field are just across the street, and the central Plaza of Envigado a 10-minute walk away.

The school boasts a co-working space, private bar and microbrewery, and areas for their students to relax.

dsc_0940The Students

Anyone is welcome to experience Colombia Immersion’s unique approach, but the school caters especially to those they see as contributing to Medellín’s rise as a center of innovation. Entrepreneurs, volunteers, digital nomads, and other creative types are all welcome.

To that effect, they are building networks that include volunteer sites, tech hubs, non-profits, social entrepreneurs, and co-working spaces in and outside Colombia. The close partnership with co-living/co-working/microbrewery 20 Mission is equipped precisely for this kind of exchange.

“When students sign up with us, they don’t just get our classes. They join a community, and get access to our networks. You never know who you might rub shoulders with, and who might help inspire your next project.”

Describing Medellín as ripe with possibilities to get involved in innovation and social impact, they aim for students to get the most of out of the program while also contributing to Medellín’s development.

The Goal

Colombia Immersion was founded in order to impact language education itself and introduce students to the surrounding culture as richly as possible.

They have a stated mission for supporting Medellín’s ongoing growth, as well as for dissolving the language barrier between initiatives that are started within the country and those that are brought in from elsewhere.

As far as they’re concerned, international exchange brings positive results. Colombians love to see people coming in; they’re proud of their country and the high attention it’s getting. Everyone grows from cultural exchange.

The Colombia Immersion team is so confident in their approach that they offer a five-day trial: if their system doesn’t have you learning faster than other classes you’ve taken, they’ll give a full refund. They also offer a 50 percent discount to teachers who take their classes in order to spread their methodology and ideas.

Eventually, the idea is to shift the international image of Colombia; to introduce foreigners to authentic Colombian culture; and to serve as the meeting point for growing foreign and Colombian entrepreneurial communities that remain otherwise isolated from each other.
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This story was written in partnership with Colombia Immersion.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. 40,000 pesos an hour for a Spanish lesson? That is for sure Gringo pricing and very expensive. So a Spanish teacher can earn 4,800,000 pesos a month (6 hours a day 40 k x 5 x 4) – more than a doctor or other professional? To put it in perspective, a waiter earns 30 K a day for a 12 hour shift (not that I agree that is a reasonable rate). And if the peso was at the level of a little over a year ago that would be almost 20 USD an hour?

    If people pay it, great – good for your business, and market rules apply however…..

    • Hi Bell – Luke here from Colombia Immersion. I’m sorry the fee for our individual lessons seem high to you. Just for comparison, our prices are actually low compared with other language schools here, and way below university pricing. We make every effort to make sure our courses are priced fairly in exchange for the resources that are at our students’ disposal. We go way beyond just language classes. If individual classes seem a little out of range, we have group classes that come out to much, much less per class. If you have any questions feel free to post them.

      • I have researched the idea of Spanish classes in Medellin and the price is about right. I found that there are three types of students and that most Spanish teachers actually fit students into the categories and the prices as well vary depending on them. The first group is the backpacker who plans to stay in the city for a couple of weeks. The second is the permanent traveler who want to make Medellin their new home and the third one is pretty much the same as the second one but he or she is working in the city and they have a real need to learn Spanish. You have to remember for you to have a good Spanish teacher for foreigners they have to speak English as well. Just to finish up , two important facts: Eafit Spanish program is more expensive than their English program but they give you an integrated follow up, they help with housing solutions and have created a network that is expensive but you do get a great experience. And there are a bunch of trained Spanish teacher’s out there, the Antioquia university offers a course called teaching Spanish to foreigners and I might not know any of the graduates but they are out there.

    • In comparison, individual Spanish classes at Universidad EAFIT currently run 1,860,000 pesos per 38 hour class, which is about 49,000 pesos per hour. Group classes at Universidad EAFIT are 950,000 pesos for 38 hours, which works out to 25,000 pesos per hour. Group classes at EAFIT can have 2-8 students (mine have averaged 3 students each).

  2. A lot of the info looks like it was just copy/pasted from their website.. I went to look at the site and while it sounds pretty good there are no teacher profiles (only of the owners), and no mentions of Spanish levels available. Also no info on what time the group classes take place or what the options are- I would be a bit wary to sign up when such vital info isn’t listed.

  3. I could not agree more with Bell – totally gringo pricing. A Colombian looking to learn English would fall off their chair if quoted these prices. Also worth a mention is the fact that Envigado is a fairly cheap area (certainly cheaper than Laureles or Pablado where most gringos live) which is not actually in Medellin although is a few stop away on the Metro.

    To give some perspective, a school teacher earns about 90k per day, a police officer 60k and a shop worker 30k if they are lucky.

    There are plenty of great Spanish teachers available in Medellin for 15 – 20k per hour.

    EAFIT and UPB are expensive and according to many accounts, not very good. They do however have the advantage of being the only 2 providers in Medellin that can hook you up with a Student Visa if you’re getting tight on your 6 months as a tourist.

    • Could you please provide me with a recommendation for a good spanish teacher for around 15 – 20k per day? Would be a huge help. Thanks!

  4. It’s not clear to me what is the best Spanish class option. it seems eafits classes start at 9 every morning and require studying every day. This seems a little intensive to me. For this new immersion one, I would like to hear from someone who took it before I go running all around envigado talking to locals. Ive spent enough time in Claro office struggling to speak with locals. I’m looking for lazy man’s Spanish, a course that speeds my learning with minimal effort.

    • ‘Lazy man’s Spanish’ – forget it brother! It’s hard work and that’s all there is to it. But hard work can be enjoyable and that feeling you get when you realise that for the first time you are having a real conversation in Spanish is totally priceless. Also the experience you get of Medellin will be on a completely different level if you can interact with locals in their own language.

      A final point is that speaking Spanish will probably half the cost of your trip!

      • Your point is taken. But I’ll settle for better then I am now, not shooting for fluency this year, maybe in 5 years. I’ve done enough hard work in recent years, I would like to keep this year like vacation.

        Peter, have you gone through any courses, if so which one, and how do you rate it?