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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This story was written in partnership with Colombia Immersion.