In college I had the privilege of studying abroad and participating in a language intensive course. In just three months, I was amazed at the gains I had made, much more than the two years of Spanish in high school. With some extra free time, I decided to enroll in the Whee Institute, a Spanish immersion school in Bogota, Colombia that now offers classes online. Since I didn’t have the means to take all the time off to travel to a different country and learn, I decided this was a great opportunity to restart my goal.
There were so many questions I had in how it would be in comparison to actually being in the country. However, throughout my time, I realized there were some great benefits making it worth it! I decided to share my experience here for others looking for more information.
Currently, I’m starting my second week. Based on what you’ll read below, I’m loving it so far. What’s great is that a new class starts every week so it’s easy to jump in and take it a week at a time. I plan on continuing until I’m able to go out again. Classes are less than $100/wk and they have options for 10/15 hr weeks as well as morning and evening classes!
I wasn’t quite sure how the online format would work, but was amazed at how smooth it was. At 11AM Colombian time (thank goodness for getting to sleep in!) we all logged into Zoom. Mondays are the start of a new class. There were three others in my class and all had been participating in the previous weeks, so I was the new student!
We went through small introductions of where we’re from, and in many ways, it felt like a normal class. We had someone who had been studying in Colombia for a few months, but had transitioned to online, and another who had studied with the Whee Institute from years before, but opted to use the extra time to catch back up and had been going through the online format for the past three weeks. There were people from all generations and life experiences.
Having been years since I had studied Spanish, there were so many things I had forgotten. I felt a little behind compared to everyone else because, while I remembered learning certain things in the past, the rules had started slipping from my mind. I made a list of vocabulary to practice and review after and some rules to review to be more prepared.
The class itself was laid back, but rigorous. Our instructor started with a power point she shared on our screen of subjunctive phrases and the different conjugations for the -ar -er and -ir verbs. We broke out into two person groups to practice these through interactive questions.
We also did some past tense reviews including readings and dialogue that we had to present to the class. I definitely realized I was going to have to spend time revisiting past tense.
It seemed like three hours had flown by! Our teacher kept things moving, so I didn’t realize how fast time had gone by!
The night before, I spent time doing some practice and going over different conjugations to prepare. I was motivated to fill in the gaps of what I had forgotten and knew with some extra practice I would be up to date in no time.
I enjoyed class with my regular cup of coffee in my hand. I got to use my kitchen table as a standing desk and switch things up. We learned all of the different uses of subjunctive, and I realized how fast we were picking up things. We played games, practiced putting the sentences together, and had other challenges. You could also tell how much our teacher got to know us and use those in the examples. She had seen an Instagram post I had done about wine and yoga, and my allergies to cats, and incorporated into the class which was helpful because it was phrases I would actually use.
Class flew by and soon the three hours had passed. I’m already feeling much more confident and feel like by the end of the week I’ll have everything down.
Day 3, 4, 5
After the first couple of days, I really got into the groove of things. I knew my classmates, the information was solidifying in my mind, and I knew what to expect. Having a schedule to my days made such a difference considering how before I didn’t have much structure, and I looked forward to the class everyday and something I could continue to work on.
It’s crazy the amount of progress you can make in a week with an intensive class! I’ve learned so much with a larger vocabulary, and listening to some Spanish shows I understand so much more. I have a long way to go still, but I see the progress in just a week, and that’s exciting.
How Does an Online Group Session Work?
I was worried about the group setting. Would we talk over each other? In the end, I found it helpful! The breakout sessions are where we got to talk more and get to know each other more. Where I struggled in vocabulary, someone else who was strong in this area was able to assist. Having the little chitchat was nice, and I got to meet people from around the world from the comfort of my home!
Perks of Online Group Classes
The comfiest seat! I started my class out on the patio while enjoying a cup of coffee. I then came inside and worked from the couch while wrapped in a blanket. There was no worry about those uncomfortable seats. There was no commute to worry about. I managed to save so much time this way, and if I got hungry, I just took a little walk to the kitchen to grab a bite to eat! Plus I was in complete control of the temperature (cold classrooms are one of my weird pet peeves).
One of the biggest things keeping me from these types of classes was the cost. The plane ticket down, finding room & board during that time, plus the cost of food and eating out. A month’s worth of classes would have cost quite a bit, and even more the longer I wanted to go. Now I’m thinking that I can do a couple month’s worth of classes and then spend a week or two rounding out my experience in person at the Whee Institute as a reward for all the experience I got! I can also continue to work with this format which means a little bit more money in my pocket!
Tips for Making the Most of the Online Class
Of course like any class, you get what you put in! For every activity you can use the most basic answer or you can challenge yourself with new vocabulary words and longer sentences. It was great, too, because if I messed up, I knew she would help me get on the right path. I remember high school Spanish class where you dare not get anything wrong or risk losing points, but I appreciated that here we were allowed to fail and learn from it!
Print out the worksheets ahead of time. Our teacher gave us the worksheets online, but I found it was easier for me to retain the information by writing them out myself and using them for review.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I definitely had a lot as I was rewiring my brain or if I didn’t understand it. The great thing about the online structure too was that if I didn’t want to bother her at the moment, or someone else was speaking, I could send her a direct message or put it in the group chat, and I knew it would be answered.
Take notes of new vocabulary. This is something I’ve always done and found useful! There are so many new words that you come across, and I love that we didn’t have vocabulary quizzes as they were always subjective. Rather, as I learned a new word that I know I would use or need later, I jotted it down and then would try to use those words in new sentences as we practiced during class as well as review after class.
Have a conjugation cheat sheet! There’s so much to remember with preterite imperfecto, subjunctivo, past perfect, etc and they get jumbled up. I have little cheat sheets with the general ways to conjugate them for ar/er/ir and then some irregulars. I find referencing them in the beginning, and being able to see how they differ, makes a huge difference to keep the differences between them separated.