If you don’t have the time or inclination to read this lengthy review, then all you need to know is that it’s time to book your ticket. That said, make yourself a cup of tea and read on.
I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish and never really had the opportunity to do so in school, so I decided that spending four months traveling through Central America would be the ticket. However, being a solo female traveler with no prior knowledge of the Spanish language, I knew I wanted to do an immersion program before I began my travels so that I would be comfortable speaking with locals and getting around, as well as establish some sort of base in the event that I ran into any trouble. After doing some research into Spanish schools in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, I decided on Tico Lingo.
Getting in touch with Chris was a breeze, and he was very timely in providing me with all the information I needed on all aspects of Tico Lingo’s immersion programs. It was especially beneficial to be able to meet Chris and Freddy (el mejor profesor de español) over Skype before I arrived in Costa Rica so that I could get a feel for the school as well as what my Spanish lessons might be like. One of Tico Lingo’s strongest points is definitely communication, which has been consistent before, during and even after my time with them.
As for the program itself, like all of Tico Lingo’s alumni, I cannot recommend it highly enough! I was completely blown away by my incredibly sweet homestay family, the intense yet always fun Spanish lessons, and the calm and cheerful vibe of the school which was embodied by the people as well as the layout and design of the school itself. Even the location could not be more perfect- Heredia is off the tourist track which lends it a very liveable feel and yet there is so much to do and see (and eat) that it will never fail to delight. Also being reasonably close to the pacific coast, it’s easy to catch a bus to some of Costa Rica’s natural beauty if you are ever in need of some respite from the city on weekends.
While twenty hours a week seems like a lot of time to spend in the classroom, Freddy does a stand up job of engaging his students and manages to keep the classes entertaining by constantly switching things up, and ever with a healthy dose of comic relief. The material that you’re given to work on covers all the basic concepts and acts as a springboard to work off of, while class time is spent practicing those concepts through conversation and writing. Freddy really encourages free flowing conversation to practice the concepts as you learn them and has a good sense for what areas each of his students need to work on, and will always tailor the lesson plan to address those areas. The best part is the freedom to be able to take the classes on the road and have a Spanish class on a volcano (believe it) or while eating some of the best food of you’ve ever tasted at some tiny nondescript soda on the street corner. Because the focus is on the individual and not on following a regimented, you will never feel out of step with the material and will really be able to solidify what you’re learning. At least for my part this can explain why after 12 years of French in school I know next to nothing while after just one month with Freddy in Tico Lingo I’m able to travel through Central America with confidence in my ability to order a beer (among other things).
The generosity and patience of my tica familia as I practiced my Spanish was endless and I find myself just a little bit homesick for my tica mamá’s delicious cooking and warm company which always revived me after a long day of blundering through Spanish. One of my favourite memories is still my first day, when after literally dropping my bags in my room my tica mamá and I went grocery shopping to prepare for a big lunch later with my whole tica familia- brothers, aunts, uncles, grandmother, the works. It was slightly absurd to be in a setting that was so familiar to me back home in Canada, but with the exception that I was thousands of kilometers away and neck deep in a language I then knew nothing about. This definitely served as the biggest motivator for me to continually work at my Spanish- to be able to speak with not just my tica familia, but all the friendly ticos I met during my wanders.
Tico Lingo ticks all the boxes in terms of the homestay families they work with, the approach to teaching and the activities they provide at the school, as well as the location itself. They take a genuine interest in all of their students and the result is a really warm community that you will have no trouble integrating into. If you can, try to do at least a month because it will go by fast and there is a lot do in and around Heredia. During the week, your time will most likely be spent scouring town for the best place to eat at (hack: there are many), joining in on either yoga, dancing or cooking classes at the school, practicing your Spanish with locals who are studying English in conversation classes Wednesday afternoons, and most importantly going to mejenga (weekly soccer match with locals) and afterwards to Albino’s for a couple cervezas and some delicious chifrijo Thursday evenings. You will also want to spend as much time as possible with your homestay family to really learn about Costa Rican culture and bond with them. Your weekends are free and you can take advantage of the extra time to see some of Costa Rica’s natural beauty in Monteverde or Manuel Antonio, or if you are totally burnt out from your busy week, then just head to Jacó and lay on the beach. But basically no matter what you do, you will have an incredible time and it will go by too fast!
Gracias a todos en Tico Lingo por una experiencia incredíble! ¡Pura Vida!