Ahh… Cuba. One of the absolute best, and absolute worst places to learn Spanish.
Why it’s the best.
Almost nobody in Cuba speaks a word of English. Any why would they? It’s an island that has been living in isolation for over 50 years since America imposed the economic blockade. But this is what makes it a great place to learn Spanish. You are forced to speak Spanish, so you will learn at a rapid rate as you are constantly practising. And most of the people that travel here already speak Spanish, so can help you out if you are struggling with putting your Spanish classes into practice. It’s also the home of Salsa, and there are so many Salsa clubs around for you to choose from. You can take lessons during the day and test out your skills at night. The locals will be more than happy to take you to the best clubs in town and dance with you all night, provided of course, you pay their entry free and keep the drinks coming. It’s also like a living breathing history lesson. While you’re learning Spanish and (hopefully) Salsa, you also get a feeling of what it was like to live fifty years ago, an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the world. It also happens to be a tropical island in the Caribbean. Why wouldn’t you want to study Spanish here!
Why it’s the worst.
The same thing that makes it great also makes learning in Cuba extremely hard. I came to Cuba to study Spanish after spending three weeks studying in Guatemala, and still found it hard at the beginning. The people spoke extremely fast and used a lot of slang and my basic Spanish struggled to keep up. But by the end of my three week stay, my Spanish had improved dramatically, to a level I don’t think I would have reached had I stayed in Guatemala where I could get away with speaking English. The other down side to learning Spanish here is the Cuban Accent, and their slang and way of communicating with each other. Even other Spanish speakers, and I’m talking people whose first language is Spanish, struggle to understand the Cubans. Their accent is extremely strong, and they shorten a lot of words to the point that it’s almost unrecognisable unless you are used to it, but while everyone I met cursed the Cubans for this, I just couldn’t. Being Australian, I come from a country that is basically the Cuba of the English speaking world. We shorten everything. And I mean everything, and have our own names for things that the rest of the world doesn’t understand. If I slip back into “Australian” my friends look at me like I’m speaking Chinese, so I really can’t judge the Cubans for making Spanish their own.
Something to Note.
If you do want to study Spanish in Cuba, you will find it hard to get anything organised before you actually get there. Internet is a rare commodity in Cuba which means finding information about where to study online is near impossible. It’s also illegal to learn Spanish in Cuba on a tourist visa, so people don’t like to advertise what they are doing, and one of the first things that your teacher will tell you is that they are “your friend, not teacher, only friend” There are however, a few websites which allow you to pre-book, but the fee’s they charge are ten times what you should be paying, so avoid these and just wait until you get there and speak to the owner of the house you’re staying in. One quick phone call and they can set you up with anything you need, be it Spanish lessons, Salsa lessons or a house in another town.
For more information check out my article on Cuba here!