Photo credit: International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
It’s so much easier to learn a language when you are immersed in an environment that gives you ample opportunity to hear native language speakers and where you must use the language for your day-to-day life. If you’re learning Spanish (or want to learn Spanish), you’ll definitely want to spend time in a Spanish-speaking country to hone and put your language skills to use. In this travel guide, we’ll share a few different opportunities to do just that, ranging from Spanish immersion programs to volunteering abroad in local communities where Spanish is the native language.
Why learn Spanish?
Nearly 575 million people in the world speak Spanish. Of these people, 475 million people are native speakers while 100 million people are second and foreign language speakers. Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and English (source).
Spanish is the official language in 20 countries around the world, including:
- Costa Rica
- And 15 other Central and South American countries
According to the World Tourism Rankings, Spain and Mexico are two of the most popular destinations in the world for tourists.
Even in countries such as the United States where Spanish is not an official language, there is a large population of Spanish language speakers. For example, nearly 50 million in the United State speak Spanish, which is an extremely helpful language to know given the large Hispanic population in the country and close proximity to Latin America.
How can you learn Spanish quickly?
There are a few ways that you can learn Spanish:
- Spanish language courses in high school or college (or through extension classes at a local university if you are not a current student)
- Online courses and apps such as Rosetta Stone and Duolingo
- Working with a Spanish language tutor
However, if you want to learn Spanish quickly and efficiently then the best approach is total immersion. There are a few common/popular options for you to become totally immersed in Spanish – studying abroad, enrolling in a Spanish language immersion program, or learning Spanish while volunteering abroad. Since studying abroad is limited to select university students or if you missed the opportunity in college, this travel guide will introduce you to Spanish immersion programs and “learn Spanish & volunteer programs” with volunteer organizations.
What are Spanish Immersion programs?
According to Maximo Nivel, which is a leading provider of volunteer, intern, study, and language abroad programs in Latin America, “Spanish immersion courses provide an authentic in-country experience that takes you beyond the classroom.” Spanish immersion programs are designed to be intensive programs that will provide you much greater exposure to Spanish than you could ever get from an online app or university course. As Spanish immersion programs often also include you staying with a host family, your study of Spanish will go beyond the books to include everyday interactions with native language speakers (which is the most natural way to learn a new language).
Spanish immersion courses are not only located in Spain, but throughout Central and South America as well. In fact, for US travelers, attending a Spanish immersion course in Central and South America will likely be cheaper due to the lower cost of living there and less expensive flights compared to traveling to Spain.
There are also lots of different types of Spanish immersion programs available depending on your level of fluency, how much time you have, and whether or not you are a current student. These program options include:
How to learn Spanish while volunteering abroad?
If you don’t want to spend the entirety of your time abroad learning Spanish, you can participate in a learn Spanish and volunteer program. In this type of program, you will start off with an orientation to learn Spanish-language basics before volunteering in the local community. There are a few different formats for learn Spanish and volunteer programs:
- Spanish lessons during initial orientation: As part of this format, you’ll get intensive language lessons as part of an orientation before putting your language skills to use during your volunteer project. As an example, GoEco offers a 1 week 20 hour orientation in Quito, Ecuador before their Wild Animal Rescue Shelter and Rainforest Monkey Sanctuary projects.
- Daily Spanish lessons: Another format is to take daily Spanish lessons for part of the day and to volunteer the other part of the day. For example, as part of Projects Abroad’s Argentina program, participants take Spanish lessons in the morning and volunteer in the afternoon.
- Spanish tutoring add-on: Alternatively, some programs such as International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) provide formal Spanish tutoring as an add-on to their volunteer projects. For example, you can elect to take private daily Spanish lessons with a tutor for just $78 per week with IVHQ’s program in Argentina.
Where can you learn Spanish and volunteer?
Most of the Spanish-speaking countries in the world offer opportunities to learn Spanish and volunteer. The most popular countries that international volunteer organizations operate in include:
- Mexico (IVHQ)
- Spain (GoEco, Spain)
- Costa Rica (Maximo Nivel, IVHQ, GoEco)
- Guatemala (Maximo Nivel, IVHQ)
- Peru (Maximo Nivel, IVHQ)
- Argentina (Projects Abroad, IVHQ)
- Ecuador, including Galapagos Islands (IVHQ, Volunteering Solutions, GoEco, Projects Abroad)
- Colombia (IVHQ)
In the section below, we will highlight specific Spanish immersion and learn Spanish and volunteer projects for you to consider!
Learn Spanish and volunteer abroad programs
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
Founded in 2007 by Dan Radcliffe, International Volunteer HQ offers over 330 affordable volunteer trips to over 50 destinations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the USA, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. IVHQ has placed more than 130,000 volunteers around the world on projects ranging from teaching and healthcare, to wildlife conservation and construction, and more. Programs last one week to 24 weeks and start at $20 USD a day.
IVHQ offers learn Spanish and volunteer abroad programs in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Peru, Guatemala, the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, and Ecuador. IVHQ highly recommends adding on private and tailored Spanish tutoring lessons taught by professional Spanish teachers to help you communicate more effectively while volunteering. The affordable cost of the lessons depends on the country and project.
Volunteer in Barcelona with IVHQ! Choose one of eight impactful programs to volunteer while immersing yourself with Spanish in a beautiful architectural, vibrant, and cultural city with lots to do. Spanish language lessons are available to all participants regardless of your current level of fluency. These programs range from one week to 12 weeks, starting at $650 a week. Programs in Barcelona include:
- Youth support, where you will volunteer in an afterschool center
- Animal care, which will have you working in a shelter for cats and dogs
- Marine conservation, which gives you the chance to complete PADI dive certifications while helping to reduce ocean pollution
- Special needs support, which assists people with disabilities and may include arts and crafts, physical therapy, and exercise
- Creative technologies, where you’ll help local NGOs develop their online presence
During your stay in Barcelona, you will have the opportunity to explore the iconic architecture, museums, go shopping, relax on the beach, or visit other beautiful surrounding cities while practicing your Spanish!
IVHQ has exciting new volunteer opportunities in the Galapagos Islands, while practicing your Spanish! These programs are great for eco volunteers with a love of conservation and protection of natural resources and habitats. Most of the volunteer experiences will be set in the small coastal town of Puerto Villamil, on the southeastern edge of Isabela Island, with its pristine white beaches. There are 6 interesting projects to choose from, with a minimum commitment of 2 weeks. Check these projects out:
- Environmental conservation, where you will work in the National park to protect and preserve the ecosystems
- Sea turtle nest monitoring to help protect and manage the nesting season
- Sustainable agriculture and gardening to support sustainable farming practices
Since 2006, GoEco has offered affordable volunteer abroad programs and internships in over 40 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. With more than 150 different programs, GoEco is a great organization to check out if you’re looking for a variety of impactful trips to choose from, from wildlife conservation to teaching English. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and more. As a volunteer, you will have 24-hour support from the GoEco team, from start to finish. Currently, GoEco is offering a special travel grant where you can stay for the 3rd week free! Check out the qualifying programs here!
GoEco offers a Spanish Immersion Week for projects based in Costa Rica and Ecuador. You will have 5 hours of Spanish lessons for 4 days, while staying with a local host family that will help you practice the language and immerse yourself in the Spanish culture.
Add on GoEco’s Spanish language Immersion Week before volunteering, and your experience will be even more meaningful and culturally immersive in this animal conservation project! One of GoEco’s top 5 volunteer abroad programs, this project duration maxes at 12 weeks at the Alajuela Rescue Center. You will help over 130 Costa Rican wildlifes such as sloths, monkeys, macaws, etc. with their routine care with the goal of releasing them back to nature. Other tasks may include gardening, facility care, community projects, etc. On the weekends, there are many tours and activities you can join to explore the surrounding popular spots like the Arenal Volcano, white beaches, and Manuel Antonio National Park. With so much to do, you will want to stay longer! Click here to get started!
Start your long volunteer trip by exploring Quito and learning Spanish for the first week. Then, head off to care for rescued wild animals. During the program, you’ll get to see some of Ecuador’s most beautiful natural areas, such as Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and National Park. Main duties include feeding the animals, general facility maintenance, assisting the vet, and educating visitors. Project fees begin at $390 for three weeks and you can stay up to 12 weeks. If this sounds like an awesome experience, get all the details here!
Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel offers many different programs in Latin America for travelers who want to volunteer, intern abroad, teach abroad, learn Spanish, and more. More than 25,000 travelers have signed up with Maximo Nivel, which offers affordable placements in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Maximo Nivel appeals to all traveler types and can be an excellent option for solo travel, to learn Spanish abroad, or even to vacation with your spouse or family.
Maximo Nivel has 20 years of experience running language schools in Latin America (including Spanish Immersion and Teaching English as a Foreign Language) so it’s no surprise that they offer ample opportunities to learn Spanish while volunteering. Furthermore, Maximo Nivel is one of the few organizations where you can earn academic credit from an accredited U.S. university for your volunteer trip or language classes.
If you’ve always wanted to become fluent in Spanish, now is your chance through Maximo Nivel’s Intensive Spanish language immersion programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru, where you can take courses customized to your learning requirements. Group classes range from 2 to 8 participants, allowing for a great balance between engagement and personalized attention. They can also tailor your lessons to specific purposes such as Medical Spanish or Spanish for Business. You also can choose to take private classes while visiting Central or South America. You can learn at your own pace and choose how intensive your instruction is – whether you would like to take a full day of classes every day, or even just one hour of tutoring while exploring the area and immersing yourself in the culture. Volunteering with Maximo Nivel is an excellent way to learn a new language while spending time abroad.
Maximo Nivel offers several different volunteer programs that can let you use your skills and knowledge – or pick up new skills (such as Spanish!) while exploring Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru. Programs include:
- Working with children
- Teaching English
- Conservation and the environment
- Animal care
- Working with indigenous communities
No matter your background or age, Maximo Nivel has wonderful opportunities to make a difference in communities in need. And if you’re traveling with a group or with your spouse or family, Maximo Nivel can arrange meaningful and engaging trips as well.
Since 1992, Projects Abroad has hosted over 132,000 participants on their volunteer, intern, and teach abroad projects. In addition to these projects, Projects Abroad also offers Spanish language courses abroad in Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and Ecuador. With such a long and established history, Projects Abroad describes itself as providing the gold standard of volunteer support and safety so that travelers may fulfill their potential, discover themselves, and create positive change in the world. Long-term, sustainable solutions are at the core of their programs, where you can be part of their ongoing efforts to meet specific goals in places where extra support is critical. Projects Abroad works directly with local community members and organizations, ensuring that their work meets real needs.
Volunteer programs run year-round, allowing volunteers and interns to choose their own start and end dates. With a hassle-free experience and dedicated in-country staff available 24/7, you don’t need experience or qualifications to sign up for most trips.
Immersive Spanish Language Courses
Projects Abroad runs four Spanish language courses in Argentina, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. These courses are a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new environment and learn Spanish from native language speakers. The Spanish language courses are available to anyone ages 16 years and up. You’ll have the option to get one-on-one tutoring or participate in group classes. You also have the option to combine your language course with a volunteer or intern activity in order to practice and hone your Spanish language skills in a real world environment.
For more information about participating in a Spanish immersion program, check out Projects Abroad’s guide to immersing yourself in Spanish.
Since 2007, Volunteering Solutions (VolSol) has hosted over 17,000 volunteers in projects across 27 countries, including popular destinations such as Nepal, India, Thailand, and South Africa. And of course, for Spanish-language speakers (and aspiring speakers), Volunteering Solutions has projects in Peru, Costa Rica, Spain, and Ecuador.
Volunteering Solutions’ volunteer projects are among the most affordably priced in the world, starting at $200 USD for one week. In addition to their 120+ volunteer projects, Volunteering Solutions also offers intern abroad opportunities, the highlight of which are their international medical internships. To learn more about Volunteering Solutions and apply to their program, visit their website here (UK readers, please visit their UK site here).
Volunteer Abroad Programs for Spanish Speakers
Volunteering Solutions offers over 20 volunteer projects for Spanish speakers in Peru, Costa Rica, Spain, and Ecuador. The projects are open to participants 17 years old and up (18 years old for Ecuador) and range from beach conservation projects to medical volunteering. Minimum trip durations start at one week for Costa Rica and Peru and start at two weeks for Spain and Ecuador. Check out this handy guide from Volunteering Solutions on their best volunteer destinations for Spanish speakers.
What better way to learn a language than to spend two years fully immersed in a new country and culture while having all of your expenses covered? If this sounds too good to be true, then read on to learn more about First Things Foundations, which offers two-year immersionships in Guatemala – this is the perfect opportunity to become a proficient Spanish speaker!
First Things Foundation (FTF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that partners with local leaders to build sustainable businesses and communities in developing countries. FTF is different from other volunteer organizations in that its field workers (international volunteers) commit two years of their lives to living in the communities they are serving; all expenses are fully covered by the program. This allows field workers to develop deep relationships with the people they are working with and to better understand the needs of the community. In fact, as part of their program, field workers spend the first eight months deeply immersing into the local community to learn the language and needs of the community.
FTF has 15 projects in 4 countries (Guatemala, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Georgia, and Mozambique). These projects are all led by locals in the communities that FTF works in. FTF’s field workers have worked on a variety of projects, including starting businesses, building schools, and providing healthcare. FTF field workers are not afraid to get their hands dirty: working on farms, sanding wood, and kneading dough are some of the ways that they integrate into the local community and become familiar with a new rhythm of life.
FTF covers all travel costs and operations expenses (food, local transport, accommodation, etc.) for its field workers. In addition, field workers receive a monthly stipend of $375. FTF also has international medical and evacuation insurance for all of its field workers.
FTF is looking for volunteers with a desire to better their souls by undertaking a serious challenge, an adventurous attitude, and a willingness to learn new languages, make fun of themselves, and be made fun of. Field workers typically have completed 4 years of college or have an equivalent amount of experience. If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding volunteer experience, the First Things Foundation volunteer program is a great option. FTF field workers have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of others and to learn and grow in ways that they never thought possible.
First Things Foundations has been hosting field workers in Guatemala since 2016. Currently, they have project sites in Momostenango (aka “Momos”) and in Chichicastenango, two towns that are located 5 to 6 hours northwest of Guatemala City. Both Momos and Chichicastenango have become increasingly popular tourist destinations for travelers to Guatemala who want to have a Mayan experience.
Past successful projects in Guatemala include:
- Finishing construction and fully equipping a community run school
- Procuring essential medications for a community pharmacy
- Supporting local emergency relief during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Partnering with local entrepreneurs to start and expand their businesses
As with all FTF projects, the type of volunteer work typically falls in the realm of community development or social entrepreneurship. As a field worker, you’ll spend the first 8 months immersing in the local community to understand their needs and learning Spanish before identifying a project to work on. Learn more about this exciting, two-year paid immersionship here.
Wrapping it all up
Immersion programs are among the best ways to learn a new language since you will be interacting with native language speakers on a daily basis. With Spanish immersion programs throughout Latin America and Spain, there are ample opportunities for you to learn Spanish as a beginner or fine-tune your language skills. If you prefer to spend more time interacting with locals and less time in the classroom, then learn Spanish and volunteer programs are the perfect opportunity for you to try out your Spanish skills in the real world while making a positive difference.