Toq rat nub í in ajiximuleu, rat ab´i maya chab´al.
if you say I am Guatemalan, you should also speak a Mayan language. Anyone who is more deeply interested in Guatemala and already sees himself in the heart as half Guatemalan, should think about learning a Mayan language.
Is it posible?
But of course! Here is my experience on this topic.
Since my first trip to Guatemala, I have been interested in learning Kaqchikel, as this is the most important Mayan language around Antigua, Chimaltenango to Lake Atitlan and I have several friends and acquaintances who speak Kaqchikel. Which options do you have?
First option – language schools for tourists
In Antigua, there were several language schools, which also offered lessons in the most important Mayan languages (Quiche, Kaqchikel, Quechi and Mam). There is currently one big school offering this. About 20 years ago, I had 2 weeks of lessons at this school. Conclusion??
- Advantage: If you are in Antigua anyway, a local school may be comfortable
- Disadvantage: Lessons are relatively expensive (currently about $ 200 per 20 hours / week). In addition, my teacher had no structure in her lessons, her native language was spanish and she did not know all words in Kaqchiquel (several times had to ask her grandma). Of course teachers may be differently qualified, but most Kaqchikeles in the Antigua region do no longer speak a “pure” Maya.
Second option: a language partnership
I met a young man from Tecpan who wanted to learn English. So I sat down once a week with Natanael and tried to teach him English for one hour and then I got a one hour Kaqchikel lessons. Besides: His pronunciation was different, full of clicking sounds produced in the throat and hard to imitate.
- Advantage: It is free and you get to know a lot of useful common words.
- Disadvantage: Most speakers of the Mayan languages, have no idea of grammar and you learn only a local dialect. The Mayan languages in Guatemala each have many variants.
Third option: A private teacher
Search with the help of friends and acquaintances for a teacher, who teaches the language. For years, bilingual education has been propagated (although not effectively). In the departments where Mayan languages are spoken, schools have to offer lessons in this languages at least 2-3 hours per week. Therefore, there are now many teachers, who at least speak the language and know the basics of grammar. I have been tought Kaqchikel by a relative (from San Andres Itzapa) for several months. He is teacher at elementary school and a dedicated explainer. The lessons were much better, than at the language school in Antigua.
- Advantage: Inexpensive! I agreed on 20 Quetzales per hour, which is 3 times cheaper than at a school in Antigua. You can individually agree on your preferences and learn what you like and advance more quickly!
- Disadvantage: The only downside again is, that you probably learn a local dialect variant (in my case the Kaqchikel from Itzapa).
Fourth option: A Maya Institution
The best method I have found so far. The “Alcaldias Mayas” (Mayan Mayors offices which are NOT the offices of the real mayors, but promoted by mayan movement associations), in many places offer instruction in Mayan languages. Among the younger generation of Mayans / Indians, many do no longer speak their language or only inadequately. To prevent the extinction of the Mayan languages, one tries to counteract with open courses.
For some courses, foreigners and even Ladinos (meztices) are not welcome. Only students from Mayan families are accepted. But in other courses, teachers enjoy each participant and are proud to teach their language to Americans or Europeans. Do not expect luxury! The school rooms are often very simple, small, crowded and you will sit on a hard chair.
The alcaldia maya en Chimaltenango
- Advantage: Prevalence! I paid 50Quetzales ($ 5) for 20 hours of lessons per month. The teachers (name of my teacher was Abel Sical) have years of experience teaching the languages, are native speakers and know all the details of the grammar. Since you learn in a group of 10-20 other students (children and elder persons), you learn from the mistakes and expressions of others. The teacher talks about the different dialects, as your fellow students, come from different places.
- Disadvantage: Bloody beginners, learn with advanced students and sometimes the lessons will be a bit chaotic. As a compensation, however, the teacher has to repeat details again and again so that you can memorize everything better. In addition, the class laughs a lot and it is a relaxed atmosphere!
If you want to learn Kaqchikel and live in the area of Chimaltenango, the Alcaldia Maya in the 5th Calle is a great choice. Otherwise, I recommend: Find out, if there is an Alcaldia Maya in the town where you are live.
PS.: (In the typical tourist areas, you will be send to the language schools for tourists, or you are obliged to make an extra payment for foreigners).
Tachajij awi! (“Take good care” in Kaqchikel).
Addendum: You can also
learn Kaqchikel on the Internet (Youtube).
Although the course is intended to be for children, it makes sense. However, you have to speak Spanish to understand the program. Insert Taluwäch Kaqchikel on youtube and you can find a lot of lessons ONLINE!