What is immersion language study?
It is learning a foreign language the same way we learned English (or whatever our native language is): by living it. In a typical language immersion school, the student doesn't study only in the formal sense he or she lives the language. Classes are taught entirely in Spanish, speaking in another language at any time is discouraged, and the student lives in a Spanish-speaking environment. Nearly all Spanish immersion schools offer the option (and in some it's not an option) of living with a Spanish-speaking family. That means students hear the language as it is used in real life.
Why should I consider going to an immersion language school?
Because you want to learn the language. Because it's fun. Because you can make new friends. Because you can gain an understanding of a different culture. Any or all of the above.
Where should I go?
Most if not all Spanish-speaking countries have immersion schools, and you can learn Spanish at any of them. (Some immersion programs also are located in the United States and some other non-Spanish-speaking countries.) Beyond that it's a matter of cost, culture and educational goals. Those wishing to study as cheaply as possible frequently pick Guatemala. Spain is the obvious choice for those who seek European ambiance, although some of Mexico's colonial cities as well as some places in Argentina may have you thinking you're in Europe. Costa Rica and Ecuador are natural choices for those who wish to spend the off hours enjoying nature. Those wanting to get off the beaten track can find schools in El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia.
You aren't going to spending all your time studying, so you may want to choose a school based on nearby attractions. Whether you're looking for beaches or mountains, city bustle or indigenous culture, chances are there is a school located in a place you will enjoy.
Not all schools have programs for which you can earn college credit, so keep that in mind when making a selection if credit is important to you. Also, some schools might be better equipped to help you meet specific goals, such as developing a vocabulary for international business.
When should I go?
The general answer is, whatever works best for your schedule. Except for those that follow a university academic calendar, nearly all immersion schools are open 52 weeks per year, although some close or operate on a limited schedule around Christmas and the week before Easter. Nearly all are closed on major religious holidays as well as national holidays of the host country. Most schools tend to be busiest during the Northern Hemisphere's summer, so you may need to reserve your place earlier if you're planning on attending then. Some schools may have limited extracurricular activities during the off-season, so check ahead if that's important to you.
Who can go?
Most schools will accept anyone who is willing to learn, although you should check ahead to see if the school is equipped to handle children, persons with disabilities or persons with special dietary needs. Few schools are able to supervise unaccompanied minors.
A few schools that grant college credit may require students to be enrolled in a formal course of study. Generally, students of all skill levels can be accommodated. If you don't speak the language well enough to find the school once you arrive in the country, or if you don't want the hassles of finding a school in an unfamiliar city, most schools can arrange to pick you up at an airport or bus or train station.
How do I pick a school?
Probably the best way to get started is to browse through the Language Schools page, which includes links to many popular schools. Another alternative is to look at the offerings of a company or organization that acts as an agent of several schools. Among those with informative Internet sites are Language Link, Spanish Abroad, EF International language Schools, the Institute for Spanish Language Studies.
My favorite such site is that of Amerispan Unlimited, a Philadelphia educational travel company. This is a good site to check out even if you aren't planning on using the company's services. There's a lot of information about trip preparation, and enough information is given to make comparisons about costs and programs available in different countries. One thing I like about this site is that it gives both advantages and disadvantages of selections one might make.