Learning Spanish in La Paz at El Nopal Spanish Language School

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By Alje Kamminga

Marta with a few of her studentsExcelente.

It’s not the first word you learn when you enrol at El Nopal Language Academy. But it’s almost certainly the first word you’ll use after taking a few classes.

That’s because the husband and wife team of Marta Hoyo and Juan Du Pond emphasize excellence in everything they do — and have since they opened their language school a little over a year ago. Little wonder El Nopal is now widely regarded as the leading Spanish language school in La Paz.

Juan, the school’s director, says El Nopal succeeds because students are encouraged to live the culture and experience the exotic nature of La Paz while learning Spanish. “We provide a vacation atmosphere at El Nopal, one that mixes excitement and adventure with serious study. But while we strive to make it fun, we never lose sight of the fact that our students are here to learn the Spanish language. We just believe that the most effective way to do that is make sure our classes are fun as well as practical.

Apparently, their students agree. And there are lots of them. Since the school opened its doors to three eager students in 2013, total enrolment is now approaching 100.

All have one thing in common: their pleasure at finding El Nopal. As Texas retiree and beginner student Eileen Blanchard puts it, “I can’t imagine a better spot to learn a new language. Our teacher is simply fabulous.” Sally Kellerman of California also praises El Nopal. “Our daughters loved it and so did we. I am recommending El Nopal to everyone I speak with.”

While El Nopal’s emphasis on a complete learning adventure sets it apart it from other area schools, it’s a winning combination of experience and knowledge that has made the language academy the first choice for those determined to master español. Marta, for example, has been teaching for nine years, including several in Germany. The school’s latest addition, Eva Sagario, has been teaching for 15 years, many of those abroad.

“That type of experience allows us to fully meet the needs of all of our students, whether they’re in La Paz on vacation, here for the winter or retired and living here full-time,” says Marta. “We have the ability to put together classes tailored to the unique requirements of every student.”

It’s only fitting that International experience is the foundation of El Nopal since Juan and Marta came up with the idea to open a language school when she was teaching in Germany. “We just thought, ‘how can we best use this international experience’  when we return to Mexico,” Marta recalls.

Initially, the young couple entertained the thought of starting a school in Querétaro, Marta’s hometown. But fate — in the form of an attractive job offer to Juan — intervened. An architect by trade, Juan was asked to work on the Liverpool store project in La Paz. “The contract was supposed to be for only three months or so but it stretched to seven,” says Juan. “That was just long enough for us to realize the ideal place for us and for a language school was in La Paz.”

Fate wasn’t through yet, however. Close family friends owned a large house in La Paz. Their children were grown up and there was plenty of empty space. More than enough, it turned out, to start a language school.

In addition to providing a location for the school, the homeowners, Angelita and Carlos, now play a key role in El Nopal’s day to day operations. Along with charismatic host Alejandra Rojano, Angelita is the star attraction at El Nopal’s popular monthly cooking classes, and the couple routinely provide a home for visiting students and their families.

Juan acknowledges that he’s pleasantly surprised by El Nopal’s success. “We knew we had a winning formula. And we knew we had the right people. But it’s still gratifying to see all of the pieces fall into place.”

As for the future, Juan says El Nopal is focused on building a strong team to manage its continued growth. “We won’t jeopardize those things that got us to where are today — a warm welcome, a sense of humor and a commitment to quality teaching — but we hope to make our programs and facilities even more welcoming in the years to come.”

And that, as they say at El Nopal, is excelente.



612 188 0577

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