The initial reason for The Great Europe Escape was a simple one: I wanted to take a Spanish intensive course in Spain. I had been learning Spanish for about two years, taking a 2-hour class once a week and had progressed to the end of the A2 level. I wanted to “level up”, and I thought, “What could be better than learning Spanish while in Spain?” (Answer: Nothing!)
So, I embarked on an extensive bout of internet research on Spanish language schools in Spain, and looked for advice or tips on how to choose a Spanish language school (some helpful; others not so much).
Based on my experience, here is a 3-step process to help you make a decision:
1) Decide which city you want to be based in
This, my friends, is the first question you should ask yourself and it may be the most difficult one, especially if you have not been to Spain yet. For me, my first trip to Spain happened in 2013 and so I already had quite a firm idea about where I wanted to be based.
The location of the school can have a huge impact on your experience. Schools in bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona often have a larger student body which can mean more potential friends, better facilities, more afterschool activities and a more vibrant overall experience living in a city. On the flipside, the standard of living in large cities is higher which often translates to more expensive school fees and accommodation costs. If you decide on a smaller city, often the school fees and accommodation costs are lower but the school may have less to offer in terms of resources or activities.
In an ideal situation, my advice is not to let your budgetary constraint dictate your decision. If you’re taking a course for longer than two weeks, consider the type of lifestyle you’d like to have during your stay in Spain. Do you prefer urban life with lots of entertainment options and a strong transport network that would make weekend trips convenient? Or do you want a slower pace, perhaps catch some rays at the beach or be closer to nature?
In theory, you could study Spanish in any part of Spain. But for most people, the two obvious choices are Madrid and Barcelona. Let’s break it down:
Madrid: The Spanish capital is a vibrant place to live in and there’s a wealth of activities and sights to explore in your free time. There are quite a large number of Spanish language schools and it would be easy to find something that suits you. Madrileños are said to speak in the clearest Spanish accent which is easiest for foreigners who are learning to speak the language.
Barcelona: Also a vibrant city with lots to do, and a number of Spanish language schools are available. The thing to note is that Catalan is the other official language spoken in Barcelona (though in my experience, most people are effectively bilingual).
My personal choice was Madrid, for two reasons. Firstly, I prefer Madrid over Barcelona (gasp! I know, I’m one of those people). Secondly, I wanted to be in an environment where “pure” Spanish is spoken.
After spending 4 weeks learning in Madrid, I also ended up taking a one-week intensive in Barcelona!
2) Do your research about prospective Spanish language schools
Now comes the slightly tedious part: finding out more about the schools in your chosen city. If you are studying Spanish in your home country, you should ask your current school for recommendations. They may have partnerships or links with language schools in Spain, and offer a programme or discounted tuition fees.
If not, the research is completely in your hands.
- The first order of business: tap on your social networks. Ask around and see if anyone has firsthand experience or recommendations. Talking to a social connection can be the best way to get a real-life review on a particular language school.
- Do a Google search to get a list of schools. Visit their websites: compare the fees, the information on their teaching style, class size, facilities, afterschool activities, accommodation arrangements, demographic of students etc. Compile all the relevant information so that you have a sense of what each school is offering vis-a-vis their tuition fees.
- After compiling the important information, it’s time to narrow down your choices to a Top 3. For your Top 3, dig a little deeper. Google for reviews of the schools, check out their Facebook pages (their posts and photos can tell you more about the school and its environment) and you can also e-mail them with any specific questions you have that would help you make a decision.
For me, the key factors were: small class size, a wider demographic of students (i.e. not everyone is under 21 or young students), nice-looking facilities and afterschool activities.
3) Get in touch with your chosen school(s)
Once you think you’ve decided on The One (or two or three that could be The One), get in touch with them! That’s often the best way to make a judgement about how professional their operations are and if they can answer your questions and clear any doubts you have.
It will probably take some time and some back-and-forth e-mailing or even Skype calls, but you will get to a point where you feel good about committing to one school and TA-DA! Next thing you know, you’ll be in Spain learning Spanish and having the time of your life!