Spanish in Barcelona and Languages Schools

by Yaska Sahara

Barcelona is an incredible city, full of life and culture. It has ample great things to see and do. It is an extremely popular tourist destination, for good reason. I know everyone says this but it really is very vibrant and unique. As someone from London, I found Barcelona wasn’t actually that big. I could do a lot in a day and it is was very easy to get around.

As is evident in this blog, I am a language lover. I try to learn as many languages as I can… It was my gap year and I had a close family member in Barcelona so I figured, ‘why not?’. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

Before I go into detail, an introduction to language schools. (You can skip this paragraph if you want to get straight onto my experience) Language schools come in different forms, some are big, others small, some are for helping professionals, some are for people who want to learn for fun. More often than not though, they are very versatile. Even relatively small language schools will offer different types of courses to try and accommodate various people. Some offer only the language of the host country, others offer many. There is a multitude of language schools, more than you think, so it is worth researching. Having said that, you can also wing it with some language schools, like I did.

I spent two months studying at Enforex. Enforex has many language schools in Spain and in other Spanish speaking countries. I was lucky because I had someone to help me in Barcelona. I was able to take my time calmly finding a school once I got there. I researched a little on the internet, then visited two and chose the slightly cheaper and closer option. I paid for one week at the school, a few days before joining, to see if I would like it.

Enforex, like many other language schools, has a clever and adaptable system of bringing in new students weekly. I arrived an hour early on my first day, at 8 am 2nd January 2018 to take a test. I was given a sheet of multiple choice questions, mainly pertaining to vocabulary and grammar. Having barely studied Spanish before, I didn’t do very well. The test was for sorting me into the right class so it was okay. Once I finished the test, a teacher came up to me to quietly have a chat while others were still doing their test, asking me questions such as ‘¿Cómo te llamas?, seeing how I responded. Due to my having heard a lot of Spanish in my childhood with the aforementioned family member and my speaking French, I was able to understand most of his questions. But I was nervous and unable to respond due to my lack of experience speaking Spanish. I was sorted into A1. A1 is the lowest level but I was sorted into part way through A1 since I already knew the 1-10, greetings etc.

My group was all new students, a girl from South Korea, some students from China, a middle-aged Swiss man, two Brazilian women and myself. Classes are often kept small to encourage conversation. We exchanged greetings, talked about our cultures a little, learnt the basics; present tense conjugation, foods etc. I was surprised to discover, when I inadvertently said a sentence in English, that even those teaching Spanish to beginners from all over the globe didn’t all speak English or any other language. This may seem like incompetence on their part but it’s not like they’re not trained and it is actually better for you to speak only in Spanish. It may seem ridiculous and be frustrating, but with good teachers, it can actually work. I still couldn’t really explain to you how, even though I’ve become proficient in three languages this way.

During my first week, I found that I was learning, truly immersing myself in the language. Something was lacking though. I found that I could be challenged further. I was familiar with many of the words I was learning and many other students around me, many having no Romance language experience at all, were slower than I was. So, I enquired about going to a higher class. The next week, I joined an A2 class.

The second week was when I really started to enjoy myself and feel that I was using my time well. The very nature of many language schools is to adapt to your needs, especially if you are studying for a short period of time, so don’t be afraid to ask. It is truly incredible how much I could communicate in Spanish the more and more I studied. And the thing is, I didn’t even study. Of course, I paid attention and participated in class, but one class over, I didn’t so much as glance at a book. I only pretended to for a photo once. 

I was doing anything but studying; discovering the city alone or with classmates, visiting tourist attractions, going for long walks, stuffing my face with great vegetarian food, shopping and sometimes just chilling at home. I learnt through the magic of immersion.

I even managed to squeeze in the one hour away Montserrat after school one day. It was great.

The beauty of studying from 9 am to 1 pm (with a 20-minute break), doing a conversation class from 1 pm to 2 pm and then speaking Spanish on the streets and in my Spanish home, was that I didn’t need to look at books outside of the classroom. Even in the classroom, they weren’t used too much. The teachers really made an effort to converse with us. This is the beauty of a language school in a country where the language is spoken. You can practice what you’ve learnt straight away. You may find that you don’t have another choice, even if you’re shy, which I often am.

I was initially shy. But the more I immersed myself and the more I practised, the more natural it became. I undoubtedly make mistakes, but I learnt to work through it, asking if I’d said something correctly, explaining something I didn’t know with words I did know. I’ll give you an example. Barcelona is full of great, diverse coffee shops. Luckily for me, someone who doesn’t like the taste of cow’s milk, it is becoming increasingly common to have soya or a non-dairy milk on offer in Spain. But I didn’t know how to say ‘soya milk’ or ‘non-dairy’ milk. I said ‘¿Teneis leche que no es de un vaca?’ Literally translated, this means: ‘Do you have milk that is not of a cow?’ I also cleverly forgot that ‘vaca’ is feminine so it would be ‘una vaca’. But despite my awkwardness and incorrect gendering, the lady instantly understood. ‘Ahh. ¿Leche sin lactosa?’ (milk without lactose?). I nodded and got myself a ‘café con leche sin lactosa’, remembering to say ‘Gracias’ as I left. It was delicious.

My A2 class had a fair number of Brazilians. This turned out to be a big factor in my enjoyment. I got a tiny insight into their friendly culture. At one point, it was a running joke that I too was Brazilian. I, in turn, taught them about my cultures, those of England and India. I had so many unexpected things like this. For instance, I was stunned to meet a Slovakian boy who knew of a BTS song I love (BTS is a massive k-pop group if you don’t know). I had never expected to meet the people I did and have the weird, funny encounters I did. But I was glad it turned out that way. I’m sure there are multiple ways it could have turned out and all of them would have been great.

One downside of a language school, and of holidays in general, is that you don’t always get to interact with native residents properly unless you are crazy outgoing. I’m not there yet and it isn’t really my natural personality. To get around this problem, I made it a point to stay with a Spanish speaker, despite having my adopted family there, the amazing Gemma with whom I usually speak in English. Not staying with her also allowed me to learn to be more autonomous but with a sense of security.

After a month of studying in A2, the teachers determined we were all of B1 level, without a test. (Some groups need to take tests, depends). The progress of my colleagues and I was impressive but also quite normal with immersion. Now, I was able to converse about things pertaining to daily life type of things but also fun and serious musings. I was able to understand some slang and even some faster speakers. I remember during my second last week, I was walking on a road near a cafe I frequented. A woman asked me for directions to the road on which the cafe was on. I knew where it was! I knew how to tell her where it was too. I was so happy I nearly jumped and squealed in front of her. Learning languages can be really tough but it is these moments that make it all worth it.

Now that I’ve finished, I can understand a considerable amount of Spanish. I try to stay in touch with the language online and plan to study again at some the point in the future. I am truly proud of myself and amazed at how simple it was to learn Spanish. A mere 3 months before my last day at Enforex, I could only claim to be conversant in three languages other than English. And after just three months, I was able to make it four. Three months!

Of course, all people learn differently. I may pick up languages quickly and you may be quick at solving maths problems, great at picking up dance routines or incredible at understanding how the economy works. And there are definitely people who pick up languages better than me and I’m a little in over my head. Regardless, even just one week studying a language through immersion can make a difference. It can make you more aware of the world you live in and help you take steps towards learning a language yourself, or to become a better traveller.

Three things about Barcelona you should know if you’re considering studying there:

  1. Barcelona is in a Catalonia, where there is a regional language called Catalan. Many signs are displayed in it, many people speak it amongst themselves. But, everyone speaks the Spanish you know of (Castellano or Castilian Spanish). To me, Catalan is a mix of French and Spanish. I was able to understand a lot of it and it didn’t bother me because I am used to confusing languages on occasion and am used to being in bilingual regions (I lived in India for five years where more than one language is very common). It bothered some of my friends though. They overlooked it because they loved the city and other aspects of their experiences but it is noteworthy. Perhaps do your research and think about it in relation to you.
  2. You are to be careful about politics, mostly best to avoid it. There is mixed sentiment on whether the region should become its own nation. You won’t be beaten up for mentioning it, but it may upset people. There are some demonstrations but they aren’t violent and don’t really hinder you if you’re aware of them.
  3. It is more expensive than even other major Spanish cities. I am not entirely sure why but I believe it is something to do with higher taxes in the region (refer to point two). However, it is a truly amazing city so could be worth it. Also, it may be cheap or expensive depending on the prices where you live. 

What to consider for studying in Spain:

Castellano (Spanish of Spain) and Español Latino (Spanish of Latin America) are different. However, they are undoubtedly mutually intelligible, the speakers of both types can communicate with each other. But, there are some differences and it is good to make sure to learn them if you wish to use and understand Spanish in many places across the globe. On top of that, some words differ even between various South American countries as well. It is not a big deal, enjoy exploring differences in languages and regions.

Now that that’s over with, I’m going to try and persuade you to try this out; To me, the language lover who spent ages online during her school years, dreaming of going to abroad to study languages, this was fantastic. I met people of all ages and backgrounds at Enforex Language school and the school had many students. I was told that there are even more in the summer months. So if that is what you want, try going in the summer.

I think that many anglophones, in particular, don’t really think about learning other languages, expecting others to know English. This isn’t always out of a sort arrogance or superiority complex (it sometimes is though). Even those of us who are well aware of the linguistic diversity of our world, we still can’t help expecting people to speak or know a little English. As long as we are self-aware, it is excusable. If you wish to act on that self-awareness, learn a new language.

As I write this, I have a grand total of zero readers. Nonetheless, I hope I’ve managed to convince the few people who read this, be they friends, family or strangers, to try out a language school.

Enforex language school – The language school I attended

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