The Ups and Downs of a “Spanish For Beginners” Course

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learning a language

Classroom learning: the best way to get to grips with a language?

Emily Capderville threw herself into an intensive Spanish language course in Granada, Spain – but was it worth it? We asked her to give an honest answer on whether language courses are the best bet for complete beginners…

Like most backpackers, I love to meet new people over beers and street food, haggle in foreign markets and try my best to chat to locals in a mixture of body language and grunts.

But on my last trip through western Europe, after three or four months of the same routine – no routine, that is – I started to unravel a bit. I was moving to Granada, Spain and determined to settle down and get under the skin of it.

The Problem

But I had no friends, no contacts and no Spanish. Even though Granada is filled with international students who all speak English, talking Spanish appealed to me for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to be able to sit in a local bar and talk to the bartender (or at least understand him)
  • I thought it would be a fun way to meet other people
  • I was beginning to crave a routine, a reason to wake up in the morning and go see the world

The answer, it seemed to me, was a language course.

Sure enough, the language institute at the University of Granada provided those things: enough Spanish to understand every third word that bartenders say, a need to wake up by 8:30 and a few acquaintances. But it also made me cross-eyed on a regular basis.

The Ups and Downs of a Language Course

Despite what the experts advise, I refuse to believe that languages should be taught for four hours per day for any more than four or five days in a 30-day period. Side effects from that type of instruction include bad migraines and nightmares in nonsensical Spanish.

Much better to go out there are practice with real people, in real situations.

My Spanish, which was previously non-existent, improved enormously despite the migraines and nightmares, and the staff at my hostel indulged me daily by letting me assault them with my skills. I doubt that I would have developed a proficiency which would allow me to carry on a conversation had I not taken the course and practiced chatting in my down-time.

So Did it Work?

My favourite skill was being able to read the protest signs for one of the seven or eight marches that took place while I was in Granada for the month. I also made decent friends who agreed to accompany me on a hike to a waterfall close to Granada – a feat better performed in a group given the extreme heat in southern Spain.

Overall, though, a traveller can end up spending a lot of money on a language class. Try as we might, the one thing we can’t control is who ends up teaching us. And, if you have a low tolerance for the gross, it may be a poor investment. One of my two teachers consistently used references to bedtime behavior in an effort to hold our attention span for the full four hours. Like I said, the language experts are wrong.
Buena suerte!

Do you agree with Emily about intensive language courses? Have you got any language-learning tips to share?

If you enjoyed this post, check out this one about learning Spanish.


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