How to Choose a Spanish School

How to Choose a Spanish School in Spain

How to Choose a Spanish School in Spain

You Can Learn Spanish Almost Anywhere in Spain – There are Spanish Schools Everywhere!

If you want to learn Spanish in Spain and you’re thinking of learning Spanish at a Spanish school – you’re in luck! There are Spanish schools throughout Spain. You can learn Spanish in a large city, like Barcelona or Madrid, you can learn Spanish in smaller, more “typically” Spanish cities like Granada or Salamanca, or you can learn Spanish in places like Alicante or Malaga, two very famous and fun beach towns.

Choose Where You Want to Learn Spanish in Spain

First you choose where to learn Spanish in Spain. You might opt for a cultural center, like Barcelona or Madrid, both known for their museums, night life, art scenes, and cool vibes. Or you might choose smaller cities to get a feel for the “real” Spain – places that have a more traditional feel to them and let you experience Spanish culture up close.

One of the best bits of advice we can give is this: go learn Spanish in a place that really interests you. If Alicante interests you because you want to be near the beach, then learn Spanish there! If Andalucia has captured your interest, then go to Seville or Granada. Trust your instincts and go to the place that attracts you. You’re guaranteed to learn Spanish and have a great experience abroad!

Should you Learn Spanish in a Small Spanish School or a Large Spanish School?

Scattered throughout Spain you will find more than 300 Spanish schools you can choose from. Once you’ve decided where in Spain you want to learn Spanish, you’ll be looking at as few as 5 Spanish schools in smaller cities, while larger cities may have between 10 to 15 Spanish schools to choose from.

Some of the Spanish schools are large, corporate type entities, while others are smaller, more family like operations. The large Spanish schools will tell you it’s better to learn Spanish at a large school. And the smaller Spanish schools will tell you it’s better to learn Spanish at a small school?

So where is it better to learn Spanish? At a small or large Spanish school?

The answer depends on you! You know, for example, what kind of environment you want to be in, how much personal attention you want, etc.

Have a look at some of the advantages of small Spanish schools and large ones.

Advantages of Small Spanish Schools

  • smaller classes
  • more personal attention from teachers
  • closer-knit feel among students and teachers (like your new family abroad!)
  • less expensive – small schools have less overhead, so you save money
  • affordability factor makes long-term learning in Spain much easier to pay for

Advantages of Large Spanish Schools

  • larger classes – good if you want to meet a lot of people
  • larger classes let you “blend in” – good if you don’t want to be called on too often!
  • more courses – for advanced level Spanish, larger schools may have more courses
  • some larger Spanish schools offer student residences as a housing option (seasonal)

So, if you like the idea of more personal attention to help you learn Spanish quickly, or to be sure you will get the extra help you need with some aspect of Spanish that might take a little more time to learn, and if you like the idea of a closer-knit group of friends and a family environment, you might want to learn Spanish at a smaller Spanish school.

Think also affordability. Spanish classes at a smaller Spanish school generally cost less than at larger schools. And it’s not just the Spanish courses that are less expensive. Quite often, smaller Spanish schools charge less for (the same) housing as larger schools. So at a smaller Spanish school you will spend less for your Spanish classes and less for housing, and the overall cost of your Spanish program can cost significantly less than at a larger school.

Because larger schools deal with more students, it costs them more time and money to arrange housing. The more students large schools have, the more apartments and home stays the need to find – but the affordable ones go quicker and the more expensive ones are less. So prices at larger schools go up for everyone.

On the other hand, if you want to be around a lot of students (think 100, 150, or more at any given time) because your a social butterfly, a larger Spanish school might be better for you. At both small and large Spanish schools you will meet people from all over the world in your Spanish classes. But at a larger school you are going to have the chance to meet more of them.

Also, in theory at least, larger schools have more students and are more likely to have upper-intermediate and advanced Spanish level students. This means that if you yourself are an advanced student of Spanish, you are more likely to find a wider array of advanced level Spanish courses. Be sure to check in advance, however. Sometimes if there are not enough students interested in a particular class, the class will not be offered (or be cancelled if it was offered).

Ok, at this point you have decided to learn Spanish at either a small Spanish school or a large one. But you still have a few options, so how do you narrow down the candidate schools?

Expensive Spanish School or “Cheap” Spanish School?

Choose a Spanish school that fits your budget, and your circumstances. The reality is that there are excellent Spanish schools throughout Spain. Some schools, particularly the larger, chain schools are more expensive than others (tuition is higher and they charge you more for housing).

Going to an Expensive Spanish School Doesn’t Mean You’re Going to Learn More Spanish

There are many qualified Spanish teachers in Spain. Spanish universities churn out new, qualified Spanish teachers every year. These are teachers who have specialized specifically in the teaching of Spanish to foreigners. When they graduate, they look for jobs just like everyone else. Some will go on to teach in large Spanish schools and some will go on to teach in small, or medium sized Spanish schools.

All are equally qualified. More expensive Spanish schools do not offer “better” Spanish teachers or better Spanish programs than less expensive Spanish schools.

Going to a “Cheap” Spanish School Doesn’t Mean You’re Going to Learn Less Spanish

Smaller Spanish schools have less expenses and less overhead than larger Spanish schools. Be confident that you can learn Spanish as well as in a larger, more expensive Spanish school. (You actually might learn more in a smaller, less expensive school because the class sizes are smaller, and that equals more personal attention.)

If a Spanish school has less overhead and less expenses, they can pass the savings on to you charge less for their Spanish courses.

The quality of their Spanish courses has always matched the quality of Spanish courses at larger schools.

What do you Get For Your Money at An Expensive Spanish School?

Usually a fancier looking, larger school. Some of them are quite nice! The higher costs for tuition and housing that the larger, more expensive Spanish schools charge means they have big cash flows (i.e., they’re rakin’ in the dough!) Some of the schools use their profits to buy, create, and maintain some nice looking digs. We have seen private Spanish schools buy unique buildings and even old schools with courtyards, renovate them, and decorate them quite nicely! So sometimes, though not always, you might find yourself in a cool environment when you’re indoors.

Expensive Spanish Schools are Easier to Find

The larger, more expensive Spanish schools operate more like businesses. They tend to charge more money for their Spanish courses. Their increased revenue flow allows them to spend more money on advertising, websites, and public relations. Consequently, you are more likely to see their adds when you visit education web sites and even when you do searches for Spanish schools in Spain (they invest a lot of $$ in the rankings of their websites).

Choose a School that Meets Your Budget and Goals

When I went to Spain to learn Spanish, I wanted to learn as much Spanish as I could – and I wanted to live and study in Spain as long as I could. My goal was 10 months. In this instance, I chose an inexpensive, reputable Spanish school. The program only cost me $1200 for the ten months, plus about $200 a month for housing in a shared student apartment. So, for tuition and housing for TEN months I paid $3,200. Had I gone to one of the more expensive Spanish schools, I would have had to pay closer to $10,000. Because my goal was to stay a long as possible, I chose a less expensive school that would enable me to stay for ten months for that amount of money, instead of just 2 or 3 months (had I gone to an expensive school).

Student Reviews of Spanish Schools

Get the Opinions of Students Who Have Already Learned Spanish There

So you want to learn Spanish. You’ve decided on a place in Spain to learn Spanish and you’ve decided either on a small Spanish school or a large one. Now you’re looking at the websites for a few Spanish schools that interest you – but you still can’t decide!

How do I know if the teacher are good? How do I know if I will like the teachers? Or the area? Or the housing?

The next step is to check out a few websites where students who have learned Spanish at the schools  you’re looking at can leave their reviews. Be sure to read through the reviews to get a feel for what the students are saying as a group. There are always a few individuals who become vocal and post negative reviews if they don’t like something. But their negative reviews may or may not be valid.

If, however, you go through as many reviews as possible, and get a feel for the overall rating that former students have given a school as a group, you are more likely to find the answers to your questions. And once your questions are answered you can be more confident that you are choosing the right Spanish school for you.

If most of the reviews are positive for a school, then great! If more of the reviews are negative, you might not want to learn Spanish at that particular school. Either way, you can confidently focus on a particular Spanish school or exclude one from the schools you are considering.

[Hint: When using review sites, be careful of review sites is primary business is student recruitment, i.e., chaneling their site users to schools or programs that are paying big $$ to get  you to go to their school or program.] 

Choose a Spanish School over a Language School

The best Spanish language schools in Spain are, well, Spanish schools! So learn Spanish in a Spanish school! Where else, you might ask!?

In Spain there are many schools where you can learn Spanish. There are language schools, which might teach English, French, German, other language, and Spanish. Then there are the Spanish schools for foreigners. These are the Spanish schools that are dedicated exclusively to teaching Spanish to foreigners. And by foreigners, we mean foreign students, professionals, adults that go to Spain specifically to learn Spanish, as opposed to others who might be living in Spain and need to learn a bit of Spanish.

Dedicated Spanish schools for foreigners offer Spanish classes for foreigners. That’s their specialty and they don’t really offer anything else. And that’s why you want to learn Spanish with them.

Spanish courses for foreigners in Spain are almost universally offered in “intensive” formats – you learn Spanish 5 days a week and have a minimum of 3 classes per day (usually 4 per day). Compare that to a local language school that offers two or three Spanish classes and you’ll see that there is no comparison (15 or 20 Spanish classes per week vs. 2 or 3!).

The trick here is simple. Just look at the schools’ websites. If Spanish courses are the only thing on the menu, that’s where you want to learn Spanish! If other language are offered, and if the Spanish school offers only a few Spanish classes per week, then you’re barking up the wrong tree!

Extra Curricular Activities at the Spanish School – Nice, But Not a Deciding Factor

Extra-curricular activities can enhance your experience in Spain. While you will learn Spanish in your Spanish classes, extra-curricular activities can help you to understand Spanish culture, history, and traditions. They are small experiences that can add a nice touch to your experience abroad.

Most Spanish schools in Spain offer some type of extra-curricular activities for their students. They often include both free and paid activities. Free activities include city tours, school parties, and other cultural visits and activities. Paid activities include school dinners or parties at restaurants, excursions to other cities, or excursions to other nearby towns or places of historical or cultural interest for which students have to pay for transportation, entrance fees, food, etc.

Part of the fun of extra-curricular activities is being with your classmates and friends and you explore your host culture. In the case of guided tours, you don’t just see, but gain the knowledge passed on to you by your guide. And we have to admit – that can be very nice if you are really interested in Spanish culture. You could very well learn some interesting things that you might not have otherwise learned.

By and large, however, there are few schools that offer extra-curricular activities that are more interesting than those offered by other Spanish schools. The only exceptions that come to mind are:

  • Spanish schools that offer sports activities, such as sailing, skiing, soccer, or other sports
  • Spanish schools situated in cities with wide variety of cultural and/or historic offerings not found elsewhere

Unless you have very specific extra-curricular activities in mind, it shouldn’t be a deciding factor in which Spanish school you choose to learn Spanish.

When you’re in Spain, the world becomes your classroom and much of what you do with you friends and classmates in your free time will be similar to what you might do in an extra-curricular activity organized by your Spanish school.

Spanish School Accreditation

Accreditation is a double-edged sword. Many of the dedicated Spanish schools for foreigners have chosen to be accredited or to join organizations that promote Spanish language schools.

Accreditation Doesn’t Mean that a Spanish School is Stellar – But You Can Start There

Accreditation does not mean that the school is the best Spanish school on planet earth … or in Spain. Accreditation means that a school meets the minimum requirements of a particular organization. If you are absolutely confused about which Spanish school to attend, you can defer to only the accredited Spanish schools.

One of the best known Spanish school accreditations is that of the Cervantes Institute. Some of the requirements for the Cervantes Institute Accreditation are:

  • The Spanish school must deliver face-to-face Spanish lessons
  • Be located in cities where the Cervantes Institute has no centre of its own (!!)
  • Meet minimum requirements in terms of academic activity, teaching quality, facilities.
    • Spanish teachers must have at least 2 years experience
    • Spanish School must offer at least 3 levels of Spanish classes
    • Spanish School must have an academic coordinator
    • Spanish teachers must have university degree, specialized in teaching Spanish
    • Spanish School must keep records showing student attendance, content, materials used
    • School must be at least 150 square meters large
    • School must have 3 audio and three DVD players (people still buy DVD players?? Really??)
    • School must have a website showing courses, prices, registration fee, conditions
    • Spanish school must have a data management system

There are many other requirements that deal with administrative and legal, and facilities requirements – for example, there has to be a bathroom, a break area, and an admin with knowledge of languages.

So you certainly base your decision to learn Spanish at a school that has a Cervantes or other accreditation but you should be careful not to exclude some great Spanish schools that have decided not to be accredited, especially if they meet all the accreditation criteria anyway!  If you do, you might be overlooking some really great options to learn Spanish!

Keep in mind that accreditation and belonging to Spanish school organizations costs money. Spanish schools have to pay money for the accreditation / membership – and that money adds up, year after year, especially when Spanish schools are paying the accreditation fees of 4 or 5 different organizations.  Consequently, some Spanish schools choose to forgo accreditation and just put their hearts teaching Spanish.

[Case in point: there are quite a few great Spanish schools in Spain that are owned and operated by just a few teachers. After many years of teaching Spanish to foreigners, some teachers decided to join together and open up their own Spanish school. They bring their many years of Spanish teaching experience and their love of teaching with them. However, if their schools is less than 150 square meters, the school would not be eligible for accreditation. As a smaller school, the teachers / owners may not look favorably at the additional, recurrent expense involved with accreditation / membership. Nonetheless, they are experienced Spanish teachers and they love to teach so much that they opened their own Spanish school. You can be sure that they are putting their hearts into making sure that you learn Spanish!!]

Spanish Schools That Are Not Accredited … Can Still Be Oh So Good

If you want to learn Spanish at a Spanish school that you really like for some reason, but it is not accredited, what should you do?

Based on our experiences learning Spanish in Spain here is what we would do.

  1. Look at the school website
  2. Make sure the Spanish school offers intensive Spanish courses (15/20 classes per week)
  3. Make sure the Spanish school offers housing (student apts. and/or homestays)
  4. Check to see that the school is not a language school that offers all sorts of different languages – you want a dedicated Spanish school
  5. Look up reviews for the school (check out a few different review sites) – if anything makes the school a bad choice, you’ll come across it
  6. If you have any questions, contact the Spanish school and ask. You can also try to contact former students of the school.

If no red flags pop up and you are satisfied with the information you came up with, take the leap, go to Spain and learn Spanish at that school!

A Quick Recap For Choosing a Spanish School in Spain

  1. Choose the city or town where you want to learn Spanish
  2. Decide on a small school or a large school
  3. Choose a Spanish school that fits your budget – you will learn as much Spanish at a “cheap” Spanish school as you will at an expensive one.
  4. Investigate the Spanish school you’re interested in – view the website.
  5. Make sure the Spanish school is dedicated to teaching Spanish
  6. Make sure that the school will arrange housing for you (student apt or homestay)
  7. Check student reviews of the school on different review sites
  8. Make sure that the school is offering the course / course level when you plan to be there
  9. Last step, enroll! (Remember to check for flights first!)

Now all you need to do is go, learn Spanish, and have the time of your life! And in Spain, that’s pretty darn easy to do!