Puzzled by the pluscuamperfecto? Confused by the conditional? Infuriated by the imperative? An intensive Spanish course could be the solution, as Ash Bolton found out...
After four years of living in Spain, I'll hold my hand up and say my Spanish is far from fluent.
Although it's at a comfortable conversation level (level B2 I´ll have you know!) like most Brits living in Spain, there's always room for improvement – if only to prove the national stereotype wrong that we can't learn another language!
And despite having two hours of one to one Spanish classes a week, progress has been painfully slow recently – especially with a move to Gibraltar.
This I put down to the fact I speak English at work during the day and that my social circle mostly consists of English speakers, or Spaniards who want to practise their English.
Okay, and if I'm honest, I'm a little bit lazy when it comes to studying after a day's work!
So, with all this is mind I wanted to see how much my Spanish would improve by doing an intensive language course – that is to say, four hours of group classes a day, followed by an hour of one to one tuition for a week.
Thus, it was decided. So armed with seven days of glorious freedom from the office, and a longing to explore the hitherto unfamiliar city of Madrid, I signed up for a week long course in the capital.
Arriving at the Academia Contacto school on last Monday morning (24th November), I found myself in a class with some friendly classmates, two Vietnamese and one German student to be precise.
The classes ran from 9.30am to 1.30pm, with a 20 minute break at around 11.30am, which although sounds quite difficult, actually flew by and were enjoyable.
We had two teachers, who split the four hours between them, and were for their part, friendly and knew their stuff.
What I liked most about the classes was that there was minimal writing or copying from the board, which can eat up a lot of time in the classroom.
Instead, the class focussed on different grammar points each class, with plenty of conversation encouraged by all students to cement it in your mind.
The Spanish lessons were fun, informative and kept me on my toes – and the one to one classes afterwards that ran from 1.30pm to 2.30pm allowed me to focus on any points I didn't understand or where felt like I needed more practise.
And on top of that, there was at least an hour of homework a day, but to be honest, it was quite enjoyable doing it while having a coffee in a bustling bar on the way back to the shared flat they provided me for the week.
What I noticed the most though, was that five hours a day of non-stop talking in Spanish, really brings your Spanish up a notch. I noticed that towards the end of the week I was thinking in Spanish continuously, and the new vocabulary was sinking in easier.
As for how I rated the experience, by the end of the week my Spanish was more fluid in conversation and my confidence had increased.
In addition, my knowledge of the past tenses, imperative and conditional has vastly improved. Whereas before, I would struggle to explain the differences in tenses, let alone remember their names, this was pretty much seared into my memory during the week.
What's really useful too is that on the last day of the course, both teachers sat down with me and pointed out mistakes that I kept making, which were silly little things that I didn't even know I've been doing all these years.
The school itself had a lounge with computers, newspapers, a school library where you could borrow books and films. Location wise, it was about a 20 minute walk from Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid, with plenty of hustle, bustle and local tapas bars to visit and practise your new vocabulary on the way home.
My only regret is that I didn't have enough holiday left to do two weeks at the school. But having said that, I plan to return in the New Year to do another two weeks to finally get the DELE Certificate.
My advice to anyone if you're looking to give your Spanish a push is to give it a go. The prices are reasonable, and you get to explore a new city while you're studying, meaning you're vastly improving your Spanish while enjoying a holiday somewhere new. Academia Contacto, who I studied with in Madrid, also has partner schools in: Alicante, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada and Sevilla –so you're spoilt for choice really!
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