Learning the lingo
Language learning seems to come easy to some and much harder to others. One thing is for sure, though, no matter what your natural ability, the harder you work at it the more fluent you'll become. Everyone is different and it's important to find what works for you, but keep motivated by keeping things fun and checking your progress regularly. Generally the best approach is to combine formal learning in a school setting with more casual interaction, from shopping in your local market to getting beyond a simple "hola" with your neighbours. Local people are always happy to hear a foreigner making an effort, so don't worry about not getting it perfect.
For most people, a course at a good language school is the quickest way to get a solid base. There are plenty of schools in Barcelona, all offering different intensity courses according to your budget and time availability. Choose from a couple of evening classes a week to two weeks of intensive one-on-ones for some serious language acquisition. Pete Crawford, a finance director who moved here from the UK four years ago, found that formal classes were the only way to get his confidence up. "I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I had a real fear of sounding like a total prat. The school helped me get over that. You won't get anywhere until you're confident enough to use all those everyday situations as talking practice."
Free and focused entirely on talking, language exchanges (intercambios or intercanvis in Catalan) are a good way to ensure some weekly conversation practice if you just don't feel up to the task with strangers. It doesn't matter how stilted your Castilian (or Catalan) is since you'll be returning your partner the favour. Ideally you'll find someone that you genuinely get on with and feel like chatting to. Native English speakers are usually in high demand so you should be able to find someone you have some affinity with. Jamie Hall, a teacher from Scotland, has been meeting with Andreu, his intercambio partner, for three years and they're now good friends. "We hit it off straight away as we actually have quite a lot in common," said Jamie. "We're both musicians and we love to travel, so there's always plenty to talk about."
If you prefer something less intense than a one-on-one, language exchange evenings offer the chance to meet lots of people and chat away with no strings attached. Some of these evenings are informal get-togethers in a bar, whereas others have organised activities and more structure to them. Generally, though, they are good-natured events, where, once again, native Spanish speakers tend to outnumber the native English speakers. Oxford House school has a monthly language exchange party called 'Happy Fridays'. See below for details of that and other language exchange events.
Everyone has their own suggestion on how to best learn Spanish or Catalan. Having a native partner or flatmate features high on the list, as does watching easy TV shows or subtitled films. Jenny Graham, who moved to Spain 11 years ago from the US found this was a good way to get her confidence up. "Every week I watched the same bad TV shows, mostly American, dubbed into Castilian. After a few weeks I realised I could understand so much more. I also joined a ceramics class, which was a good way to interact with my very basic Spanish."
So, take advantage of what's on offer. Whether you're looking for grammar and vocab or just want to chat away with some local friends, you'll find what you need out there. Mix it up a little, have some fun and make some new friends, because after all, language is all about communicating.
Language exchange events
- Oxford House language schools runs the very popular Happy Fridays. See their meetup group 'Happy Fridays' for more information.
- Philharmonic Spanish/English quiz night. Held every Monday from 8.30 til 11.30pm this pub quiz is designed to help language learners and is a great place for practising your skills. www.the-philharmonic.com.
Finding an intercambio partner
You can place an ad on the following sites for an intercambio partner. If you're studying at a school they may well be able to help you.
- www.barcelona-metropolitan.com (classifieds)
Our partner language schools
International House: IH Barcelona was founded in 1972 and has since become a highly prestigious and well-known school for its quality language courses and pioneering training programmes. More info here
University of Barcelona: The Hispanic Studies course has existed for over 60 years. The courses which teach Spanish language and culture are held throughout the year in the Estudios Hispanicos faculty. More info here
ArtsySpanish: ArtsySpanish uses a fun approach to language learning, combining Spanish with cooking, drama and other creative activities. The objective is to provide the students with communication skills and social-linguistic competence in Spanish in an expressive and real-life situation. More info here
Barcelona School of Spanish: Based in Gràcia, the Barcelona School of Spanish has over 30 years of experience. Small classes, social activities and highly qualified teachers. More info here
BCN Metropol Language School: An effective study programme right in the centre of Barcelona. It has various levels and timetables available to suit your needs. Also available are a selection of other courses. More info here
Linguaschools Located in a 19th century house with a garden in central Barcelona, teachers are all native Spanish speakers with many years of experience in teaching Spanish to speakers of a foreign language. More info here
Links & Lynx Language School: Centrally-located in the Eixample Esquerra, just off Diagonal, Links & Lynx offer tailor-made courses with highly-qualified teachers. More info here
Oxford House: Oxford House has two schools, both centrally-located. They are a professional and dynamic school. Besides the classes, they organise additional activities to provide language immersion. More info here
EF Escuela Internacional de Español is a and modern and welcoming Spanish school that offers lessons for all ages and levels. They have a range of courses, from one week to a full academic year. More info here
Versión Original: Versión Original is a small and cosy school with a group of young, qualified teachers skilled in transmitting their enthusiasm for Spanish language and culture. More info here