An independent language advantage course review by Liz Harrisspanish-language-schools-latin-america-with-don-quijote

When I was planning my trip to Latin America, I knew I would need to spend some time refreshing my Spanish language skills. I arrived in Argentina in January 2011 and spent five weeks travelling before I embarked on my program to learn Spanish at a don Quijote partner language school in Córdoba, Argentina. don Quijote has been dedicated to teaching the Spanish language to students since 1986. Their goal is that students return home with a wider world view after having learned and experienced a new language and culture.

I’ve studied at various Spanish language schools, both in Spain and Cuba, and I’ve always stayed in student apartments in the past. This time I decided, for a change, to stay with a host family. Previously I found the idea a bit daunting, but it was such a good experience and I don’t regret it at all! My decision to stay with a host family was mainly based on the fact that typically the common language in student residences is English. I really wanted to accelerate my language learning, so I went for full immersion. I had arrived in Córdoba a few days before the start of my course and had been staying with a friend in a local hostel. On the Sunday night my friend and I went our separate ways and I took a taxi to the house of my host family or ‘new mum’, Carmen.

The house was lovely and so were Carmen and her daughter. The accommodation was a bit further out of the city than the student apartments, but this was no problem at all – there was a bus stop around the corner from the house with three bus routes that took about ten minutes to get to the centre. Carmen gave me a chance to settle in and unpack, and then not only drew me a map, but walked me to the bus stop and around the area so I got to know the place, including a map of the bus route so I knew where to get off on the way home.

On the first day Carmen accompanied me the whole way to the language school to make sure I got there! I then took a short test to assess my level of Spanish to make sure I was in the right group and I was placed in an intermediate group. I was introduced to my fellow classmates, who consisted of three Brazilians, an American and a Swiss guy. This pretty much sums up the demographic of the students – people from all over the world. It was also important to me that the class size was just right – enough people to make it fun & engaging, but not too many so that the teacher could give us all personalised attention when we needed it.

The language school itself was completely kitted out for an excellent student experience

After my first Spanish class, I attended the ‘Welcome Lunch’ which consisted of empañadas, a traditional Argentinean pasty-like snack. Here I met other students who had started that day and we were introduced to all the staff, told who did what and who we needed to talk to if we had any problems at the language school. After the lunch, we went on a tour of Córdoba with the school‘s activities officer, Victor, to get us orientated and to teach us a bit about the city.

The language school itself was completely kitted out for an excellent student experience. As well as bright, clean and air-conditioned classrooms, it had a fully equipped kitchen (where a fellow student cooked us all lunch!), three computers with free internet access (so you can stay in touch with people at home), a garden with a seating area and barbeque – and even a swimming pool!

I took the ‘Intensive Course’, which consists of twenty hours of Spanish language tuition a week. We started lessons at 9am, had a short break for coffee and biscuits and then went back to lessons until 1pm. There are other course options available: ‘Immersion’, which is twenty-five hours of lessons or ‘Super Intensive’, which is thirty. You could also take ‘Private’ which is ten hours of one-to-one lessons a week. The school even offers special courses, such as Spanish and Tango – to learn Spanish in the morning and tango in the afternoon! I really enjoyed my daily routine in Córdoba – study in the morning, then spend the afternoons lounging in the sun by the pool in the garden or sightseeing in Córdoba, absorbing the culture & practising my Spanish.

I had one tutor for my program, Silvana, who was great – the class followed a fast enough pace for us not to get bored of a subject, but there was always time for us to go back and revise the stuff that wasn’t so easy! We worked from two course books: one covering grammar and one containing activities. We also had worksheets that were provided by the school and completed listening activities by listening to recordings of typical conversations. We covered subjects that were relevant to us as students, most of whom would be travelling after we studied, such as how to book buses and useful phrases for making friends with Argentineans. And not only that, the class was fun –we had lively discussions (in Spanish of course!), listened to Argentinean songs and Silvana even brought in cakes for Friday afternoon!

Victor, the activities officer for the school, ensured that there was a packed programme of activities for the students. There was always some sort of social activity planned for the evening, such as bowling or a trip to the cinema, as well as suggestions of when to visit museums and where to go sightseeing. Every week there is also a traditional asado. An asado is basically a barbeque, but boy do the Argentineans know how to do a barbeque! For thirty Argentinean pesos or about five British pounds we got all-you-can-eat steak (best in the world!) and chorizo, as well as salad, bread and drinks. There was also plenty of opportunity to check out the nightlife which Cordoba is renowned for as the city has a total of seven universities, so an active student scene!

You won’t regret it!

Córdoba is a great place to stay for a couple of weeks, as there is something there for everyone! It is Argentina’s second city so there is plenty to see and do – lots of parks and gardens, museums, bars, cinemas, shopping, a zoo and even a small theme park. If city living isn’t really your thing, the countryside around Córdoba is beautiful and easily accessible by public transport. The city is situated in the foothills of the Sierra Chica, a mountain range within a couple of hours of the city centre where you can horse-ride, trek or just enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery. I went on a day trip to the town of Alta Gracia, about an hour away from Córdoba, where the infamous Che Guevara grew up. His childhood home is now a museum dedicated to his life where you can see the motorbike on which he toured South America, made famous by the film ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. There is also a Jesuit museum and a beautiful park with a lake.

On my last day I completed an optional test and received a certificate stating my attendance and level of Spanish – which I was very happy to see had improved! When the time came to move on, the school couldn’t have been more helpful. I had teamed up with three fellow students to go on a trip to Iguazu Falls (a must see if you are in Argentina!), and we were able to book our bus tickets through the school. The good thing about the school is that they are flexible – if you have paid for four weeks of studies for example, you can take a week off in the middle to go and see other places in Argentina, then come back to resume your classes or even have a two-centre city study time.

Originally, I only had a week booked as I was on a bit of a tight time scale – aiming to reach Salvador in Brazil by Carnival. However, I had such a good experience in Córdoba and made such good friends in my first week at the school, that I rearranged my plans and stayed for another week! I left the school to continue my travels through South America with lots of memories and lots of new friends.

Having studied at five or six other Spanish language schools around the world, I can genuinely say that this was the best, and certainly an opportunity worth taking up if you have the chance to learn Spanish in Latin America. You won’t regret it!

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