Learning Spanish in Spain: International House Valencia Review

If my 7 year old self knew that I would be willingly spending my holiday at school, I don’t think I’d believe it. In fact, I’m hard pressed to believe it now. But it’s true. At 27 years old, I spent a week’s holiday (my birthday week no less) at school. And I loved it.

A fact I’ve neglected to tell you so far was that the school was in Spain. Not just in Spain, but in my favourite city in the entire world, Valencia (though it only became my favourite city in the entire world after this trip). I wasn’t there to study Maths either, but the most wonderful life skill you can gain. Speaking a foreign language- Spanish in my case. I think it sounds much more palatable now.

I first started learning Spanish after one of my closest friends left the country to go back to their native Latin America. Determined to prove my commitment to keeping in contact, I would need to make the effort to visit and at least try to learn their language. So I started going to Spanish classes in the evenings. I got pretty good but that was in the safe environment of the classroom, talking to people whose mother tongue was English. How would I fare in an actual Spanish speaking country, trying to communicate with an actual Spanish speaking person?

Of course I took this as an excuse to visit as many Spanish and Latin American countries as possible. I went to Cuba, Spain and Mexico, but it seemed that whenever I stepped foot on Spanish soil, my confidence vanished and my growing Spanish vocabulary suddenly shrank.

Determined to break this streak, I booked myself in to Españole- a Spanish school that had fantastic reviews and, even better, a personal referral from a lady in my class (a very good Spanish speaker as it goes). The school offered standard, intensive and super-intensive courses for up 6 hours a day of language skills including speaking, writing, reading, listening as well as classes on Spanish culture. After class, there were also extra-curricular activities such as barbecues, salsa classes and trips to the cinema.

But did it do what it needed to? Did my Spanish improve? Well, yes. But it did a hell of a lot more than that too.

Spending my holiday in school…

  • …was a bargain trip. For just under £500, I got flights, accommodation, and a full super-intensive Spanish course for a whole week. It’s easily the best £500 I ever spent, because not only did I come away having had a wonderful holiday, but I had also learnt a lot of Spanish.What a great investment!
  • …felt like I was back at university. I was given accommodation in a shared flat with a single bed, desk and wardrobe… everything I’d need. My flatmates were lovely (though I didn’t actually see them all that much), and I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased. The school’s flats are all in a really safe area of town, full of students and just a 20 minute walk into the city centre.
  • …was scary as hell but totally worth it. I had travelled alone before, but this was the first time I had travelled to a foreign country to become completely engrossed in a foreign culture and language. I cried on the first night because I didn’t want to be there, and I cried on the last night because I didn’t want to leave. Funny how things change, isn’t it?
  • …was actually really fun. The school had a fantastic extracurricular programme. After school, they put on activities from salsa lessons to cooking workshops and was a great opportunity to meet new students. One night, there a random shopping event where all the locals poured out on to the street right outside our school to drink and dance. We couldn’t help but join in.
  • …gave me a new favourite city. I fell in love with Valencia the moment I arrived. It’s beautiful, it’s historical, it’s cultural, it’s interesting, it’s just downright fantastic. Aimlessly wandering through the city was my absolute favourite thing to do. I came away desperate to go back, and determined to move there for good. One day…
  • …helped me meet some wonderful people. When I first arrived, I was scared and lonely and immediately clung on to some fellow Brits for comfort. As the week went on, I came away closest to a 25 year old Korean girl and a 40 year old Italian man, and also made great friends with people from Japan, Switzerland and Austria. It’s easy to make friends because everyone is vulnerable, desperate to learn, and you’re forced to communicate in the only common language you have – Spanish.
  • …was a great birthday gift. My birthday happened to fall in the middle of my trip, and everyone went out of their way to make me feel totally special. I had a card from the teachers, a present from the students and everyone sang Happy Birthday (in English – bless them) to me when I walked in the classroom. It was a wonderful day topped off with a salsa lesson and a trip to the cinema.
  • …didn’t last long enough. The week went by incredibly fast, frustratingly so. I didn’t want to leave because I knew the immersion was doing my Spanish the world of good. The majority of people are out there for at least two months to gain fluency, so a week really doesn’t compare. It just means I’ll have to go back. I’ve already booked another week in July!
  • …taught me a lot of Spanish. This had to appear as a benefit, didn’t it? The classes were brilliant. I had a private lesson first thing in the morning, two group lessons working through textbooks and then a Spanish conversation class – 6 hours a day! That’s more than a whole term back in England! At the end of the week I even felt myself think in Spanish – it really did the world of good.

I could bang on forever about the benefits of learning a foreign language (in fact, that’s probably its own blog post) but for now, I’ll leave you with this. Learning Spanish (even at an intermediate level) has given me the confidence to travel to even the remotest parts of Cuba, knowing that I’ll be able to get by. Or at least tell locals that I’m 27, married and have a cat. And that’s good enough for me.


Have you ever visited a foreign language school? How was your experience? If you haven’t, would you ever do it?

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