Language schools

Courses, diplomas and costs

Language schools

If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s advisable to enrol in a course at a language school, preferably before arriving in Spain. If you’re planning to work in Spain, you may wish to obtain a formal qualification for non-native speakers. Courses are held worldwide and diplomas are awarded at three levels. Diplomas are particularly useful when formal evidence of Spanish proficiency is required, e.g. for employment or study in Spain.

Most people can teach themselves a great deal through the use of books, tapes, videos, CDs and DVDs. However, even the best students require some help. Teaching Spanish is big business in Spain, with classes offered by language schools (see below), Spanish and foreign colleges and universities, private and international schools, foreign and international organisations, local associations and clubs, chambers of commerce and town halls, and private teachers (see below). Classes range from language courses for complete beginners through specialised business or cultural courses to university-level courses leading to higher diplomas.

Most Spanish universities offer language courses all year round, including summer courses. These are generally cheaper than those provided by language schools, although classes may be much larger. Free or heavily subsidised courses are organised for resident foreigners in some provinces, e.g. Alicante and Malaga, by the Spanish department of the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas. If you already speak some Spanish, but need conversational practice, you may wish to enrol in an art or craft course at a local institute or club.

Language Schools

Spain has around 3,000 language schools ( escuelas de idiomas), the highest number in Europe, and there are schools in all Spanish cities and large towns. Most offer a range of classes depending on your current language ability, how many hours you wish to study a week, how much money you want to spend and how quickly you need to learn. Courses are graded according to ability, e.g. beginner, intermediate or advanced, and usually last from 2 to 16 weeks. Courses are usually open to anyone over the age of 18 and some also accept students aged from 14. All schools offer free tests to help you find your correct level and a free introductory lesson.

Courses generally fall into the following categories: extensive (4 to 15 hours per week); intensive (15 to 30 hours) and total immersion (30 to 40 hours). The most common are intensive courses, providing four hours’ tuition a day from Mondays to Fridays (20 hours a week). The highest fees are charged in the summer months, particularly during July and August. Commercial courses are generally more expensive, but include more tuition, e.g. €600 for two weeks and a total of 60 hours’ tuition. Courses that include accommodation are often excellent value and many schools arrange home stays with a Spanish family (full or half board), or provide apartment or hotel accommodation.

Some schools offer combined courses where language study is linked with optional subjects, including business Spanish, Spanish art and culture, reading, conversation, and Spanish history, traditions and folklore. Many schools combine language courses with a range of social or sporting activities such as horse riding, tennis, windsurfing, golf, skiing, hang-gliding and scuba-diving.

Don’t expect to become fluent in a short time unless you have a particular flair for learning languages or already have a good command of Spanish. Unless you desperately need to learn quickly, it’s usually better to arrange your lessons over a long period. However, don’t commit yourself to a long course of study, particularly an expensive one, before ensuring that it’s the right course for you. Whichever type of course you choose, you should shop around, as tuition fees vary considerably. You may wish to check that a school is a member of a professional association such as the Asociación para la Enseñanza del Español como Lengua Extranjera (ASELE).

Private Lessons

You may prefer to have private lessons, which are a quicker (although more expensive) way of learning Spanish. The main advantage of private lessons is that you learn at your own speed and aren’t held back by slow learners or left floundering in the wake of the class genius. Don’t forget to ask your friends, neighbours and colleagues if they can recommend a private teacher. Private Spanish teachers often advertise in English-language publications in Spain. Private lessons cost from €15 per hour with an experienced tutor.

One way to get to know the Spanish and improve your language ability is to find a Spanish partner wishing to learn English (or your mother tongue), called a ‘language exchange’ ( intercambio). Partners get together on a regular basis and half the time is spent speaking English (or another foreign language) and half speaking Spanish. You can advertise for a private teacher or partner in local newspapers, on bulletin and notice boards (in shopping centres, supermarkets, universities, clubs, etc.), and through your or your partner’s employers.

Further Information

Information about Spanish language schools can be obtained from the Departamento de Español para Extranjeros, Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, Jesús Maestro s/n, 28003 Madrid (915-335 802, ). A list of Spanish language schools in Spain (as well as of organisations arranging courses, exchange visits and home stays in Spain for children and adults) can be obtained from the Instituto Cervantes (, which has offices in many countries, including the UK (102 Eaton Square, London SW1 W9AN, UK, 020-7235 0353, ) and the US (211–215 East 49th Street, NY 10017, New York, 212- 308 7720,  ). The Instituto also runs Spanish classes in some 30 countries.

A good source for Spanish language-learning books and materials in the UK is European Schoolbooks, 5 Warwick Street, London W1B 5LU, UK (020-7734 5259, ).

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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Other comments

  • Mark, 23 January 2009 Reply

    Language Exchange / Intercambio

    Interesting article.

    One thing to point out is that some of the language schools help their students to organise intercambio / language exchange, e.g. Generally schools which teach English and other languages in addition to Spanish have more chance of doing this because they can facilitate intercambio between their Spanish-learning students and their English-learning students.