ANYONE who has launched themselves into a new life in a foreign country will tell you that one of the most important and useful things you can do is to learn the language.
It may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised how many people don’t seem to consider it important.
But after a 14-month stint in Spain, there are few experiences I value more than the six weeks I spent in Sevilla, really getting to grips with the language.
I began searching for an intensive course nearly a year after I arrived in Spain, around Christmas last year. I had decided that my Spanish was up to a good enough level to really benefit from an intensive language course, and was determined to finally be able to properly communicate in the country where I felt at home.
A quick google search brought up an intimidating range of courses on offer across the country, all boasting qualities that seemed almost exactly identical but with enough tiny differences for the decision to feel almost impossible.
After hours spent on the websites of each of the schools based in Sevilla, I finally settled on Clic Language School, a branch of International House, which has set up an amazing 159 language schools in 52 countries across the world.
I was impressed by the extent of the International House network, and figured that any company with that level of experience would be able to skilfully take me under its wing and provide me with a proper grounding in the language.
I can say now, looking back, that the decision was a great one.
My six weeks spent in Sevilla with Clic was an incredible experience. I met great and interesting people, saw a lot of Sevilla’s sights, experienced its culture and learned far more of the language than I thought would be possible in such a short period of time. And a great deal of that is entirely down to Clic.
I was set up by the school in a lovely apartment just 10 minutes walk from the school and right in the heart of the city, just a five minute walk from a beautiful park that runs alongside the river.
The flat was owned by a Spanish couple who regularly host students from the school and were more than happy to let us come and go as we pleased, with our own sets of keys and on our own timetables.
But there are other accommodation options, such as sharing with a Spanish family where you also share your mealtimes with the family, or staying in the school’s residences with other students, which are a lot like university halls.
Each option has its own positives and negatives, depending on who you are and what you are looking for, but there is an option for everybody.
I did a six-week intensive course, which gave a pretty full timetable during the week. Classes begin at 9.15 in the morning and run through until 1pm. The almost four hours are broken up into two chunks with a 20 minute break separating them.
I also chose to spend an hour in the afternoon with a private tutor, which I highly recommend. The group classes are excellent for learning the rules of the grammar, and practicing communicating with and listening to others. But it was in the private class in the afternoon that I feel like I really got to grips with what I had learned in the morning.
The private class gives you the opportunity to take things at your own pace, and hash out any problems that you might have come across in the morning, but weren’t able to spend the time necessary while in a group.
When you first arrive at Clic everyone takes an ability test, to see what level you’re at and to put you in the group that will be most suitable for you.
If I could do one thing differently about the course, it would be to practice and revise what I had already covered in the lessons I had already taken before the course. As I had never actually taken the time to sit down and learn the verb endings of various tenses – just the ones that I used regularly in conversation – I did worse in the ability test than I would have liked to.
As a result I was put in a group that didn’t reflect what I felt like I actually knew. I had spent a year in the country communicating with people, but not actually trying very hard with the grammar. Because of that, while I could speak fairly fluidly and understand a lot of what was said to me, my understanding of the grammar was pretty poor.
In the first few days of the course I was quite frustrated as I felt that I already knew everything that we were covering in the lessons. Like I said, this was completely my fault as while I kind of knew most of the grammar basics, I had never actually gone to the trouble of being able to use them in practice. And so when it came to the ability test, I did come across like almost a complete beginner.
And so because it was my laziness that had got me into the problem, I thought a bit of extra work would probably help solve it. So I read the book in the first few days of school outside of class, and decided to talk with my teachers.
I have to say, the school is very good at listening to its students and finding a way to resolve their concerns. Almost straight away I was moved up to a higher group and felt a lot happier, and that I was learning a lot more straight away.
By this point I had found out that thanks to a new job offer I would be moving back to the UK at the end of the course, and this felt like my last opportunity to enjoy learning the language before leaving the country. And honestly I wouldn’t have spent my last six weeks in Spain in any other way.
All the classes are taught entirely in Spanish which works wonders for your understanding. Of speaking, writing and listening, it is listening that I find most difficult. When you’re speaking you can tailor your sentences around words you know, but when other people speak, they just keep using words I don’t know!
But all of a sudden, understanding people isn’t so much of a problem. I think this must be down to the wonderful teachers on the course. They are patient, and they speak slowly and clearly. It’s great, and completely different to what you’re normally faced with when talking to the fast-speaking, heavily-accented people of Andalucia.
Most of the teachers at the school seem to speak a few languages, so they know what it’s like to be learning one, and what they can do to best help their students.
But it’s not just about lessons at Clic. The school also takes could care of its students outside of the classroom, organising tours around the city and weekend trips to other cities in Andalucia. There’s even an opportunity to go to Morocco with the school, and to Portugal.
There’s no denying that there’s a great deal to do in Sevilla, and if it’s your first time in Spain it can be pretty intimidating. But with Clic you can visit almost all the museums and monuments the city has to offer, and experience a huge range of cultural activities.
You can learn Sevillana dancing, paint ceramic tiles in Triana, do wine tastings, learn to cook Paella, have guided tours of the Semana Santa processions – if you’re lucky enough to be there for the festival – or the Feria de April, or climb to the roof of the cathedral, just to name a few.
And you can’t spend time at Clic without meeting great people. Everyone at the school has their own story, but most have taken the time off work or out of education to spend time learning a new language and experiencing new things. Everyone is the kind of person keen to see new places and meet people, with fascinating stories to tell. They’re from all over the world, and most people have travelled extensively.
It’s thanks to the other students that I had such a good time in Sevilla, and thanks to the course that now that I’m back in London, I’m determined to carry on building on the Spanish that I’ve learned. And it won’t be long until I’m heading back to Spain to carry on practicing!