Welcome to the second part of my series about my 2014/15 study abroad year in Alicante, Spain. As you may have (hopefully) read in my last post, I talked about my experience of organising accommodation for my Erasmus year in Alicante. In this post, I am switching my focus to study (woo!). In particular, I am going to tell you all about the language courses I studied during the year in Spain.
The premise of our Erasmus year was to, not only adapt to a new culture and living environment, but improve our written and spoken Spanish. Therefore, language courses were front and centre of our attention.
Here’s my advice on how to find a good language class in Alicante, Spain.
SEMESTER ONE LANGUAGE COURSE
After arriving in Alicante at the end of August 2014, we had to finalise our classes for the year. Luckily, we would be able to change our classes for semester two in January 2015. Therefore, in the meantime, semester one was the priority.
The girls I had contacted for advice earlier in 2014 all advised that we choose the Spanish Language Semester Course that the university offered in semester one. This would be 3-4 hours a week of grammar and conversation classes, culminating with an exam in December. As far as I remember, we put down a small deposit in advance of starting the course, with the money being returned to us upon completion of the course.
Quite a scenic university eh?
Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile class to take. Our lecturer was very good and the class was not too big, maybe about 15 people, so this allowed for better learning and opportunities for questions and clarifications. There was some work to do after college for the class but not too much in general. The main benefit of taking this class was to complement the fact that we were speaking Spanish on nights out with other students and locals. This allowed us to work on our grammar by day and practice speaking the language at night or in restaurants/supermarkets/etc. Alongside our other classes and day to day life, we soon began to feel like locals.
With regards to language courses for semester two, I did not have to look very far. My landlady ran a nearby Spanish language school with her husband and, having been recommended their courses by a gent from Vietnam in the first semester, I enquired. The school offered courses of varying difficulty, depending on one’s level of Spanish. The European grading system for languages goes from A1 to C1 – A1 and A2 are beginner levels, B1 and B2 are intermediate and advanced, whilst C1 is native or fluent.
The difference between learning Spanish in Spain and in Ireland was the interpretation of these levels. In the first semester, the course I took in college was level B1. It met that expectation too. The course that myself and five other Irish gents would pursue at this Spanish language school was considered to be level B2. However, it felt more like level B1 or possibly even easier. Therefore, the motivation to attend these classes was not as high as it could have been.
The main reason we did not pursue another Spanish class at the university was due to the costs involved; we would have to fork out up to €300 to do it. I thought that, by instead pursuing a course at my landlady’s Spanish language school, we would both save money and be able to pick the times that best suited us. In hindsight, it was an error of judgement on my behalf — the cost of this particular course was not worth it at all. If anything, it actually discouraged our learning and speaking of Spanish. I still have the certificate that we were all given upon completion of the course. It feels somewhat shallow though.
As the second semester progressed, we had established our ‘clique’. Our core group for hanging out and socialising. It just so happened that everyone in this group spoke English most of the time. Understandably, our progress in improving our Spanish was stunted. Also, the fact that two of the three people I lived with were incredibly quiet meant I barely spoke Spanish in my apartment. I was very thankful for the fact that we worked on our Spanish regularly in semester one as semester two could quite easily have cancelled that out.
Opportunities to improve our Spanish came and went as quickly as the days in general, and Thursday June 4 2015 rolled around surprisingly fast. It was home time.
SOME WORDS OF WISDOM
As I mentioned in my previous post, my year in Alicante made the idea of living abroad seem all the more attractive. In New York over the last few months, I hear Spanish spoken everyday so it does bring back some Alicante nostalgia. Here are my words of wisdom on learning languages.
I do think it would have benefitted us to stick to one place for our language learning. We probably should have remained in university courses instead of trying to branch out into more independent options. The difference between courses was like night and day, and it did hinder our learning experience.
I also think that, compared to other classmates both in Alicante and other Spanish cities, a few of us lacked the discipline required for continuous language improvement. I would definitely recommend practicing at every opportunity – intercambios, which are basically language exchanges, are the way to go.
By dealing with an organisation who specialise in providing quality language courses, your experience abroad can be much more fruitful and rewarding, both personally and professionally.
Overall, my experience of living and studying in Spain is something I definitely won’t forget in a hurry. It was exceptional. Although my experiences with accommodation and language courses may not have been perfect, hopefully, the tale I’ve told can help to improve your experience that bit more. Oscar Wilde may have said that experience is the name we give our mistakes but sure, we can all interpret that in our own little way.