Au pairs often start looking for a Spanish course around the same time as they start looking for a host family (we recommend waiting until you've found the host family, if possible, as knowing the location of the host family will make it easier to find a language school). Once they start looking at details, they often reach out to ask for help, as they find it is not easy to compare between the different options available.
So, with the help of au pairs who've been there done that, we've come up with a list of criteria to take into account when choosing a language course in Spain:
- Location. This may not seem like such a big deal at first but, in a large city, travel time between one end of the city and another may be significant. You need to look, not just at the actual distance but also at the transportation options to get there: Is it direct, do you need to switch between bus and metro? How long does it take on an average day? How about on a bad day? Is it a comfortable commute? Try and imagine yourself doing it several times a week!
- Cost. This one may seem obvious. Language courses are priced differently based on a series of factors, including number of hours, number of students in the class, additional activities that may be included, etc. If you have a price limit, use it to narrow down the options. When you're comparing the cost per hour between different programs, remember that schools have different definitions of what a session is, it might be 45 minutes, 50 minutes, or a full hour.
- Session frequency and duration. This one is related to cost, of course, but deserves its own point. Be honest with yourself as to what you are looking for: do you want a very intensive course, where you can challenge yourself and go from A1 to B1 in a matter of weeks, or do you prefer a more leisurely study pace? What is your objective? How many hours a day, and how many days a week, would you like to spend in class?
- Number of students in the class. It's not the same to learn in a class of 4 or a class of 40. Those are extremes, most classes will likely be in the 6-12 student range, but spend a bit of time thinking about class size and make sure the school's teaching methodology is suited to this class size.
- Student demographics. Some schools target students of specific nationalities and age ranges and, even within one school, these often vary at different times of the year, so make sure to ask about this to get to know your fellow students better.
- Atmosphere. Different schools have a different atmosphere. Ask questions or visit, to try and learn more about the atmosphere of the schools you're looking at. Also, you might follow the schools you're considering on Instagram or Facebook to see how they present themselves and interact with others.
- Teacher. Have you had a chance to meet or speak with the teacher? What feeling did you get about him/her? Will you have one teacher, or several teachers? Both have advantages and disadvantages: with a single teacher, you won't get exposure to additional Spanish accents or teaching styles, but you will most likely develop a closer bond and, of course, who wants a change if the teacher is excellent?
- Extracurricular activities. Does the school offer any additional activities (cultural, sports, etc.), either during the week or on weekends? Is this something you're interested in?
- Accreditation. Depending on your objectives, and what you're learning Spanish for, you may need to look for a language school that is accredited by the Instituto Cervantes.
You'll see some of these are things you can benchmark from the comfort of your own home, others are things that are better seen in person, or by speaking to people who know the school. Don't be shy to ask your au pair agency, who may be able to tell you about the schools or even put you in touch with au pairs who've been to the schools you're considering.
The good news: there are so many great language schools in Spain, schools who take Spanish learning seriously and thrive on the success of their students, with a focus on both language learning and culture sharing that, with just a little work on your end, you're likely to find one that is a great fit for you. And remember, the best schools will be more than happy to tell you all about themselves, to help you make the right choice.