One of the major reasons we wanted to come to Buenos Aires was to learn Spanish. We didn’t realize at the time that Argentine Spanish is a bit, shall we say, special – they use “vos” instead of “tu” to mean “you”, and they pronounce everything with a lovely Italian-sounding accent (you may be familiar with the word “pollo” – pronounced “poyo” through most of the Spanish speaking world but “posho” in Argentina). So, it’s not exactly your standard Spanish, but it’s lovely just the same and we were super excited to start studying.
After a few days settling in to Buenos Aires, we started our search for a Spanish school. There are well over a dozen different schools here in Buenos Aires, most located in or near the center of the city. The standard schedule is 20 hours a week, typically with classes running ~9am to 1pm-ish, and the schools usually have classes at various levels running each week. Prices range from $150-200USD/week, and pretty much every school offers a small discount for paying for multiple weeks upfront.
We started our search by reading through posts on the various BA expat blogs and google searches. We found a few schools to visit that were recommended and had decent prices – we wanted to check them out in person, and Ryan needed to take the placement test (pretty much every school has you take a placement test if you’ve ever studied Spanish so they can place you in the right class for your level – go figure). We decided to visit IBL, expanish and Vamos Spanish. Here’s our quick takeaway on each:
- IBL: Located in a cool old building turned into a shopping arcade and office building on busy pedestrian Florida Street. Let’s just say that we weren’t in the best mood after battling the crowds on the street to get to the building. The school is located on an upper floor in the building with an enclosed patio area used for breaks and for a smoking area. The staff (which seemed to be mostly locals) was friendly and said most classes had ~5 students. Overall, the school was fine but didn’t particularly wow us, and we weren’t excited about the daily rush-hour subway commute to get there. Cost: $175/week.
- expanish: Definitely the busiest and most commercial of the schools we visited, expanish is a volume operation. They have great marketing and a bustling space with a central “living room” area (they’re strangely proud of the countless pictures of students sleeping on their couches that are plastered all over the walls – we’re not sure exactly what’s up with that). There were at least 15 students/prospective students hanging out in the common area while we were there. The school offers the standard 20 hr/week class schedule and is also located downtown-ish, just off the massive 9 de Julio street. We got the sense that this is the choice for backpackers and younger, single crowd looking to meet other independent travelers through classes. Cost: $160/week.
- Vamos Spanish: We wanted to visit this school because it was pretty much the only one we found in Palermo, walking distance from where we were living. The school occupies its own antique building, with a common room on the ground floor and classrooms upstairs. It’s a smaller school than the others we visited, typically with 10-15 students in a given week. The mostly-foreign support staff is very friendly, and we got a good vibe that the experience was a bit more personalized here than the other schools we visited. Cost: $160/week.
We decided to go with Vamos (partly because we really liked the feel of it and partly due to location) and have loved our experience so far. We’ve spent more than 80 hours each in class (we’re in the running for the title of longest-running students ever!) and have learned a ton over that period of time. Class sizes are small – my classes have each been 1-4 students (including one week where no other students were at my level, so I got private one-on-ones with my teacher), and the curriculum is customized. The teachers adapt the topics covered and the materials used based on the needs of the specific students in the class, unlike other schools that follow a fixed teaching plan (e.g., colors day 1, telling time day 2, etc.). The school develops its own teaching materials, and we’ve found that the teachers are great at finding the right exercise to help with your confusion over este vs. esto vs. esta or correct use of direct object pronouns. As you might guess from our backgrounds, we’ve both been through quite a few classes and educational programs at top schools, and we’re both very impressed with the teaching style and talent of our teachers at Vamos.
Outside of the classroom, Vamos puts a lot of effort into offering additional activities to its students. These range from practical post-class “workshops” (e.g., how to recognize and prevent getting stuck with counterfeit bills, how to navigate the crazy BA bus system) to weekly “intercambio” language exchanges for practicing your blossoming Spanish with locals to advice and assistance on booking tourist activities and trips. One of the employees formerly led trips all over South America and is a great source of recommendations, and she’s more than happy to help you with as much of the booking/planning process as you want. The school has a strong community vibe, and we really look forward to seeing the staff as well as the other students each morning when we arrive.
While we’re clearly very satisfied with our choice, there are plenty of good options in Buenos Aires. Key things to think about when choosing your school:
- Location: Morning rush hour sucks. Especially if this is your vacation. And especially if you haven’t been waking up to an alarm clock for a while – it’s a rough transition back to having a schedule. Figure out how you’re going to get to and from the school and make sure you’re actually going to do it.
- Volume of students: There are pros and cons here. Fewer students generally means a more personalized experience. It also means it might be harder to get a class together that’s at your level (becomes more of a problem as you get to more advanced levels). We went with a smaller school, and it’s sometimes been a challenge for them to pair Ryan with compatible classmates.
- General vibe: The schools vary a bit in terms of the type of environment and students they attract. Some are definitely geared more toward backpackers or those who want a 1-2 week basics class, while others draw an older student group or people living in Buenos Aires for longer. The vibe from the staff and the academic director are also good indicators of what a school is like, so pay attention to these.
All in, we think our 80/20 approach to finding a Spanish school was quite successful! I went from not knowing how to introduce myself to telling stories in the past tense (which anybody who’s studied Spanish before knows is way more painful than it sounds), and still more to come. Let the adventures in Spanish continue!!