How to find a Spanish school in Buenos Aires (we love ours!)

How to find a Spanish school in Buenos Aires (we love ours!)

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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!!

Please leave a comment, it will make us feel special!

Comments
  • TJ April 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Awesome BA posts. Tons of great info. I’m also from SF and spending about 5 weeks here. Agree with you guys on almost everything, especially the killer cheap wine! I’ve also done extended Spanish classes (in Mexico City) and found the experience excellent, but exhausting after a few weeks, especially at the advanced level with few compañeros. Suerte!

  • anotherusername July 27, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I had a very nasty experience with expanish . The sales rep, Michelle, was a pretty ‘full-on’ sales type of operator. She was very keen to sell me on the full eight week deal and advised that a one week introduction was a waste of time. Trusting her advice, I booked for two weeks with a view to see how things proceeded. She also said I should start immediatly because a weekly class had just started. After a hurried sign off of the form (small print in Spanish) and payement in USD only I was seated into a class that was already half way through. The lecturer spoke, only in Spanish and adhoc sign language. I seriously had no idea what she was saying. The other students were also pulling WTF type faces at each other.

    I apologized to the lecturer and explained that I was having difficulty catching up with the lesson. She snapped at me and said that I would just have to take a another lesson another time. I was angered and embarrassed to say the least. I then informed the administrators that I would prefer to cancel my lessons because I was so humiliated by the treatment and needed to start from scratch. They also informed me that some lecturers do speak english and some don’t.

    I offered to pay a $50 USD penalty for the hour that I was there. The sales ladiy’s response was aggressive and sharp.She promptly informed that that they do not give refunds. She informed me that when I signed the personal information form, (that’s what it was titled), I had also signed and agreed to their terms and conditions which are posted on their web site. The only option given to me was that I could do some private lessons for equal value or simply lose my $300 US. In other words, too bad, we have your money and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    After a very heated argument they finally agreed to refund half my money. The hostel that I am staying since told me that Expanish has a reputation of high pressure sales and that they would have advised mt to use a different company.

    I went in there trusting good reports from forums and ended up letting my guard down when it came to making an assessment. They even had a Lonely Planet logo in their brochure and guess what? When I got back to my dorm, I checked the Lonely Planet guide and Expanish isn’t even listed.

    Based on this incident, my advice is to tread very carefully when dealing with the sales representative at Expanish or any english teaching business in BA. Do not let them pressure you into a rushed decision or book more lessons than you originally wanted in the first place. Make sure that they give you a print-out of the terms and conditions (in English). Be sure to make sure that the lecturer assigned to your class actually speaks English rather than pigeon English and sign language – perhaps ask to met the lecturer.

    Remember that the English lesson market is very competitive Buenos Aires.

    Hope this advice proves useful in some way.

    • ryan July 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      Yikes, so sorry to hear about your bad experience! I hope that things have been working out better wherever you tried next. You give good advice… we went week to week or at the most paid for 2 weeks in advance. We lost out on bigger discounts, but always had the flexibility to leave and try something else. The other challenge is that at most schools every week can lead to an entirely new teacher and classmates… some weeks are better than others.

    • Imran October 20, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Hi there, thank you for providing this insightful comment about your experience with exspanish. I am planning to go to Buenos Aires with the intention of learning Spanish and it seems very daunting choosing the right school. I definitely will not be booking anything until I visit the school. I have heard that prices quoted online are much higher than prices quoted when you actually visit the school due to a number of online agencies…

      any more tips on schools/accom would be great!

  • Dee Hoffman August 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Hi, Jen.
    I found your comments about your Spanish lessons very helpful. I’m currently working with a family that will be in Argentina for a month with their 2 kids as part of an 8-month around-the-world trip they’re taking for the purpose of embellishing their kids’ education. Their first 5 or so destinations are all Spanish-speaking countries so they plan to study Spanish while visiting these countries — well, while in several of them. So, one of my responsibilities is to find Spanish lessons for them. For a while we were considering Berlitz because they would customize their classes for each member of the family and because there would be some carryover from one country to another. This idea is still on the table but the cost of the Berlitz classes (private classes) is very high. And we could not arrange classes with Berlitz in Panama. We went with a private tutor. All of this just to say I’m now looking into Spanish lessons, other than through Berlitz, for the family in Buenos Aires. Do you think Vamos Spanish would be a good option? Thanks! Dee Hoffman

  • Eric June 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I would also agree that you comments about looking for schools are pretty dead on. There are a ton more out there than just these few, and every week or so, there seems to be a new one popping up. I guess there is a good market of Expats looking to learn Spanish. I ended up at Expanish (www.expanish.com) and will have to say that it has been a great experience. What you mention about it probably having a larger overall amount of students, I found that my classes have been around 3-5 people, although there was one week when I was in a class with 8 people (I think that’s the max). Having read the other story from “anotherusername” I think it’s probably not a fair take on the school overall, but needless to say, that is a bad deal. Perhaps things have changed quite a bit since 2010 because the staff is great, the professors are good at what they do, and you really do get to meet a lot of fun, young, cool people from all over the world. Not to say Expanish is better than any others, since I don’t really know, but I will say I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a school in Buenos Aires. Suerte amigos!

  • Hanna February 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Hi!

    I see this post is a bit old, but I just couldnt resist myself to recommend other travellers El Pasaje Spanish School!! I just came home after travelling around South America and I started my trip in Buenos Aires, were I after having been looking, chose to take classes at El Pasaje, as the prices were good and I liked that it was a smaill school. Well, after i have studied there for three weeks I made a lot of friends, both among the students and the teachers. Its such a cozy atmosphere there, and the teachers are really great!! You learn so much!! I knew very little spanish before attending el Pasaje, but now I can communicate!!

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