Why Language Study is One of the Best Ways to Travel

Sunday, June 26, 2016

What happens when you get tired of traveling? Once you get past the sightseeing stage, you realise that sights become repetitive - another Church, another castle, another cobblestoned plaza, another amazing beach and so on and so forth.

When Sole Sister Julienne took up a few weeks of Spanish last year, she realised that many young Europeans would rather stay put and learn a language and enjoy a city over a longer period of time rather than spend all their money on a 13-country tour. She comes back with a review of the third language school she’s attended in Spain over the span of two years.
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Rooftop Gourmet Experience, El Corte Ingles, Callao 

April 2016: Madrid, Spain

It was time to make the switch. I had been studying with a language school near Gran Vía for a few weeks up to that point, and I was not a hundred percent happy with how it was going. While I liked my teachers, I was placed in the wrong level and in a time slot that didn’t fit my schedule. Reception did not do anything about my requests until over a week had passed, and even then they were not very pleasant to deal with. A little smile never hurt anyone, has it?!

So I transferred to AIL Madrid - the third Spanish language school I’ve tried in the span of two years.

Discovery: your language school of choice has the power to define your experience in the city.

Read: 7 Reasons Why You Should Really Take Spanish Classes

Spanish Classes - AIL Madrid
Taking a siesta at the rooftop of Mercado de San Antón

Language Study vs. Traveling for the Sake of Travel
Many people - especially Asians - would rather blow their money on a grand tour packed with sightseeing, cruises, hotel accommodations, “must eat” restaurants, etc. A lot think language study is an unnecessary expense when they just want to see and do as much as possible with the time they have. Little do people know that it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it provides and even fuller experience than just traveling for the sake of “ticking things off your bucket list” (and having all those Instagram pictures of yourself superimposed on 1 million UNESCO heritage landmarks).

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Nothing wrong with a tour, just like what we did with our dad in Cordoba. 
It’s just a completely different experience!

You can get a room in Madrid for a month for as low as 300 euros (I was paying 350). That beats hostel rates per night in Europe. A good value language school can be around 150 euros a week depending on how long you stay (the longer, the cheaper).

And what you can’t put a price tag on: friends that you will make for life. For a period, you live your day to day life with them, exploring your own little secret corners of the city together.
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Hiking Madrid’s La Pedriza with my classmates

I met so many people from the very first day in AIL - not just from class but also thanks to the welcome tapas the school holds for all new students every Monday (more free food and drinks than we could actually finish). That’s when you meet people of different levels of study, eager to make new friends because like you, they’re new to town.

Other after class activities included Spanish cooking classes, bike rides along the river, and the popular Friday “noche de copas”. But my favourite were the Spanish and Dance (Flamenco, Tango, Sevillanas etc) courses, because dancing is my thing. But if it’s not yours, there’s Spanish and Art (painting, drawing, photography, pottery…), Gourmet Spanish (cooking) etc.

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Welcome tapas - more free food than we could finish

Who do you meet at language school? Talking demographics, last year AIL had students from over 63 different countries from all ages and stages of life. At 27, I was sitting on the fence between university students and retirees. I really got along with a super intelligent Brazilian lady lawyer doing her sabbatical in Madrid. And then there was the party-hard Dutch guy on Erasmus who kept inviting me to electronic parties with his flatmates.

The Smallest Politeness Can Go a Long Way
Compared to the previous language school I was in, admin at AIL Madrid was so much more accommodating and way more efficient - from switching campuses and timeslots to arranging the level to advance rather than waste time re-learning things you already know. Plus, they would smile and greet you and say bye whenever you come and go - funny how the smallest cordialities can go a long way. (Obviously, I’m scarred from the last school)

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I couldn’t resist eating this on my way to school - the best chocolate cake in the world!

I already had my own accommodations but the school offered a variety of options. If hadn’t already been living with my Spanish girlfriend, I would probably have chosen to stay with a host family. I had classmates who had the funniest reenactments of their host mothers in class; I would go green with envy when they actually had home cooked meals when I would have to resort to burritos at Takoaway, where the latino staff would always hit on me in the most hilarious of ways.

"¿Que tal cariño?... Aprende español conmigo, te enseñaré todo lo que necesites saber…" (How are you love? Learn Spanish with me, I’ll teach you everything you need to know)

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“Playing” in the famous El Retiro Park with classmates after morning classes

One thing I really appreciated as well was the fact that you could get an International student ID valid for one year. This gives you either free (!!!) or super discounted access at museums and other similar establishments all over Europe. Wish I had gotten one sooner!

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When the weather was bad, I would spend afternoons at museums. This was taken at the compelling Museo Arqueológico Nacional, also right by the school. And of course, entrance is free for students.

Location: Barrio Salamanca, Madrid’s Prettiest

Walking to school everyday, I would pass by Retiro Park - Madrid’s most famous. Barrio Salamanca is Madrid’s poshest district full of chic cafes and restaurants. The neighbourhood is lined by beautiful old buildings, birds chirping in the trees, chic shops all around, and the greenery that the barrios around Gran Vía (where I was formerly studying) lack. I would grab breakfast at the Carrefour Express across the school, or at the hipster bakery around the corner. They even had the Valencian specialty horchatas con fartons (like a cold, light, summer version of churros) by the metro station, which I couldn’t resist on warmer days.

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Walking to school everyday, I would pass by Retiro Park

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Horchata con farton

Literally at the school’s doorstep are the shopping streets of Goya and Serrano, and if you like to party (like me, because I love dancing, especially to latino music!), Madrid’s preferred nightlife hotspots are right there: Gabana, Le Boutique, La Posada de las Animas, etc.

  • Metro stops three minutes from the school: Velázquez, Principe de Vergara, and Retiro stations

About AIL Madrid

Academics: I didn’t mean to leave this one for last, since after all it should be the most important aspect of a school. Here are the basics - AIL Madrid is Cervantes-accredited (always the best place to begin when booking a Spanish course), and lessons are conducted via debates, games, grammatical exercises, music, and conversation. You can eat in class, speaking your mind (in Spanish, of course) is encouraged, even joking around was the norm. AIL is apparently the only school that makes up class hours missed for national holidays, and my Dutch classmate chose to study there because they agreed on a flexible programme for him wherein he could come in around thrice a week rather than do the intensive everyday schedule.

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Scrabble in Spanish

Before I was able to move up a level, the academic director personally made sure I was qualified and tested my subjunctive skills, which I managed not to botch up too badly.

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Class selfie on my last day of class

Have you taken up a language during your travels? Share your experience in the comments section!

Disclosure: AIL Madrid provided a one week intensive course in exchange for an honest review.

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Missing Madrid from 7,000 miles away,
Sole Sister Julienne

Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila-but-not-so-Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for five years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventures, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, good food, meeting amazing people and having intelligent conversations. Currently based between Manila and Hong Kong (but earlier this year between Madrid and Berlin, her two favourite cities in the world), Julienne is getting ready to hustle in the corporate world once again after over a year of travelling. Stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.

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2 sole trails

  1. this place is looking amazing. all pictures you captured that is beauty and foods is looking so yummy.
    with language we can get more knowledge about its culture and tradition. it is very necessary if we are travelling anywhere
    Tajmahal Moon Light Tour

  2. this is my first visit...achilles zerda


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