About the Post

Author Information

Passionate experience junkie. Lover of the arts and architecture. Want to see and share the world, one village at a time.

Language Schools: Surprising Travel Resource and Memory-Maker


house sitting travelIn order to travel deeper, to get more out of the experience, I have to dig. It means seeking. It means connecting. And when I find myself in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, my lack of skills automatically means my relationship with locals is curtailed. That bugs me. Behind the eyes of our landlord, the lady at the weekly food market or the friendly waiter, I can sense their lives – families, likes and dislikes, their dreams. It’s important for me to make that verbal connection.

Conrad and I have fallen deeply in love with Spain, so when we signed up for a one-week intensive Spanish language course in Barcelona, we were hoping for eventual better relationships with the lovely folks we have come to admire so much in Catalonia.

But what we got was so much more. Yes, we gained confidence in speaking Spanish, but our benefits went way beyond. Olé Languages was a fantastic resource for city information, socialization, and cultural understanding. I was quite surprised to find that these tiny privately-owned language schools offer a leg-up for travelers of any age, whether you take a one-day or multi-week course.

I knew language schools existed in other countries also, so I interviewed two travelers who attended classes – one in Indonesia and one in Guatemala – to find out if their experiences were as positive as our own.

Here’s what I found out:

  • Language schools are inexpensive
  • They provide low-cost housing
  • Private classes are the best bang for your buck, and won’t break the bank
  • Meet, study, and socialize with people from all over the world
  • Language school owners fully embrace the sharing society

house sitting

I also talked with Rosa Ribas Lience, owner of Olé Languages. The growing school, tucked in an office and shopping center just a few blocks east of Barcelona’s old city, is little-by-little taking over more space in the building. The center atrium has turned into the perfect gathering place for students and instructors. Rosa and I slipped into an empty classroom to escape the chaos. And just as an aside: the chaos and socializing in this school – and in Barcelona in general – always involves lots of kissing. Once on each cheek is the custom. When meeting, leaving, or anytime in between. I like it!

house sitting

The atrium gathering place at Olé Languages






Ribas Lience, animated and passionate, explained that she started this school in 2005 and it has grown every year despite the economic downturn that hit in 2008. She admitted the growth was slow, but growth nonetheless. Here’s my favorite thing she said:

“We wanted to be one of the cheapest schools in Barcelona. We don’t want to be rich, we just want to do what we like. It’s better.” She also doesn’t want to grow too large because she’s more interested in “more simple and the human thing.”

Ribas Lience has set the tone at Olé Languages. During our week there, Conrad and I experienced quality language teaching, plus the bonus of meeting people from around the world, (our classmates came from Africa, Switzerland, France, Japan, Australia, and Germany), and tips on many aspects of Barcelona, from shopping, best neighborhoods, pricing, customs, (such as this: if a nightspot is called a “Club,” it means the establishment is all about sex. If you want to dance and listen to music, go to a “Discoteca.”)

house sitting

Conrad’s and my classroom with Laura, who deserves The Best Teacher Award.

The young people enrolled in the school socialized in the evenings, especially on Thursdays for a sanctioned event at a local bar. Several of them stayed in the low-cost apartments owned by the school. We all had a ball and were sad as the week came to a close. That same day, a group that had been together for an 8-week course, hugged and cried together with their four instructors, sad to be saying goodbye.

Other Travelers

Jason Birchmeier, 30, just off completing his masters at Eastern Michigan University, decided it was a good time to explore South America before settling down. It was 2008. The stock market had just crashed and jobs were non-existent.

He also has good reason to get emotional when he talks about attending a Spanish language school. He met his future wife, Julia, at Sevilla Language School in 2008 in Antigua, Guatemala. Birchmeier signed up for lodging and private Spanish lessons prior to arriving in Antigua. His apartment there was in one of two houses owned by the school and Julia stayed in the other house. Since all meals served were communal between the houses, the two met. Julia, from France, didn’t speak English but had a good handle on Spanish, so the two became study partners. Their budding relationship was a great incentive for Birchmeier to learn Spanish faster so the two could communicate.

Jim Manheim, 57, says he was a self-motivated language learner. Traveling to Yogikarta, Indonesia frequently meant he needed to communicate. And since he’s even considering retiring there, learning the language was vital. What he found at Puri Bahasa School of Indonesian went beyond learning the language. One of the workers there picked him up at the airport. The owner of the school helped him through the bureaucratic chore of acquiring a new, longer tourist visa. He went on a school-planned walking tour to Borobudur, a famous Buddhist temple. And when he requested learning Indonesian slang, they accommodated that, too. Manheim still keeps in touch with his instructors and fellow students, writing his correspondence in Indonesian.

Jason and Julia Birchmeier, the two who met and fell in love in Guatemala are now three, with number four on the way, living in Texas. They both agree the quality of teaching at the language school in Antigua exceeded their expectations. They had a wonderful time there too, learning salsa or taking volcano hikes, all organized by the school. Birchmeier feels very strongly about recording his experience there and advises anyone who ends up at a language school, “Keep a journal or travel blog of your time in the school. It’s such a sweet memory and one of the most exciting times of your life. You discover yourself.”

If you go

Enrolling in a language school is as simple as a google search. They are abundant and the owners quick to respond, in my experience. Even if your travels take you quickly through a region of this wide world, a quick course can help immensely with cultural barriers. And if you can take a longer course, you never know, it may just change your life.


Wishing you safe and happy travels,


Click here for house sitting tips and inspiration.

Tags: , , , , , ,

20 Responses to “Language Schools: Surprising Travel Resource and Memory-Maker”

  1. Hi Josie – What a wonderful experience and I love the idea of inexpensive housing available as you do your course work. We arrive in Barcelona next month. I’m not too concerned about getting along, porque hablo español intermedia, y espero que practicar con nuestros nuevos amigos. But Pete is another story; he’s a little less prone to picking things up on the fly. Curious as to whether there was any discussion of learning the Catalunyan language as opposed to Spanish in the region. We’ve read about their strong nationalistic feelings and wouldn’t want to offend someone by addressing them in a language they don’t prefer. What’s your take?
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..Schwabing: Where the 20th Century Took Hold in EuropeMy Profile

    March 22, 2015 at 10:02 pm Reply
    • Hi Betsy,
      “Strong nationalistic feelings” is putting it mildly. But they are savvy enough to know that Castillian Spanish is used more widely. Every Catalan is at least bilingual — Catalan and Spanish — and many know also French and German. All public signs are in Catalan 1st and Spanish 2nd. Using Spanish will win their hearts immediately! They are kind, sweet people. I just know you’ll have a wonderful time!

      March 23, 2015 at 7:51 am Reply
  2. Hi Josie
    That’s great information as I have debated whether it is easier to learn a language in- country or whether to learn before travelling. The problem I have found in trying to learn beforehand is the lack of opportunity to practice. So its great to know about the language schools and that they are affordable. I can imagine that it would help you experience the local culture so much more, which is what I enjoy.

    March 23, 2015 at 12:44 am Reply
    • Hi Jill,
      So true — you have to use your language skills to keep/enhance them! I hope you have the opportunity to go.

      March 23, 2015 at 6:58 am Reply
  3. I agree wholeheartedly. We also studied Spanish at small language schools on our trip through Central America in 2007. It was a truly great experience. The language we learned served us well through Latin America for the next 2 years. Unfortunately, when I arrived back in Chile a year ago, my Spanish knowledge had faded somewhat, but then I had the equally amazing experience of teaching English in a couple of small language schools in Santiago. Language learning and teaching brings people together in incredible ways.
    Yasha Langford recently posted..20 Photos of Beautiful StreetArt in Regional ChileMy Profile

    March 23, 2015 at 12:11 pm Reply
    • Hi Yasha and welcome!

      Good to hear you have had a good experience with language schools, too. And thanks for bringing in the new perspective of teaching a language. Yeah, bringing people together = good life.

      Wishing you safe and happy travels,

      March 23, 2015 at 1:07 pm Reply
  4. I’ve only ever briefly considered doing a language school program, but this post makes me seriously interested in trying it. My husband and I have tried weekly classes at the local language academy, but in between classes, we forgot everything and never did the homework! So a week of focused study would be amazing.

    I love Jason and Julia’s story!! So sweet. And good tip re: club vs. discoteca!
    Laura Zera recently posted..Six Tips for Better Public SpeakingMy Profile

    March 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm Reply
    • Thanks Laura! I hope you get to try one day. Good to hear from you,
      Take care,

      March 23, 2015 at 6:03 pm Reply
  5. I learned a second language in high school and college but would have enjoyed joining an immersion program. Interesting.
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers recently posted..Things to Do: Harlem Gospel Tour, NYCMy Profile

    March 24, 2015 at 6:20 pm Reply
  6. Great stories, even romance at the language schools! We took an informal twice weekly Spanish class while in Spain a couple years ago. Besides having fun learning the language (or trying our best), we loved the camaraderie with our group. It’s a great way to meet people if you are a traveler or new resident.
    Shelley recently posted..La Sagrada FamíliaMy Profile

    March 24, 2015 at 8:49 pm Reply
    • Hi Shelley,
      That’s the point exactly — travelers can meet people at language schools. And you stuck in a good point, too. New residents can benefit greatly! Thanks for your very good comment.

      March 25, 2015 at 7:01 am Reply
  7. I’ve studied Spanish in Oaxaca Mexico and in Antigua Guatemala so was interested to read about your experience in Barcelona. One of the advantages I really enjoyed was that many of the excursions –such as cooking classes, museum visits and market tours– are included in the lesson costs which makes studying languages abroad a great deal.
    Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel) recently posted..3 budget hotels you’ll love in Antigua, GuatemalaMy Profile

    March 25, 2015 at 8:28 am Reply
    • Hi Michele,
      A great deal indeed!

      March 26, 2015 at 8:29 am Reply
  8. We’ve attended language schools in Mexico and Antigua, Guatemala and I have to agree wholeheartedly that they’re a great way to immerse yourself into a new city or country and enrich your experience. We’ve loved interacting with the people, learning a new language so that we can hold simple conversations with the people who reside in the places we visit and carrying out day-to-day activities. Fun post and I loved the glimpses into the lives of fellow classmates.
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go recently posted..Housesitting: Parallel Lives in an Alternate UniverseMy Profile

    March 25, 2015 at 9:22 am Reply
    • Hi Anita,
      Thanks for your kind words. It’s great to learn how many travelers have taken advantage of language classes to help with meeting locals.

      March 26, 2015 at 8:32 am Reply
  9. What a great way to lean the local language and get cheap accommodations.
    A Cook Not Mad (Nat) recently posted..3 months in Italy – a pictorialMy Profile

    March 25, 2015 at 1:15 pm Reply
  10. One of my pipe dreams is to do a few weeks of intensive Spanish study in a Spanish speaking country. My Spanish is apparently decent, but too frequently, I feel at a loss for words. I know enough other words to make myself clearly understood, but that’s not the point. I know I can do better.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted..Zentangle Diva’s Challenge #210 – Expletive Deleted Edition from Tel Aviv, IsraelMy Profile

    March 26, 2015 at 6:27 pm Reply
    • Hi Suzanne,
      “I know I can do better.” I completely concur and often have the same feeling. It keeps us pushing all the time, right?
      Hope the rest of your trip goes well,

      March 26, 2015 at 7:03 pm Reply
  11. heyy!!

    indeed a very nice share…an inspirational .

    I must say after reading this I can see the benefits of language schools.. I am soo pleased to have found your page.

    Its very important to have right knowledge of different languages . Hope it helps people get inspired ..

    thanks a lot for sharing this..

    May 2, 2016 at 7:12 am Reply
    • Hi Helen and welcome!
      Thanks for your kind words. Yes, language schools are little oases of love. I hope you get to find out one day!

      May 2, 2016 at 7:52 am Reply

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge