Spanish course Barcelona – a first-hand review

Spanish Course Barcelona: Creative Web Manager John Biddulph takes a break from PHP and Javascript to learn a different language – Spanish in Barcelona

I took a Spanish beginner course in Barcelona last October, and my first day was very organised and welcoming. I met five other students in my group of different nationalities and ages.

The times of my classes were just great, starting at 2pm in a spacious air conditioned classroom. There was one day when I was unwell and was unable to go in, so I contacted Cactus who were very helpful and contacted the school for me.

My teacher, Isobel, was lovely. She was very helpful and we all had fun reading and acting from our activity book and also had time for a few language games.

Being a complete beginner to Spanish, I would advise taking a short evening course beforehand to learn the very basics. This means that you can learn some proper Spanish on your course and practise using it out and about in the city.

Barcelona is an amazing city – there are plenty of nice places to go sightseeing and some great tapas bars and cafes for food and drink. It’s easy to get to and it was a great starting point for me learning Spanish. I can’t wait to go back again!

Cactus offers Spanish courses in Barcelona and in many locations across Spain and Latin America.

Learn some Spanish before you go with our Spanish evening courses in London, Brighton, Manchester and other major locations across the UK. Courses start in January, April, July and September in over 20 languages and at many levels.

What is doing a TESOL/CELTA course really like? An Insider’s Perspective

Cactus Managing Director Fay Drewry gives us a first-hand account of life as a TEFL trainee in Barcelona

Having decided I wanted to do my TEFL course in Barcelona and try living and working there for a year – hopefully to improve my Spanish – I set about trying to work out which course I should do and at which school. I had never been to Barcelona but I knew instinctively that it would be a city I would love…a city with a beach, and sun, and Gaudi, and chicos guapos…what more could I want?  I spent quite a bit of time trawling through various websites trying to compare TEFL courses and locations and prices, until I came across Finally a website that explained everything I needed to know, allowed me to compare courses and start dates, plus they were on the end of the phone to help me with my application – great! So I applied, did the pre-interview task, had a Skype interview with the school, and before I knew it I was accepted onto the course. So far so good, and I even managed to book myself onto a part-time Spanish language course, just to make sure I wasn’t just speaking English all the time!

My course expectations

Having always been fairly academic (good A level results, good degree) I didn’t think that doing a 4 week teaching course to become an English language teacher would cause me too many problems. This was not entirely the case. Initially I questioned if I really needed to spend a significant amount of money on learning how to teach a language I already spoke fluently. How hard could it be? A lot harder than I thought, as it turned out.

So I arrived in Barcelona courtesy of Easyjet, and for the duration of the 4 week course I stayed with a family in a nice part of the city. They were lovely. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to spend much time with them. Mainly because I spent the majority of my ‘free’ time holed up in my room frantically trying to work out the stages of lesson planning, creating materials with no idea of whether they would actually work in class, and writing assignments that at 4am in the morning didn’t make a lot of sense to me either.  This was essentially, the beginning, middle and end of the course. A learning curve like no other I had ever experienced. It wasn’t that the information was complicated or intellectualised – most of it, in fact, was common sense. There was just A LOT of it.

In at the deep end – the course in detail

There were 18 people on my course, but there were 2 courses running simultaneously, so there were about 35 of us all together. English, Scottish, American, Irish, Canadian, and Dutch. A great mix of people from 18 to 55, with a range of motivations, backgrounds and reasons for doing the course.  Teaching in front of my other 17 classmates started on the second day of the course. Not embarrassing at all.  We had to teach our fellow trainees for 5 minutes about something we knew or were good at – having just left PwC as a trainee accountant (the most boring year of my life) I decided to teach everyone how to complete a balance sheet. Not that this had a lot to do with teaching English but it did get us up, writing on the board, in front of a group of people.  From there on in the rest of the course flew by – everyday filled with so much information to take on board, so many different things to think about, so much to understand. Classroom management, lesson planning, setting of lesson aims, achieving lesson aims, checking meaning of target language, ensuring free practice of target language, error correction, varying interaction patterns, catering for different learner styles – not to mention making the materials for all the activities from scratch. It was a surprise that all 35 of us made it through to the end of the course without having a nervous breakdown (only joking – ish).

Throughout the course everyone teaches for a total of 6 hours. Each time was a pretty nerve racking experience – but with each teaching practice the feedback from the tutor helped me to identify which areas I was getting right and which points I needed to work on. This made me feel like I was actually progressing and improving, and allowed me to focus on just a couple of things at a time – rather than trying to get everything right, which was basically impossible. We all had mid-course and end of course tutorials with our tutors, which made us aware of exactly how we were getting on and if we were on track to pass the course. This was an extremely positive aspect of the course – as there were no nasty surprises at the end with someone thinking they were doing great when actually they were going to fail.

So, I got to the end of the course in one piece and passed! What a relief. The lessons learnt were invaluable and there is no way, after having done the TESOL, that I would ever want to stand in front of anyone and try and teach them English without having done the course.

14 years after doing my Trinity TESOL I’m now the Managing Director of CactusTEFL…but that’s another story…

Cactus TEFL is an admissions and advice service for quality teacher training courses worldwide. Cactus works with the majority of well-known course providers to offer CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL, equivalent and online courses in over 90 locations across 36 countries. Cactus TEFL also offers free post-course careers advice and support, as well as access to our very own TEFL jobs board and job alerts.

Cactus Language is a leading provider of language courses in over 120 locations abroad.

10 great European cities in which to learn a language

A little while ago we gave you our top locations in Europe for 2014, the places that you, our language learners, flock to year after year to attend some of our best partner schools and enjoy world class culture, entertainment and activities. Impossible to limit our pick to four, we’re now bringing you 10 more European cities that guarantee top quality language tuition and endless opportunities for leisure and entertainment outside class.

Jet off in the next few months and you won’t regret it: spring is in the air, flowers are starting to bloom, you can expect pleasant but not stifling temperatures and, above all, you’ll avoid the busy crowds and over-inflated prices of traditional holiday periods.

Let us get the ball rolling with our top locations in Spain, Germany, France and Italy…

1. Barcelona


Barcelona has earned itself the status of Spain’s most visited destination for reasons too long to list. Tourists and students flock here year after year to enjoy the city’s cosmopolitan vibe, Gothic architecture, surreal creations of Gaudí, passion for sport, world class nightlife, great beaches and sublime food. Come to learn Spanish in Barcelona and you can also savour the region’s distinct Catalan history and identity. No matter your age or level, you’re spoilt for choice with Spanish courses in Barcelona: from a standard General Spanish course to Business Spanish courses and activity courses combining Spanish and salsa or culture, there is something for everyone.

Spanish courses Barcelona

2. San Sebastian


Much lesser known than the popular hubs of Barcelona and Valencia, it’s exactly this that makes San Sebastian such a find. You will do without the crowds of Spain’s resorts yet be treated to a warm welcome, a magnificent golden beach – a mecca for surfers – and have no end of choice when it comes to going out, traditional tapas bars and first class restaurants at every turn. As a place to learn Spanish, San Sebastian offers a range of Spanish courses for adults as well as exhilarating Spanish and surfing courses and summer camps for Under 18s.

Spanish courses San Sebastian

3. Madrid


The beating heart of the hot-blooded country that is Spain, Madrid cannot fail to impress. Energetic, alive, brimming with culture and with no shortage of bars, cafés and clubs, this is an exciting and inspiring place to learn Spanish. Our partner Spanish school in Madrid is small and friendly and boasts a great location within walking distance of both Puerta del Sol and the famous Prado Museum. The size and set-up of the school make it really easy to meet new friends and feel at home, perfect for encouraging you to practise your Spanish whilst taking a Spanish course in Madrid.

Spanish courses Madrid

4. Munich


A city of contrasts, Munich offers all the culture and class of a European capital whilst remaining loyal to its traditions and centuries-old customs. Take your German course in Munich and you might visit a world class art gallery one day after class, dine on typical Bavarian sausage the next, and finish up in one of the city’s old beer halls by night. Students learning German in Munich are spoilt for choice with things to do – and the real icing on the cake is the stunning scenery that surrounds Munich, as a short journey out of the city will take you to some fantastic hiking and biking trails, and ski resorts in winter.

German courses Munich

5. Cologne


It’s a special place that inspires couples to fix padlocks to the railings of a bridge and, to ensure everlasting love, throw the key into the river below. Yet Cologne, with all its charm, does just this, and as the river Rhine collects keys of all sizes, so its visitors fall in love with the city too. Oozing with history, magnificent architecture, a stunning Cathedral, cobbled streets, boutique shops and traditional bierkellers, this is an unforgettable place to learn German. Why not immerse yourself in the culture fully by combining your German course in Cologne with accommodation in a local host family.

German courses Cologne

6. Lyon


One thing you can be sure of in Lyon is that you won’t go hungry. Hailed as ‘the stomach of France’, France’s second city is famed for its gastronomy. Obviously requiring energy to learn French in Lyon and navigate its attractive hilly streets, you can happily work your way through sweet, meringue-like ‘macarons’, mountains of cheese and a very un-salad-like but delicious ‘salade lyonnaise’, all in the name of education. Don’t forget to stop off in one of the city’s traditional ‘bouchons’, convivial and relaxed eateries for the seriously hungry and carnivorous. Real foodies, this is for you: French & Cooking Course in Lyon.

French courses Lyon

The top 5 places to eat in Lyon

7. Montpellier


Whether you’re a school or university student or one coming later in life to study French, you can’t go wrong with Montpellier. Home to a 12th century university, bubbling with a young and cosmopolitan vibe and less than half an hour from the glistening Mediterranean, this a place where it’s easy to stop and spend a while. French courses in Montpellier include A-Level Revision and Cookery courses, while teenagers can happily spend the summer attending one of Montpellier’s popular all-inclusive language and activity programmes.

French courses Montepellier

8. Nice


Easy to get to, basking in the sunshine of the Côte d’Azur and with the sparkling Mediterranean lapping at its shores, Nice has long been known as a playground for the rich and famous. Yet you’re just as likely to spot a celeb as you are all kinds of travellers and students who come to enjoy the city’s many charms. Away from the palm trees and the cocktail bars of the legendary Promenade des Anglais, Nice retains its French character and is home to a beautiful Old Town, fine museums, traditional markets, colourful festivals and world-class cuisine. As such this is a wonderful place to learn French, and Cactus works with two language schools in Nice to offer a number of French course and accommodation options to suit everyone.

French courses Nice

9. Rome


The beautiful thing about Italian is that most people learn it for the sheer love of the language and Italian lifestyle. If you fall into this category then learning Italian in Rome is a must. Italy’s historic, lively capital is Italian to the core, brimming with centuries-old art, buzzing with Vespas and bustling with cafe life and top class food at every corner. Cactus works with one of Italy’s most prestigious and long-established schools to offer a vast range of Italian courses in Rome, from Business and Academic Year programmes to culturally-themed Theatre and Cookery courses.

Italian courses Rome

10. Florence


People come from the world over to learn Italian in Florence and it’s easy to see why. An Aladdin’s cave of basilicas, frescoes and piazzas, it oozes history and artistic grandeur at every turn, almost unlike any other city on Earth. To take an Italian course in Florence is to tread in the footsteps of the great masters Dante, da Vinci and Donatello, their influence as alive now as it was back in the Renaissance. If you can tear yourself away from the breathtaking architecture you won’t regret venturing into the specatacular rolling countryside of Tuscany, just on Florence’s doorstep. There are few places more inspiring to learn a language, with our partner school in Florence overlooking the river Arno and boasting views of the stunning Ponte Vecchio.

Italian courses Florence

Cactus offers language courses in locations all over the world, for all ages and levels.

A week in Barcelona: a vibrant city in which to soak up the Spanish language and culture

Executive PA at Cactus, Cecilia Harvey, tells us about her week in Barcelona enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine and indulging in local culinary delights…all whilst attending a local language school.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I boarded the train headed for Gatwick airport. Drizzle on the windows made me smile, knowing I was heading for a 28 degree heat.  Since the birth of my children, I had never been away by myself, let alone do something “just for me”. Having not ever been to Barcelona either, I could hardly contain my excitement.

What a luxury to be in the airport alone, to sit and have a coffee and read my Lonely Planet guide. I carefully planned my itinerary for each day, knowing which sites I definitely wanted to see. I also knew that Friday was a holiday in Spain and there would be no classes that day. For that day, beach!

As I left behind the storm that was brewing in the south east, and that had been announced weeks before, I heard people talking on the plane about advice they left to their friends and families about “battening down the hatches”…. The plane did go through some very strong turbulence, and with my stomach in my throat, I just closed my eyes and couldn’t stop smiling.

Landing in Barcelona in the heat was brilliant, my skin immediately thirsty for that Vitamin D. I was in no rush, but knew exactly where I was headed. The Aerobus is fantastic; it leaves from both Terminals at Barcelona’s El Prat airport and takes you right to the centre of the city. I just soaked up the sites as the very easy 30 minute journey left me standing in the beautiful and buzzing Plaça de Catalunya. As I walked down toward my apartment, I purposely chose a quiet street (well, quiet doesn’t really exist in central Barcelona!) but not down one of the main ones, let’s say, as I wanted to leave the world famous “La Rambla” for when I had time to soak up everything around me.

Settling into my flat for the week

I got to my address, and a very sweet girl called Lisa from the school, International House, was there to greet me. She gave me the keys to my room, detailed some basic rules and instructions and left.  Wow…I had a real flashback to my student apartment at Uni. Very well equipped, the apartment gave onto a very noisy and echoey set of courtyards, all connected like a maze. My room was basic but incredibly clean. All I needed really, as I wasn’t planning on spending much time in it anyway!

I went out looking for somewhere to buy some basic essentials for breakfast the following day, but to no avail, as it was by then quite late on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, I stumbled across the wonderful “Cuines de Santa Caterina” – a well know eatery at the edges of a wonderful market, the Mercado de Santa Caterina. Unsure if I was hungry yet, I walked around, passed the Cathedral and through some streets, all buzzing with tourists and residents alike, going about their business.

Back at the flat, I was unpacking my case and heard the front door…it was Uli, one of my flatmates! From Bremen, Uli had a really interesting background.  I then met Katja, a Danish girl who was to be my other flat mate, although I didn’t see her very much at all. Uli and I chatted about our children and about why and how we were there. After deciding we were both hungry, we decided to go and grab something to eat. He had also arrived that day and like me, not managed to find anywhere to get any food. We went to the Cuines de Santa Caterina and I indulged in a local beer, grilled squid and fried artichoke hearts. What a culinary delight that was!

The following morning I turned up at International House, just 5 minutes round the corner from the flat having passed the visually stunning Palau de Música Catalana. I didn’t have opportunity then to spend more time, feasting my eyes on the intricate detail in the décor of the building….but it was on my list, so I knew I would return.

First day at the language school

At the school, all the new students were welcomed and had to take both written and oral tests after which we were all allocated our classes and teachers. In between tests, we were all sent upstairs for 20 mins to the school café, run by a woman whom I can only describe as a “force of nature”. The orders came in, thick and fast, both from us newbies and all the other students who by that time were taking their morning break. I sat on the outside terrace in full sun with my espresso. Fabulous!

My class was run by Marco, a born and bred Catalan guy who made it even more interesting, as he knew and understood the differences and could explain them to us as well as ensure we knew which was Castellano and which was Catalán. There were only five of us in the class which was fantastic, and I knew I would be challenged mentally as not only was the course labelled “intensive” but my level was Upper Intermediate III and my classmates had already been there for 2 or more weeks.  Most of the days following that, I came out of the school, my head buzzing and hurting from the bombardment of information. The verbs really challenged me as they differ so much from Italian ones (I am half Italian) and there are so many more tenses to remember and so many more subtleties. We had a lot of course work which most days I decided to do immediately after school, so I could then just relax and enjoy the free afternoons and evening. This didn’t always go to plan, as the Mercado de Santa Caterina lured me in on my second day and I found myself eating tapas in the Cuines again….

Excursions & wanderings…

The school organised some excursions which on a couple of occasions I joined. The first to the Barrio de Gracia, and the other to the museum of Catalan History. Both incredibly worthwhile going to with local people as your guide as they knew a lot more than any written guide will illustrate. The Barrio de Gracia is very trendy and has a multitude of small restaurants and cafés of different cuisines and wonderful little artisanal shops which are gems. My favourite site there was the Casa Vicens – architecturally mesmerizing. The residents of Gracia are very proud to be “from Gracia” and they have various parties and celebrations, which are different in each street! The museum of Catalan History was very interesting. Created with a multitude of interactive features, it was designed with all ages in mind. Incredibly interesting actually for a foreigner to see just how much Barcelona has contributed to many types of trades which not only still exist in Barcelona and to a wider extent, Spain, but how the city was a pioneer in a lot of them.

I achieved so much in six days: I walked down the Rambla, just with the intent of subjecting my ears to the local language and setting my brain into “Spanish mode” – and it worked. I shopped in the famous Mercado de la Boqueria, where my Lonely Planet didn’t fail me: an explosion of colours, sounds and smells, it became my daily favourite spot to be. I marvelled at Gaudi’s creations in all shapes and sizes; I met some lovely people and ate delicious food in tapas bars in little plaças where you know only the locals go. I walked along the beach and soaked up the rays and the warmth. I sat on grass verges by the marina and listened to a band playing and people dancing to the captivating rhythms and watched street dancers and breakdancers outside the Cathedral.

This experience has enriched me in so many ways. First and foremost I have really progressed in my Spanish and plan to keep it up with a Cactus Skype course. Secondly I have seen some amazing places, art, museums and eaten delicious local dishes and met interesting and friendly people. Last but not least, I visited a city which was welcoming and alive and was blessed to go to a well organised school where the staff was extremely competent and friendly. I will be going back with my family in the not too distant future.

Cecilia took a 1-week General Spanish language course of 20 lessons in Barcelona. Cactus offers Spanish courses in many other locations across Spain and Latin America. Those wishing to learn the basics or brush up before they go can also take a Spanish evening course in the UK or the US.