Learning Spanish in Spain normally follows one of two routes. The first is attending lessons at a language school, which tend to be highly structured and all too reminiscent of school days. The other is attending a language exchange, where you run the risk of sticking to speaking in English by hanging around with native speakers or meeting a Spanish speaker who wants to improve their English, with little thought of your own language goals.
Spanishcafé offers an alternative: conversation-based lessons in a relaxed café atmosphere. Clara Anuncio, one of the organisers, said: “There is an enormous difference between our classes and a conversation exchange, given that, as well as practising the language, the teacher helps the students with their mistakes and explains grammatical structures as needed.”
The sessions, which cost far less than the equivalent at a language school, take place in either the Picnic Dreams café or the cafeteria of the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga. There are also classes in both Madrid and Seville. A typical class begins with students ordering drinks, followed by a general discussion and some informal group activities. The sessions usually end with a conversation centred around topics chosen at random by the organiser, which can range from animal rights, to fashion or whether true love really exists.
“One of the best things about Spanishcafé is being in a small group with people of a similar ability,” says Suzy, an Irish student who began learning Spanish three months ago. She explained how she started off as a beginner but after an intensive language course complemented by Spanishcafé she is now an upper intermediate. “Spanishcafé has really built my confidence and speaking ability. Not only does Clara support me during the session, but she is more than happy to correct any written Spanish that I bring to class,” she added.
Clara is enthusiastic about the benefits of Spanishcafé: “It's really rewarding to teach Spanish to people from so many different countries with varying abilities. We design our classes to be fun and enjoyable, to allow everyone to improve their Spanish and increase their fluency in a natural way by using the language.”
Heike, a student from Austria, says she has really come into her own since joining Spanishcafé. “I learnt some Spanish at school, but it wasn't the same as the teachers themselves weren't native speakers and they were trying to get you to pass an exam, not learn the language for the enjoyment of it. Spanishcafé is very different. You become very comfortable with the other pupils and enjoy going to the sessions. It's a lot like going for coffee with friends, except that you're also learning a second language.”
Spanishcafé is a recent offshoot of the long-running Englishcafé, which has been helping locals learn English for several years. One of the teachers, Martin Hyam, 57, from London, has spent the last four years teaching in Malaga, having previously lived in Valencia, Santiago de Compostela and Sorbas in Almeria. He has a PGCE in adult basic education and has taught in adult and community education. “Englishcafé provides students with an opportunity to develop their functional communication skills,” he said. The classes, he continued, have been helpful for Spanish adults who are preparing for English oral exams, interviews in English, and for work and travel needs.