James is an A1 AIL Madrid Spanish student from Hornchurch, UK, who just finished his university degree in Political Science last May. He's currently signed up for 12 weeks of intensive classes, but is already planning to extend his stay- host family and all! For James, this experience is part of an adventure-filled gap year, which has lead him all over Europe and even down to Australia, where he stayed with family and friends from University. In Madrid, he lives with a young couple and their three children, all under the age of 7.

James is one of the first in his family to live abroad, so his extended stay in Madrid felt like a pretty big deal, “When I took the plane over I was thinking ‘oh my god, what am I doing?’ But, as soon as I got here, my class started going really well and everyone goes out together for Noche de Copas, so I feel really relaxed and comfortable.” Additionally, his host parents are supportive and helpful with his language experience. He says, “They both speak quite clearly to me and are very patient, so I can understand what they're saying. That helps a lot!”

James United-Kingdom

Intensive Course

Meet James!

Choosing Madrid and AIL

For James, the decision to attend AIL and the city of Madrid was simple. Guided by friends from Madrid and other Spanish speaking countries, such as Venezuela, James felt this would be the best place to learn Spanish because, “In Barcelona, Catalan is very widely spoken, so if you go in the street you're going to hear a mixture of both, whereas in Madrid you're going to be listening to pure Spanish. There are other places I was interested in, like Seville and Granada, but their accents are really strong, so Madrid is the best place to start learning. You want to pick it up correctly, with a clear accent, before you move on to people with a different accent- I know places in England where people have very thick accents and it would make learning difficult.”

Once he had settled on Madrid, his planning phase was very simple: “I started researching what to do- I wanted to do something fun but challenging at the same time- so I googled Spanish courses and then went by reviews. I didn't see one bad review for AIL. So that was it! It wasn't a toss-up between different schools, after the reviews. I could see the pictures online of what the place looked like, and it's in quite a nice area, so it was AIL or I wasn't going to come to Spain.”

When asked how he feels now that AIL is an everyday reality in his life, he says: “To use a cliché, it seems like a very close-knit family. It doesn't take long to get to know people, even the staff that work here. It's very multicultural as well. We have people from Hong Kong, India, Australia, Russia, and Sweden, all in one group.” ”

Choosing Madrid and AIL

“I wanted to learn a language because, when I was at school, I studied French and German but I sort of took it for granted. At that age you don’t really think you're going to need a language and I was coming from England and thinking, ‘well, everyone speaks English anyway, so it's not important’. But while I was at university I made friends that were Spanish, French, German, etc, and they were speaking three languages! I think that sub-consciously made me want to learn a language myself.”

Beyond subconscious envy, James thinks that learning Spanish will have a very practical bearing on his life: “I'm currently deciding between doing a masters and getting a job in public relations, so that's the next big decision. Either way I think the Spanish language is only going to be helpful.”

When it comes to the learning process, James has found great support within his Spanish teacher, Andrés. A self professed ‘relaxed learner’, James finds that Andrés doesn't pressure him and always offers a helping hand either in class or a private conversation afterwards. As for his favorite part of class, James enjoys the group activities that allow him to practice conversing and says, “I enjoy the grammar side of it probably more than the vocabulary side, because even with a limited vocabulary I can put together a well structured sentence!”

Life in Madrid

Outside of AIL, James has had his fair share of fun adventures. He's planning to visit Toledo, Sevilla, Grandada, and Barcelona during his stay, but the highlight of his trip so far has been the Atletico vs Real Madrid football game he attending during his first two weeks: “I went to the Atletico vs Real game, and that was unbelievable. I was sitting with Atletico fans and they won 4-0, so that was crazy. It was a bit different from the English atmosphere: every single person had flags and their team colors. I really enjoyed it!”

James played football through university back home, but in Madrid he's hoping to delve into Spanish cinema once his language skills improve enough to watch films in their original language.

He also enjoys simply walking around Madrid and breathing in the culture, “I like going out to Retiro park- my host family lives one block away, so it's really close. Everyone's always walking in Madrid, I see so many people every day. People of all ages as well; everyone's strolling around! Spanish people in general are really friendly and welcoming: I said just the other day in class that even when people walk past you, it doesn't matter if they know you, they’ll say ‘hola’!

As for his advice for incoming students, James is very straight forward: Try and you will succeed! “Even little things that you might need to communicate, try to do it in Spanish. It doesn't matter if you get it wrong or right: it will build your confidence and you'll think, ‘Ok, people understand me and they can correct me, so nothing’s going to be that bad. You can talk to people!”.