Spanish in Barcelona: What you need to know
Thinking of studying Spanish in Barcelona? In this article we’ll give you a summary of (almost) everything important you need to know before you make your choice.
If you are still narrowing down your search, don’t forget to check out our guide to studying in other Spanish cities, which compares popular study destinations such as Madrid, Valencia and Seville.
Language schools in Barcelona
Language schools (academias de idiomas) in Spain tend to be run on tight budgets, so don’t go expecting luxurious facilities and large, spacious buildings. This is especially true in Barcelona where many language schools occupy premises in buildings which were formally given over to residential use. You’ll often find schools hidden away up a staircase on the first or second floors of old mansion blocks in the Eixample area. This can be a little worrying, and disappointing, particularly if your only previous contact with the school has been via a fancy web. But worry not, the vast majority of language schools in the city are honest affairs with dedicated, enthusiastic teachers.
Alongside Madrid, Barcelona is one of the most expensive Spanish cities in which to rent or buy an apartment. However, this is a city which receives loads of foreign visitors every year and there are, consequently, a huge number of short-term accommodation options. For those looking for a room, the ‘go to’ web site used to be Loquo. Nowadays there are a few dubious operators on this classified ads portal, but it’s probably still a good bet. Alternatively check out Piso Compartido or the smaller selection of rooms on Idealista. You might also try to tap into one of the many groups for foreigners in Barcelona like the Barcelona TEFL Teachers’ Association which has an active Facebook page where you can ask questions. A decent room in a fairly central area should be around 350-400€ / month.
In most cases, language schools will also be able to arrange accommodation for you. A safer, though often more expensive, option.
So let’s look at the city itself:
Barcelona has a decent underground metro system which serves must of the city reasonably well, although certain journeys seem to require more time and more changes than you’d think were strictly necessary. If you’re going to the nicer areas in Zona Alta (literally the ‘high zone’), you’ll need to make use of the FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya) which is like a cross between a metro and a traditional train. Likewise, heading out of the city, to the coast or to the satellite towns in the interior, you’ll need to get the Cercanias (o Rodalies in Catalan), which is a standard regional railway, such as you might find around London, but without the overcrowding, extortionate fares and general bad service.
Oh, and I should mention, that you can also get around most of the city by foot, while an even quicker option is to go local and get a scooter for your stay here. Just be careful of the traffic and dodgy road layouts!
Why are all the signs in French?
That’s not French! It’s Catalan, a separate language, which enjoys equal footing with Spanish in the whole of Catalonia. In fact, ‘equal’ may be understating matters as most public organisations in Catalonia actively promote the local language in detriment to Spanish. On the street, you’ll still hear loads of people speaking Spanish in Barcelona, but most Catalans prefer their own language when amongst close friends and family.
Barcelona is famous for its nightlife, and while its perhaps not as sophisticated as it once was, the city does have an enormous collection of bars and restaurants in the city. Central areas such as the Barrio Gotico, Born and the Raval are where you’ll find the highest concentration of places to eat and drink. These are also the areas which attract the most tourists. In fact, walk into a bar or restaurant in these areas and chances are that more than 50% of the clients will be foreigners.
When it comes to music , the house and electronic scene of the 90s is now a distant memory, and successive alcaldes (City mayors) have clamped down on many music venues, but there is still a lot of live music, especially in smaller more intimate venues. For those that need a nightclub, the Pacha club in Zona Universitaria is still extremely popular and there are also the more bling options of Shoko and Opium near the waterfront Port Olimpic.
To find out what’s going on, check out Time Out Barcelona , which has information in Catalan, Spanish and English.
Apparently the city has a moderately successful football club. You will be reminded of this ALL THE TIME during your stay in the Barcelona.
Previously an industrial area with low quality housing, the city’s coast was rejuvenated in time for the 1992 Olympic Games. While the beaches are now a massive improvement on what was there before, they are not the cleanest in the world and thieves and roving vendors can be a real nuisance. That said, the vibe around some of the beach bars (chiringitos) can be pretty cool, particularly those that attract a young Brazilian/Argentinian crowd.
You’ll find a range of disparate opinions on the vitality of cultural life in Barcelona. It certainly doesn’t have the world-renowned art galleries that you’ll find in Madrid, and the cultural offer on the whole tends to be a little ‘provincial’. But Barcelona does have some smaller gems such as the Picasso Museum, which houses many of the artist’s earlier works, the Cosmo Caixa science museum in the hills above the city, and the Caixa Forum in Plaza Espanya, which normally hosts 4 separate exhibitions at any one time.
The institutions which are run directly by the Generalitat, the Catalan government, tend to emphasize Catalan culture, and the Catalan language, as do many of the public and private theatres in the city. So, while there are cultural events in Spanish in Barcelona, the majority tend to be in Catalan.
To find out about events, plays, exhibitions and more, check out the web site of Barcelona’s English language magazine, Metropolitan
If you’re young (under 27) or young at heart, and going out is just as important to you as learning Spanish, then you’ll love Barcelona. However, if you really want that immersive Spanish experience, with no distractions and no pesky local languages, then this may not be the place for you. But here are some more great options for studying Spanish in Spain!