Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine May 2008 Issue
Related Topics
Language Study Abroad
Language Schools in Argentina
Living in Argentina: Expatriate Resources and Articles

The Best Language Schools in Buenos Aires

So Many Spanish Schools From Which to Choose in the Capital of Argentina

Plaza Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

2007 was going to be my year away from the working world; having been laid off from my job I was determined to make the best of the situation and use the entire year as a sabbatical to live abroad, learn a new language, and do a lot of traveling on the cheap whenever presented with the opportunity. Having previously been to Buenos Aires, I was attracted by the relatively high standard of living, fantastic rate of exchange, great night life, incredible food, impressive architecture, and multiple travel attractions across the country. In short, I knew it was the city that I wanted to live in while learning Spanish.

After using the Internet to arrange a long term apartment in a suitable part of the city, the most pressing issue that remained was finding the right school to attend. Several hours of research left me with information overload as it yielded dozens of schools in the city–a confusing mix of brand-new and long-established institutions with varying programs and services at prices all over the map. Which, if any of them, would be the best?

As a student-to-be in my late-30s I wasn’t as price sensitive as I would have been years past, although if there were good deals to be had at lower prices, so much the better. On the other hand, I didn’t want to end up being “the old guy” at the school, which was a concern in terms of after-hours socializing and travel. I also preferred schools that were not overrun with students from the U.S.A. or Europe, which would ensure actually practicing Spanish to communicate instead of defaulting to English—as tends to happen among students from those countries.

Corrientes, Buenos Aires, Argentina

All schools under consideration had to be reputable, well-established, reasonably priced within the market, and located near the subway and bus lines. After much investigation, the schools that made the final cut were: Comisión de Intercambio Educativo (COINED), Instituto de Lengua Española para Extranjeros (ILEE), and International Bureau of Language (IBL). Generally speaking, all of these schools offer the option of individual or group classes, “intensive classes” lasting five or more hours per day, language specialization courses (medical, business, etc), homestay options with families (including meals if you want them), plus weekly activities.

In regard to pricing, with annual inflation in Argentina running around 12% to 20% in 2007, it’s wise to keep tabs on the prices posted on the listed websites in case rates unexpectedly go up. Also note that June and July are Brazil’s winter vacation months, so nearly every school in Buenos Aires is overflowing with Brazilians simultaneously bent on Spanish language improvement and late night liver damage at the local boliches (discos/nightclubs).

Comisión de Intercambio Educativo (COINED) was the first school selected and, in my opinion probably the best, since I ended up staying there for 12 weeks while originally intending to only stay a maximum of 8 weeks. It was the largest school, in terms of students and facilities, with a curriculum developed at the University of Buenos Aires. The classes also utilized a lot of Argentine culture (novels, cinema, music, etc) to supplement the learning. The majority of the teachers were undergrads (pursuing an advanced degree) although the study materials were probably the lowest production quality (format, legibility, bindings, etc) among all of the schools. The student body composition was diverse: Brazilian, North American, Western European, Japanese, Russian, and an occasional Aussie here and there. 85% of the students ranged from 21 to 29 years old, so those of us 30+ were easily in the minority. COINED has a “residence hall” that the vast majority of students used for accommodation, which not-so-coincidentally made this the school with the most extracurricular partying going on in the wee hours of the morning. Price-wise it occupied the middle ground between the more expensive and cheaper schools, which included two to three activities per week.

Instituto de Lengua Española para Extranjeros (ILEE) bills itself as the only school “where all the teachers hold a University of Buenos Aires Masters degree, either in Literature or Education, and have taught Spanish as a foreign language for 3+ years”. In my experience ILEE was also the smallest school, with the lowest teacher-to-student ratio, as well as the most expensive of all the schools. As such, the student body consisted exclusively of Western European and North American professionals, with an average age around 35-40. Night outings among the students tended to be weekends-only, although daytime excursions in the city were plentiful (however, the school’s planned weekly activities usually involved an extra fee of some sort). I found that the placement tests were not very effective and actually ended up being the poorest of any of the schools. On more than one occasion, an unfortunate beginner was mismatched with higher level students, causing no small level of frustration on both sides. However, the course materials were excellent and probably the most useful of any of the schools. In the end, I moved on three weeks earlier than planned due to the lack of any added value the education offered me for the higher price.

International Bureau of Language (IBL) was a pleasant surprise—the cheapest of the schools. I arrived expecting only to stay two weeks but the value for the money was such that I ended up staying five weeks (which turned out to be all of the remaining time I had set aside for school before planning to travel around South America and then returning home at the end of the year). The placement test and materials were excellent and the classes incorporated an interesting twist: each 4-hour class was divided into two 2-hour segments, led by two different teachers, with the goal of improving student attentiveness throughout the day. The student body was an international mix, although mostly from Western Europe and the U.S.A., with ages ranging widely from 20 to 60. IBL also offered the most after-hours activities at no cost, including a once-per-week conversation group that was essentially a free class. Unfortunately, due to the layout of the school, students tended to interact primarily within their individual classes, so the social outings were fewer than at the other schools.

So which school is the best? The answer depends on the priorities of the individual student. In addition to considering the prices of each institution, making the most of your Spanish learning experience in Buenos Aires requires looking at the not-so-obvious factors that could enhance or detract from the overall experience. These include such things as the activities outside class (tango or salsa dancing, sightseeing, bike riding, wine tasting, photography, theater, museums, etc); short-term accommodations (homestay, residence, apartment, hotel, etc), access to Internet/computer (although the city has countless Internet cafes); nightlife with other students; student body diversity; effectiveness of language placement testing; teacher and school accreditation; and so forth. My personal advice is that whatever you eventually decide, don’t pay for everything up front but instead stay flexible and pay for a week or two. If the school works for you, then make a longer commitment. Otherwise, try another school… The best school for you just might be a variety of schools for an overall richer experience. ¡Suerte!

Note: Prices and details subject to change, so please verify with school. Most information will be on their websites.

COINED (Comisión de Intercambio Educativo), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Website: www.intercoined.com
Prices: $180 for 20 hrs/week (group); $290 for 20 hrs/week (individual); $45 registration fee.
School Size: Ranges between 60 students (non-peak) to 180 (June/July).
Student Body: International mix; 85% early-mid 20s and 15% at 30 yrs old and higher.
Classes/Schedules: Groups 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; various individual 2 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.; school closes at 6:30 p.m.
Materials: 7 books (beginning – advanced) that take about one month each to complete.
Extra Activities: 2 to 3 per week, free or minimal cost (entry fees, taxi fare, etc).
Accommodations: Student residence, host family, individual furnished apartment, or hotel .
Internet/PC Access: 2 (up to 4, if they’re all working) computers for students plus wireless Internet for laptops.
Airport Pickup: Yes, $45 transfer fee with advanced notice.
Accreditations: Multiple; all listed on the COINED website.
Other Locations: Córdoba, Mendoza, Bariloche, Ushuaia, Santiago (Chile) .
Comments: The biggest school in town, after the University of Buenos Aires; the most “after hours socializing” of the schools; classes include a lot of Argentine literature and pop culture.

ILEE (Instituto de Lengua Española para Extranjeros), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Website: argentinailee.com
Prices: $230 for 20 hrs/week (group); $21 per 2-hour class (individual); $60 registration fee.
School Size: Ranges between 15 to 30 students, fairly constant throughout the year.
Student Body: Exclusively European and American; 90% are 30+ yrs old (among them, 50% are 40+).
Classes/Schedules: Group & individual classes anytime between 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; school closes at 5:30 p.m.
Materials: 3 books (beginning to advanced) supplemented with newspaper and magazine articles.
Extra Activities: 2 to 3 per week; usually required additional fees (tour groups, taxi fare, etc.).
Accommodations: Host family accommodation or individual furnished apartment.
Internet/PC Access: 1 Internet-connected computer plus wireless internet for laptops.
Airport Pickup: Yes, $30 transfer fee with advanced notice.
Accreditations: None listed.
Other Locations: Córdoba, Bariloche, plus partner schools in Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico.
Comments: Highest teacher/student ratio; majority of the students are older professionals; placement exam was the least accurate/useful of any taken.

IBL (International Bureau of Language), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Website: www.ibl.com.ar
Prices: $135 for 20 hrs/week (group); the same price for individual classes but you receive half the hours of instruction.
School Size: Varies widely, between 50 to 100 students each week.
Student Body: Mostly Western European, American, and Brazilian (70% age 20-29 and 30% age 30+).
Classes/Schedules: Groups (mostly mornings) and individual 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; school closes at 6:30 p.m.
Materials: 8 books (beginning to advanced) that require 2 weeks each to complete.
Extra Activities: 4 to 5 weekly (usually free), including once-a-week Spanish conversation group.
Accommodations: Host family accommodations or individual furnished apartments.
Internet/PC Access: Wireless Internet for laptop users; no computers provided by school for students.
Airport Pickup: No.
Accreditations: Asociación de Centro de Idiomas.
Other Locations: No.
Comments: The least expensive school; fewest “frills” but had the most extracurricular activities; located along the main shopping street downtown; the most effective placement exam.

Note: Please feel free to add your recommendations below.