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Learning Spanish at ILEE-Buenos Aires

Posted by Krioq in Buenos Aires on 18/Apr/2006
ILEE I was asked to write a short review summarizing my experience studying Spanish at the Instituto de Lengua Española Para Extranjeros (ILEE) in Buenos Aires and that's exactly what I am doing in my first article for SiteBits..

First of all, my qualifications as a reviewer: I took a two-week course in "upper intermediate" Spanish at the school, and that remarkable event of my life happened about a year ago. Things may have changed, my judgement might have been cloudy. With these disclaimers out of the way, let's move on.

The school is located in the very center of Buenos Aires, on Avenida Callao. Coming to class each morning (or afternoon) you'll enjoy plenty of big city exposure, including a good wake-up dose of polluted air. Your first difficulty will be in entering the building - the door is locked and you're supposed to buzz. As long as you hit the right button, though, any incoherent mumbling will be accepted as valid proof of your student identity and you will hear "¡Adelante!". That means you're in. Take the rickety elevator or just walk up the steep staircase to the fourth floor.

The school is very small. From my rough count, there are fewer than 10 classrooms (aulas) each consisting of a dinner-size table sitting may be 5 or 6 people plus the teacher. Which is enough because that's the size of the group they are targeting, anyway. The target is not always hit and if you're lucky enough to sign up for a course for which there aren't enough students, ILEE will, most likely, dedicate a professor just for your language needs. Which means you'll be paying a group rate while effectively receiving private lessons. This is what happened to me in the second week of class - my original group graduated from "middle-intermediate" level and none of them were taking the "upper intermediate" one. I can't say I enjoyed the free ride simply because I hate grammar drills and that's what my professors dedicated most of the time to during the second ("dedicated") week of the course.

Speaking of teachers, there seems to be about five or six of them on the payroll. I had two different ones in my two weeks and they both seemed nice. The teaching staff speaks just like everyone else in Buenos Aires, that is to say with a porteño accent, and they will be able to teach you both the "standard" Spanish and the local version (vos tenés and all that kind of stuff).

The biggest problem with the school that I found was its small size and correspondingly, the lack of student interaction. I am used to taking language lessons primarily for the benefit of the after-class partying that comes implied. At ILEE there wasn't much partying. To be fair, a large group of us did go out at least once - we ate an expensive (by local standards) dinner in Puerto Madero and then cruised around the city in cabs with over-clocked meters, trying to find a good club to go to (the meter thing, as we subsequently found out, was a typical scam perpetrated on groups of naive foreigners catching a cab from trendy places). But that was the only group outing. Other than that, I met a couple of nice kids from the States and the UK and we got together may be three times outside the school. That was it. All of these festivities happened in my first week there. The rest of my time in Buenos Aires I had to invent ways to entertain myself.

I guess, I should mention the demographics of people who take these courses. A large proportion of students are Americans, some quite mature, meaning early-to-mid 30's. Many only take one week because that's all they can afford in terms of vacation time (for those of you who don't know, people in the U.S. get 10 days off work per year). To me, that sounds like a waste of time to spend 20 hours on the plane each way only to come and sit for five days of classes. But perhaps, they know better.

Some students are from the UK, which makes for hilariously awkward classroom moments when one of them points out that the map of Argentina is "wrong" - the Falkland Islands are marked "Islas Malvinas" and considered Argentine possession. Don't make the same mistake. The Argentines believe that the UK has no business being anywhere near the Falklands. They are probably right.

The third largest group, or rather "a handful of others" are from Asia. I've met an Australian of Asian descent (sounds like an oxymoron, but you know what I mean) and a couple of Japanese.

As I said, in my opinion, there aren't enough students at ILEE. As small as the school was, its kitchen/common area felt empty at lunchtime - most of the time there was nobody there.

Teaching-wise, the school is good, but I'd say the educational process lacks imagination. I mean, I really hated the grammar drills in class - if I wanted to do that, I would take a book and study at home. Then again, I never DID take a book and study at home and at least ILEE made me learn a few grammar rules.

Finally, I was surprised to learn that the school did not adjust its prices after the 2001 collapse of Argentinean currency, peso. The prices were fixed in dollars and remained relatively constant. I paid something like $230 per week (can't remember the exact amount now). In Buenos Aires, that's a lot of money.

I didn't take advantage of home-stay and from my brief conversations with others who did at the school, it was a good decision. You can easily rent a good apartment nearby for less than what the school is going to charge you for living in a far-away one. Of course, if you're hell-bent on speaking Spanish all day long, your logic may be totally different. Me, I just wanted to be comfortable. So, no home-stay information to take into account here.

A SiteBits editor requested a rating for the school, on a 10-point scale. Taking all my points into consideration, I would give ILEE in Buenos Aires a good, solid 7. Obviously, it's a personal opinion. If you disagree, please feel free to comment in the forum.

+: Legitimate school, real teachers, exciting city, central location, small groups, options for tango lessons.
-: Small size; methodology a little boring; expensive relative to the cost of living in Buenos Aires.

ILEE-Buenos Aires
Av. Callao 339, 3rd Floor

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