Spain

Camino Barcelona: Review of my experience in 2019

When I think of Camino Barcelona, I think of the “school with heart”. Throughout the last 3 months here, in many ways it has come to feel like home. I have also experienced a number of situations that would test the school’s limits and flexibility, which is why I now feel licensed to write this review. So here I am – writing a review!

 

How I found Camino Barcelona

I first started looking into Spanish language schools in July 2018. I was thinking about a move to Spain at the time, but wasn’t 100% sure I would do it and so was exploring my options.

Originally, I was looking into schools in Valencia, as that would have been my preferred destination. Following an analysis of the job market though, I ended up choosing Barcelona instead.

As I was checking out the lay of the land in Barcelona, I stumbled upon Camino Barcelona. A Spanish language school in the centre of the city (L’Eixample) that had a 4.9 star rating on Google. Not bad!

Following my own experiences there, I would say that rating is not too far off what I would give it – depending on what you want to achieve.

 

Courses offered at Camino Barcelona

Camino Barcelona offers a substantial number of courses that students can enjoy.

Their most popular course is the 20 hours/week intensive Spanish course, which is the course that I have been attending.

Additionally, they also offer various conversation classes, DELE preparation classes and private 1-1 tuition.

You can see all of their current offerings by clicking here.

If you scroll down you will find an offer list that looks something like this:

 

Prices and refund policy

I will be absolutely honest here and say that originally, the biggest factor for me choosing Camino Barcelona was the price. I knew if I was going to join the school I would not be working for a while, so I really had to be conscious of my spending.

Furthermore, after many hours researching schools in Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona I was pretty familiar with the prices. My trusty language school evaluation spreadsheet helped a lot with keeping that information fresh in my mind…

That’s why, when I received a Black Friday email from Camino Barcelona, offering me an irresistible deal, I was delighted!

Initially, the 25% discount they were offering didn’t look that unusual. I had received similar offers before. However, after reading the fine print, I realise that the terms and conditions under which the discount was being offered were something special indeed.

You see, the other offers I had received always seemed to have some unusual restrictions to them. Some only offered a discount for booking courses including accommodation. Others only offered the discount for the first 4 weeks of the booking. (I’m looking at you Don Quijote and Enforex…sneaky sneaky!)

So when I saw that Camino Barcelona’s discount was valid for all courses (both with and without accommodation) and for the total booking amount, I was ecstatic!

2,350€ for 6 months of classes? Count me in!

Another thing was that their refund policy was pretty reasonable too. In the event that I was to cancel the course more than 28 days in advance, I would only have to pay a 60€ penalty (the enrolment fee).

Some schools were charging 200€+ for cancellations. Therefore, considering I wasn’t 100% sure I would be able to attend, I thought this was great!

 

Reviews

Looking into a school, I always find it important to find out what the experiences of others are like. That being said, it didn’t hurt at all that Camino Barcelona had a 4.9 star rating on Google. There were over 100 reviews at the time, so I was able to peruse through them at leisure and see what people thought.

In general, the reviews were short and didn’t say too much. However, at other times you got more elaborate comments that really told you something about people’s experiences. Those were the ones I was looking for.

For example, I saw one review which cautioned that Camino Barcelona would not be the place for you if you wanted to get a rigorous training in Spanish grammar. Having spent some months there now I would tend to agree. The focus is certainly on getting you speaking with fluency. If I had not seen this at the start though, I think I might have been disappointed about that now.

In general, it seemed that students were having a great time though and that the atmosphere in the school seemed fun and inviting. That was just the kind of place I was looking for for my career break, so that was really encouraging to see.

 

Activities

When I was signing up to a Spanish language school, one of the most important aspects for me was the range of activities they offered. I was looking forward to meeting people and integrating myself fully into Spanish language activities, so any support I could get from the school for that was appreciated.

In terms of my learning, I thought that one of the most interesting features offered by the school was the ‘Club de la tarde‘ or Afternoon Club. On Mondays and Fridays students could apparently enjoy a free movie with popcorn, and on other days they could practice reading, writing, listening and speaking with a teacher for free on top of their normal classes.

In terms of social activities, Camino Barcelona also offered plenty of opportunities to mingle with other students and interact in Spanish. They were literally offering after school activities and excursions 7 days a week. A number of which were free, and all others ranging between 5-25€, which was a big plus.

I’ll have to admit, that since I joined the school I have actually not participated in any of these activities though. Not because I think they are not of value, but actually due to where I live and the scheduling.

I finish school at 13:10 each day, but activities don’t start until around 16:00. I also live too far away to make travelling into the city centre twice/day a worthwhile exercise.

That being said, I hear good feedback from other students on the activities. The only thing is that for longer term students they can get somewhat repetitive and some of the more expensive excursions would be cheaper solo. If you’re looking for some socialising opportunities in the short term though, they would likely hit the spot.

Here’s a sample activity list for you to peruse:

Camino Barcelona Activities – 15-21 July

 

Course structure at Camino Barcelona

When I first arrived at Camino Barcelona I have to admit I was a little bit surprised at the structure of it. (Or should I say the lack of it?)

To give you a bit of context, the last time I had studied a language intensively, I had been studying Korean at the Yonsei University Korean Language Institute in Seoul.

There a semester was 10 weeks long.  The classroom and teachers assigned each semester also remained the same throughout.

Each day, there was a strict and clear division between reading, writing, speaking and listening classes. Homework was also based on the grammar and vocabulary learnt that day.

It took approximately 1-2 hours/day and was most certainly not optional. (If you thought it was you certainly wouldn’t be on the course long…)

Given I came out of the language institute 6 months later with a very high fluency in the Korean language (I worked from A2-B2 level), I found it very effective.

The school at Camino Barcelona, however, has quite a different set up indeed.

 

Class schedule

For starters, there is no fixed semester. Classes at Camino Barcelona start every Monday and end every Friday and each day the intensive Spanish course is held across 2-4 sessions, depending on which course you take.

This is a sample schedule:

New students start every Monday and class sizes tend to be between 5-10 depending on the week. Camino Barcelona also has two campuses, located a 5 minute walk from each other, and each session is usually located in a different classroom.

Sometimes sessions will be in the same building, other times you will travel across to the other building. When you do travel, that tends to be a great excuse to buy a cheap croissant and/or coffee from the Dia store at the corner. It definitely gives you some fresh air and I have to say I kind of like that!

When the school gets full in the summer, they also rent out classrooms in neighbouring businesses. We had some very interesting classes the other week in an oriental healing shop. That was in interesting surprise and I have to say the owner of the store was just too cool!

Teachers also rotate every week. This means you will usually have two teachers for the week. One for the morning session and one for the afternoon session. In the case someone is absent, you will have a substitute.

The likelihood of having the same teachers two weeks in a row is also pretty low. I’ve been at the school for three months now and that has yet to happen. However, you will tend to see them again after 2-4 weeks, which can really feel like coming home sometimes.

When I first questioned the reasoning for the rotation, I was told it helped expose students to a variety of different accents and teachings styles. That totally makes sense to me.

I do also think it might have something to do with teacher numbers fluctuating each month though. Especially across the summer months. Considering the curriculum is standard though, I have yet to consider this a problem.

 

Class levels

When you first join Camino Barcelona, you will be requested to take a level test, unless you are a complete beginner. This means you will take a written test online, which the teachers will evaluate. On your first day at school you will then join one of the classes that are running already.

In my case, even though I had already completed A2 level, I wanted to review some of the past tenses. I, therefore, requested to go into A2 and they allowed me to take the last two weeks of the A2 level classes.

Most weeks, they will have classes for all levels. However, one of the criticisms I have about this school is that when they don’t have enough students in a level it’s very possible to end up in mixed level classes.

For example, when I went into the A2 level classes at first, there were some students who evidently should not have been there. Their language skills were simply not advanced enough.

Another time, however, it occurred that because there were only 2 students left at my level (B2), we were put together with some students who were 3 chapters ahead of us in the book. This meant we had to skip 3 chapters altogether – or request external help from the teachers.

This is something I was not best pleased about and something to keep in mind if you want to take your language studies seriously.

 

Teachers

If and when you come to Camino Barcelona, the first thing you will notice is there are a lot of teachers.

As previously described, this is not the place to get attached. No, you will definitely cycle through a number of teachers staying here longer than a week.

Having said that though, I think the level of engagement you get from most teachers is very high. I can really only think of one or two that could do with a tweak, and the gripes I do have are minimal at best.

The best part too, is that you get feedback forms every week to say what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. You can comment on the teachers and the weekly activities.

From what I’ve heard the feedback does get taken very seriously too, and the curriculum gets updated frequently. They want to ensure the classes stay standardised, but nevertheless fun, engaging and useful.

I have also seen high flexibility from teachers to accommodate changing circumstances, which can be useful.

For example, we had a situation recently where there were only two students in the class. Two other students were off and the assigned teacher was ill.

That being the case, our substitute teacher asked us if we had any particular topics we wished to review. Since it was only the two of us we thought this was a great opportunity!

Friday is usually our review day, but we instead decided to go with the topic of “How to handle big changes in life”. It was a topic we both felt was relevant to our lives now.

With our curriculum in hand, the substitute teacher Sara ended up finding and adapting a 3 page text for us within a matter of hours. The lesson was a complete hit! Even the walk in student having a trial lesson really seemed to enjoy it.

It was a fantastic opportunity to talk a lot, learn some new vocabulary, practice speaking, listening and writing too. Best of all it made a welcome change from the usual textbook review. Great!

 

Curriculum

Camino Barcelona uses the Gente Hoy series by Difusión. This was a pleasant surprise, as it was similar to the Aula Internacional series I had been using when I first started learning Spanish.

It also meant I didn’t have to buy any books, as I already had the yearly student subscription (19€/year) for Campus Difusión. It’s an online learning centre, which gives you free access to all of Difusión’s books. Perfect!

Each week you would cover 1-2 chapters of a book in class. Teachers using a mix of reading, speaking, listening and writing exercises. With a larger emphasis on speaking overall though.

Personally, I have found the structure to be very effective for introducing and practicing grammar structures verbally. However, in order to use the structures fluidly, a student really has to take responsibility for practicing the language and vocabulary outside class too.

Classes are not really rigorous enough to allow rapid progression without the extra effort. Especially in the case of students wanting to take the DELE Spanish language examinations.

However, Camino Barcelona do apparently offer classes specifically geared at passing the DELE examination. It is, therefore, possible that these would allow a student to progress faster and obtain the necessary standard. Since I have not taken these though, I cannot comment on this.

 

My thoughts on the curriculum

Personally, I have been at Camino Barcelona for 3 months now and I can say my linguistic abilities have definitely increased. However, I do still struggle greatly with some of the basics. Conjugations, vocabulary, using the correct grammar structure at times…

I know this is related to the fact that I don’t really reinforce my learning outside class. However, it is also because the expectations from the school are pretty low. We cover the bare minimum of what is needed to understand the grammar and homework is pretty much optional. If you want to do homework, you can. If you don’t, so be it.

The homework you get also only takes around 30 minutes to complete with very little focus on creative writing. Usually it will be a fill in the blank/ re-arrange the sentence type exercises.

I also admit that the weeks I have taken initiative and decided to study independently on my grammar and vocabulary have also been the most productive. After those weeks I have usually received feedback from others on how greatly my skills are improving.

I suppose a little (or a lot) of effort really can go a long way!

 

Examinations and scoring

At this point, I have taken two examinations at Camino Barcelona. One to move into B1 level and one to move into B2 level. I got approximately 75% in both.

Personally, I like the setup of the examinations. The first session is usually used to test you on reading and writing. The second is then used to focus on listening and speaking.

Reading and writing are pretty straightforward. It is usually a mix between circling and entering the correct answers/conjugations and free-writing on a given topic.

During the listening part you get to hear dialogues twice, as you would in an actual DELE test. I am also told that the exams are partially adapted from DELE exercises too, which is useful.

For the speaking test you will be able to choose one topic from two and have 5-10 minutes to prepare your response. You may have longer if you’re waiting for others to finish their exam.

My only real criticism here is related to the focus and evaluation of examinations.

I have said before that this school focuses on speaking first and foremost. I don’t think this is something emphasised enough on their website, but it is very clearly reflected in examinations.

Take a look at my last exam results, for example.

 

Exam Results – July 2019

 

The points were divided into the following groups for testing:

Linguistic Knowledge: 15 points (min. 50% to pass)

Reading competency: 20 points (min. 50% to pass)

Listening competency: 20 points (min. 50% to pass)

Writing competency: 20 points (min. 50% to pass)

Spoken competency: 25 points (min. 50% to pass)

Overall you needed 60 points to pass the exam.

 

My biggest gripe with the examination is that I don’t think it motivates you to obtain a true level of A1/B1/C1 etc.

Back in Korea, we had a rigorous scoring system which gave equal value to reading, writing, listening and speaking. If you failed one unit, you failed all units as you were not up to standard. There were also pop quizzes each week to insure students were staying up to speed.

At Camino Barcelona, on the other hand, scores are grouped together. So, for example, because I didn’t get the 50% required to pass Linguistic Knowledge I technically should have failed altogether. However, because the score was grouped together with other scores (reading and writing, I believe), I was able to pass.

Now, I don’t think this will be an issue for many people who join the school while on vacation or for non-academic purposes. However, I do think this is something to bear in mind when choosing a course for academic studies.

You will need to be rigorous on yourself to advance your level here, because the pressure to progress rapidly will not come from the school.

The curriculum is solid, the information the books offer is good. However, the transient nature of the school’s programs means the focus is definitely more on leisurely learning than rigorous academic progression.

 

Flexibility at Camino Barcelona

One of the things I rate highest at this school is its flexibility. It is definitely designed to be flexible and is very customer focused in this way.

 

Changing start dates

I first got a taste of their flexibility when I was originally meant to join the school at the end of April. Having paid for the course, I was ready to roll, when suddenly I got sick with Bronchitis and mild Pneumonia. I wrote to the school on the Friday before I was meant to start and within hours they responded and agreed to change my start date, without any further payment or hassle. I thought this was fantastic!

 

Taking breaks

Another example of their flexibility was proven 4 weeks later, when I got sick again with a viral infection. I was able to take another break of 2 weeks to recover without losing any academic weeks I had paid for. I was also able to start up again exactly where I had left off. The weekly structure is really useful for this!

I will be travelling in September and October again, which means this flexibility will come in very handy for me. I will be writing to the administration shortly to request a 6 week break while I travel and then finish the remaining 4 weeks of my booking thereafter. That’s a pretty amazing perk, if you ask me!

 

Crisis Support

Another aspect that I believe is worth mentioning is that, from what I have seen, Camino Barcelona provides excellent crisis management support.

A friend of mine, unfortunately, was in a situation where she was sexually assaulted by a man one night. I won’t go into the details of this, but you can imagine that she was not in the best frame of mind thereafter.

She had troubles studying in classes that week and went to the administration to discuss her options. The owner of the school Mike, generously offered to provide her with private 1.5 hour tutoring classes.

They would be free of charge for her that week. This also allowed her to keep her studies going and work around her various police and psychiatrist appointments.

For me, that was a sign of the school really going above and beyond the call of duty. A school with a heart for sure.

 

The Administration team at Camino Barcelona

I have to say that considering the number of interns that come in and out of the organisation, the level of professionalism is exceptionally high.

For the most part, I have received a response to any enquiries I have sent within a few hours.

The only exception to this was when I was requesting a letter for my NIE application. It took several follow ups for this to be organised. Possibly because whoever received the email may not have known how to process it.

However, that is a pretty specialised request and if I were to apply for it again, I would probably just go there in person. You need to get the original document for the NIE Police visit anyway.

Overall, the administrative staff are very friendly, helpful and willing to address any questions or issues you may have. I think this may, in part, be linked to the school’s owner Mike who is very much like that too.

It is clear that customer satisfaction is very important here and continual feedback is sought from students weekly on how to improve this further.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would say that I do in fact recommend Camino Barcelona as a place to study Spanish – casually.

It has suited me very well so far and I look forward to continuing my Spanish journey with them for another 3 months moving forward.

However, this recommendation does come with several words of caution:

  • I would not recommend the intensive program in this school if you are looking to pass the DELE. The classes are simply not robust enough to attain the necessary standard. (I cannot speak to their specialized DELE classes though – these may still be able to give students the necessary rigour to pass.)
  • I would also not recommend the supplementary speaking classes above A2 level. Although I have not taken these classes myself, feedback from students and teachers all around has been primarily negative. The format of ‘speak on a topic in a large group’ instead of ‘create something to present on a topic’ simply is not helpful for aiding serious language progression. Up to A2 level seems to be very helpful for getting you started though.

 

With that said, I hope you have found this review helpful. In case you have any thoughts or experiences of your own on this school, do feel free to share below!

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