Spanish is spoken by almost half a billion people! With more schools including Spanish as part of their Modern Foreign Languages offering, we spoke to Inge Hol, Director of Spark Spanish, about Spark Spanish’s school trips to Spain.
Q1: With so many different types of language trips available to teachers these days, could you briefly describe what a Spanish language experience with Spark Spanish consists of?
A1. All of Spark’s school group tours are fully customisable, allowing groups to create their own personal tours which address the unique educational needs of their school and students.
A key feature of a Spark school tour is the residential accommodation which allows entire groups to lodge together with peace and mind of it being in exclusivity. The residence is located above the actual school meaning each tour has a “homely” feeling. Another special side to a Spark tour is the town El Puerto de Santa Maria . It is a small and safe authentic Andalucian town perfect for a school tour. Spark is located just 10 minutes from both the wonderful beaches and the authentic town centre. The area is big with domestic Spanish tourism but not so much with international tourism making it a great place for a school tour, as little English is spoken.
Each tour standardly includes: classes, cultural activities, city trips and evening activities in the residence or town. Each part can be adapted as said to meet the school’s educational goals and to best fit the student’s personalities. For example the number of classes can be greater or less depending on school’s focus and also the teaching methodology can be adapted to the students’ needs, be that learning language for trips later in the day or revising GCSE or A-Level topics.
Another special feature of a Spark tour is our Spanish chaperone who accompanies the school throughout their trip, even staying in the residence with the students. Being a Spanish native and local of the area, they inspire the students to use as much Spanish as possible in the activities and adds that all important cultural information to make the trip all that more enriching. Every part of a tour is also fully risk assessed as we place a very high importance on safety.
It is also possible for groups to alternatively stay with vetted local Spanish families and have a family cultural experience. Likewise cross curricular tours or tours with no linguistic focus are possible.
An example tour timetable is below but what is important to bear in mind is that each part is bespoke.
Q2: Which Spanish cities can schools visit?
A2. El Puerto de Santa Maria is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Spain on the wonderful Costa de Luz in the province of Cadiz in Andalucia. The nearby area is a gem waiting to be discovered. Day city trips are possible to: Seville, Jerez, Cadiz, Gibraltar and Ronda to name a few. Seville is just an hour away and undoutedly a strong competitor for the most beautiful city in Spain and Cadiz, a 20 min boat trip across the bay of Cadiz, is the oldest city in Europe, dating from the Phoenicians. Longer day trips are also possible to Cordoba, Granada and Malaga and can be combined with flights in or out of Spain. The spectacular costa de luz coastline, includying some of the top beaches in Europe, and Roman ruins in Bolonia, should not be missed either. Likewise the nearby Sierra de Grazalema and its famed “puebles blancos” (white villages) is great to visit for adventure activities or walks and for providing a feel for rural Spain.
Q3: For school groups studying towards their GCSEs or A’ Levels, how will learning Spanish in Spain improve their language skills and compliment their classroom based learning?
A3. A language tour is the perfect compliment to student’s learning Spanish at school at home. It allows real exposure to Spanish in all the activities and trips, providing a context to use Spanish. Cultural activities like Flamenco class and cooking class provide scenarios where student’s must use their spanish to buy food in the market or learn flamenco. The connection between the language learned in class and used on a trip or activity is also an empowering experience as for first time many students immediately use out of class, the Spanish they were taught in it. Also all Spark’s teachers are native Spanish speakers from the local area. They teach only through the target language and provide not only an linguistic but also a cultural experience.
Q4: We often hear about immersive language learning and how mixing with native speakers is a big plus when studying a new language. Please could you briefly explain the benefits of this method of bettering your Spanish skills?
A4. Quite simply the more you are exposed to a language, the faster you will learn it. For this reason the immersive in country language experience is vital to fast tracking learning and providing motivation for students to keep pushing oneself to learn more. Being in Spain allows students to see Spanish for what it is, a language to be spoken, rather than just something taught to them in class. Making friends, buying things in the supermarket and bonding with the spark chaperone all provide ample opportunities to use Spanish and this repeated real usage is what implants the language naturally.
Q5: How do the cultural activities you include help students to practice and apply their knowledge of the Spanish language?
A5. Cultural activities are a great fun way to use the Spanish learned in class in a real context. For example during cooking class, the students need to first buy the ingredients in Spanish and also later communicate as a group in Spanish about who will prepare what and all under the watchful eye of our master chef :). These provides a clear connection between the Spanish learned in class and the language used out of it. Of course add in that each activities is fun and motivating and you have perfect context to encourage the students to use more and more Spanish. In all our activities we also have a Spanish language competition, where students are divided into teams and given “tokens” for the amount of Spanish they push themselves to use.
Q6: Historically, overseas language trips have tended to be the remit of Secondary schools. The National Curriculum for language learning at Primary school level has strengthened and we have seen more Primary schools making enquiries about overseas language trips. Do you offer trips that are suitable for Key Stage 2 groups?
Spark receives: primary, secondary and college tours. We already have a large number of primary schools who choose Spark with one of the big reasons being the possibility to lodge in our residence all together in exclusivity. Also the bespoke nature of our tours means the: the length of tour, hours of class, mealtimes and the activities done can all be adapted to fit the needs of younger children. Our high priority on safety is another key feature and all our staff are experienced working with young learners. Below is an example primary tour.
Q7: What would you say are the most rewarding experiences and main takeaways for a school group following their visit to Spain with Spark Spanish?
A7. There are so many “takeways” from a successful school tour and i could go on forever but if i had to summarise it into three I would say:
1.) The personal connection each student makes with Spanish and Spain. Often when learning a language just at school it can seem somewhat similar to Physics, a subject learned but not so often used. This is where a trip abroad comes in as it bridges the gap between viewing the new language as a subject and experiencing it as real communication. A well run tour provides this link giving students the motivation to keep learning Spanish when back home.
2.) Increased cultural awareness each student gains. A language trip abroad not only provides that vital link to using a new language as real communication but it also exposes students to new experiences and alternative ways of doing and seeing things, providing that all important cultural awareness. This increased cultural awareness generate that all important openess and acceptance of differences that any good educational institution shoudl teach.
3.) The increased personal bond between teachers and students. It might seem strange to put this in the top three, but it really is a great takeaway from a successful trip especially when benefits are seen in longer academic year sense. Trips abroad provide the perfect context for students and teachers to get to know each other outside of the classroom and get beyond the past experiences they had in the classroom. A well run trip abroad provides emotional bank of shared memories which enable both teachers and students to be a little more patient and understanding with each other.
Inge Hol is the Director of Studies and one of the owners of Spark Spanish – School Tours to Spain. She has been energetically organizing school tours for 100s of school over the least 8 years. She is orginally from the Netherlands but now lives in Spain and is tri-lingual in Spanish, English and Dutch. As well as running school tours, she is also an author of the book 100 steps to financial independence.