review, Bellavista School, Santiago

Escuela Bellavista or Bellavista School, located in Santiago is a school for leaning Spanish as a second language. Overall, I was very satisfied with the school. I learned a lot of Spanish, met some very interesting and friendly people, gained an appreciation of Chilean culture and had fun doing it. The school served my wife and I well in terms of jolting our minds into Spanish. We came away eager to try to communicate in Spanish and with basic tools for accomplishing that. Our ability to understand spoken Spanish increased considerably.

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The school is located not far from the center of the city (La Moneda) and is in the community of its name, Bellavista; the neighborhood enjoys many restaurants and specialty shops, including lapilazuli jewelry. The school occupies the entire second floor of a building. The very front is administrative offices. The large entranceway serves as a group meeting room (every Monday morning) with classrooms down a long hall. A small kitchen and eating area are available for students. Additional classrooms are in an adjacent building. Overall, the facilities are suitable for study with adquate space, seating and lighting. Although there are fans, it can get warm in the afternoon.

The school has at least a dozen teachers plus various administrators. The morning is for group classes with individual instruction in the afternoon. Class sizes vary depending on enrollment and capability of the student body, but appeared small with maybe four to six students per class. The overall student body is about fifty students from all over the world. Some students appeared daily while others attended a couple of days per week. Alumni seemed to appear on an ad hoc basis.

The teaching method seemed appropriate and flexible. Students stayed in a given class while the teachers rotated. During the week, I learned from about six teachers. There was a book with specific exercises and dialog, but it often seemed to be a starting point for discussion rather than a strict guide. Typically the teacher would attempt to engage each student in conversation at the beginning of class. This was followed by exercises. Although the teachers rotate, they knew the curriculum and built upon the work of the previous classes through repitition and coverage of the same subject with a diffent tact. For exaple, one day we talked about food and learned words on the blackboard, the next day, we looked at photos of foods and the third day, we visited an outdoor fruit and vergetable market.

An important dimension of the school was the optional living arrangement and excursions. We chose to stay at the teachers’ house. This put us in an environment where English was not permitted and Spanish was spoken all the time. The excursions were another natural way to learn Spanish by engaging in activities like commuting and shopping. Additionally, many of the exursions had a tour aspect, for example, descriptions (in Spanish) of wine-making techniques or instructions for making local, typical foods.

We chose the “crash course” for one week. We had special considerations in that we are in South America for eight weeks and want to spend most of our time fly-fishing for trout and sightseeing Patagonia. We have an interest in getting to meet people and conversing with them, but didn’t want to spend too much time studying. Both my wife and I have some background studying and conversing in Spanish. The school served us well in terms of jolting our minds into Spanish. We came away eager to try to communicate in Spanish and with basic tools for accomplishing that. Our ability to understand spoken Spanish increased considerably.

The “crash course” includes six hours of Spanish instruction per day. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is group class and from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. is individual. We had received an appropriate warning form the school that this was a difficult regimen. For real progress, two or three weeks is more appropriate. A more ideal pace would include daily (Monday to Friday) group classes in the mornings accompanied by afternoon and weekend excursions supplemented by personal study and individual tutoring. One month of this regimen followed by a month living in a Spanish-speaking country followed by another month of schooling would provide a solid foundation.

Some words of caution, the school teaches the Spanish of Chile. As a U.S. citizen, I underestimated the diversity of Spanish. I thought there was the Spanish of Spain (Castillian) and the Spanish of Latin America. According to my dictionary, there are twenty Spanish-speaking countries. Here in Argentina, people complain Chileans speak so rapidly that they are hard to understand and that Chileans have so many different names for foods that it is hard to order a meal at a restaurant. My recommendation is to undertand your purpose in learning Spanish. Most of the students at the school either had a job in Chile or were married to someone who did. If you plan to travel throughout Latin America, be prepared for setbacks in pronunciation, idioms and expressions. I’m not sure if there is a country that has the most “neutral” Spanish. Also, note that Santiago is a big city and suffers from smog. The school and related accomodations are not intended to be a luxury environment; I found everything clean, appropriate and friendly.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Bellavista School. I thought Maria Christina was the best among many fine teachers. The international flavor is especially appealing. For additonal information, contact Cristian Lemay at the school or ask for Fernando, Boris or Lydia.

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