Generally, I am not one for sweeping statements, but I can say with some confidence that the happiest people in Buenos Aires work at Amauta Spanish school in Belgrano.
With my lesson scheduled for 10am, I was not convinced that my linguist brain would be switched on and functioning properly. I don’t really like to get out of bed at times that start with a zero, and knowing that I will be battling the complexities of the Spanish subjunctive does not help the equation.
Upon entering the beautiful Belgrano mansion, however, my nerves dissipated. The amazingly friendly staff gave me a drink and a guided tour. In addition to private and group classrooms, there is a computer room, a patio, a game room and a kitchen, all for the use of the students during breaks and after classes. Everyone knows each other, the students and teachers exchange informal pleasantries and I feel like I am in a big home, with everyone completely comfortable in their environment.
After my tour, I am lead to one of the bright and airy classrooms to begin my lesson. Amauta’s philosophy is to teach interaction skills over formal grammar, therefore, there are no classrooms with rows of students memorising conjugations. “The students who come to the school are mainly volunteering or coming to Buenos Aires for a short time. That’s why it’s important that they learn to communicate as fast as possible,“ explains Barbara, head of studies and my teacher for the day.
Barbara speaks clearly, is very easy to understand and is constantly smiling. Within the first five minutes, she has politely corrected a phrase that I have been incorrectly using since my arrival in Buenos Aires four months ago. I cringe briefly as I remember all the times I have said it, only now realising I was wrong. Barbara kindly explains that it’s a common mistake and moves on to teaching me the formalities of mate, which she was shocked to learn I had never tried.
Individual lessons are tailored to the student’s needs. The teachers look for holes in the student’s knowledge and spend a week preparing the lesson structure. I was particularly impressed to see that as a unit, the staff compiled a list of the typical mistakes made by different language speakers. For example, English speakers over use the continuous tenses, unlike Dutch students who will more likely struggle with word order.
As the bell sounds, we terminate our class and head down to the common areas to meet the students. The staff’s happiness seems to be infectious, as the students from a number of countries and with varying levels of Spanish chat and laugh amongst one another. The school also organises free extra-curricular activities in which the students can participate, such as tango classes, Argentina culture lessons (on subjects ranging from comics to rock nacional) and self-defence.
Talking about Amauta, married couple and owners Jose Berendse and César Rondón say “we are more than a Spanish school, more like a home away from home,” and I am inclined to agree. If you are looking for a new Spanish school, or just a big ray of sunshine, I recommend you look no further.