João is 22 years old and comes from Lisbon in Portugal. Currently he is doing a Spanish course at linguaschools in Madrid. Just before coming to Madrid he was finishing his Master’s in Business Management, and he will continue once his stay here is over. He is a fun and active person, who often looks for new adventures in life. He is always eager to learn something new, and the search for knowledge keeps him moving. His hobbies include reading, writing and, of course, travelling (when he can!). He usually doesn’t like to stay in one place for a long time and often look for new opportunities to stay “on the road”. Before he came to Madrid he had level B1 and he chose an intensive course with 4 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 2 months to become fluent.
Why did you decide to learn Spanish and why did you choose to learn the language during a language course abroad?
I have always been fond of learning new languages and I felt that since I already had a basic level of Spanish, extending my knowledge of it should not be too hard, and the best way to do it would be to actually live in a Spanish speaking country. I believe that the Spanish culture is quite similar to the one from my country, and therefore I would fit in quite nicely and without the need to go through an adaptation period. Also, given that Spanish is currently the second most spoken language in the world, I also think that improving my proficiency may be beneficial to my academic and professional career.
What was your reason to go to Madrid and since when have you been here?
I arrived in Madrid in the first of June. For me, studying in this city was a very obvious choice. It is the capital of Spain, internationally known for its multicultural environment, gastronomy and nightlife. Besides, it’s quite close to my hometown! Overall, I was under the impression that Madrid would be very impressive and appealing to me, a big metropolis full of life and young people, and I can happily say that my suspicions were confirmed.
How did you experience your time at school?
This wonderful experience started at my very first day at the school. There were many international students from different places taking similar courses at the school, and it was easy to meet people and make new friends, which made my language learning process even faster. The course that I took was conversation-based and, in my opinion, this is best way to learn (and you really had to participate!). The Academia also held many events that brought the students together, and in no time I was already making plans to fill my afternoons after class.
How did your Spanish level evolve during your stay?
When I first arrived in Madrid, I could understand a bit of Spanish since I had studied it before and due to its similarity to my native language, even though I could only form some basic sentences. I think that I started improving from the very first day I stepped into class. I, just like all the other students, had to communicate fully in Spanish, and the teacher was very attentive and corrected all our mistakes. Of course, since I’ve been living in Madrid for this period, I am also very exposed to the language on a daily basis and I have to make use of it in many daily life situations: going to the supermarket, asking for directions or even talking to someone in a nightclub!
Why should someone visit Madrid?
The question is: why shouldn’t they? This city has everything that you’re looking for. International environment? Check. Great cuisine? Check. Fantastic nightlife? Check. Impressive art scene? Check. Madrid is quite touristic, and there are many places to explore, from the famous Prado museum to the beautiful Retiro park. Also, Spain has quite a unique way of life and I believe that Madrid fully represents it. People take the time to enjoy a good meal during lunchtime and during the afternoon the streets will be almost empty: it is the famous “siesta” time. When the day is ending, you will see the locals coming out of their house for some “tapas” and maybe a “caña”. I think that visiting in Madrid is a very important cultural experience due to its uniqueness, and everyone should come at least once in their life.
Which touristic spots are really worth to visit?
Madrid is a big city and it has a lot to see, but if we have to narrow it down to a short number of places, I would definitely recommend Plaza Mayor, the heart of city that still holds a very significant historic significance; the Prado and Reina Sofia museums, where you can find widely known paintings by Picasso, Goya, Miró and many others; Templo de Debod, even though it may be smaller than you expect, it is an important artifact since it was constructed about 2200 years ago. For a more local insight, I recommend going to one of the many “terrazas” in Calle del Toledo, taking a stroll around Gran Via and paying a visit to the famous Rastro in La Latina.
Which insiders’ tip don’t you find in a tour guide?
Did you know that there is a “beach bar” in Madrid? Ojalá, in Malasaña, has its floors covered in sand where you can sit, relax and enjoy a beer.
Would you like to dine in the same place as Hemingway once did? Look no further. Sobrino de Botín, near Plaza Mayor, is one of the oldest restaurants in the world and they would be happy to receive you. If you would like to see a recreation of Lucifer being expelled out of heaven, Madrid is also the place to go: the Retiro Park is home to the fallen angel, a statue that depicts that exact scene.
Which restaurants can you recommend?
There are many places in Madrid where you can have a real taste of Spanish cuisine. Between ten and mid-day, many restaurants offer a day menu that is usually large, cheap and composed by traditional dishes. By evening, many a tapas bar is what you are looking for: “tortilla”, “morcilla” or “patatas bravas” are very common and any bar will serve them. Whether you are walking in the city center or in the surrounding areas, it will be easy to find a place that suits your needs.
What are your favorite places to go out in Madrid?
In my opinion, Madrid can be enjoyed by night as much as during the day. There are many discos and hot spots all around town, and different neighborhoods often sport different styles so you have to explore a bit in order to find a place where you feel truly familiar. From Sol, the main plaza of the city, you can find several nightclubs in the streets close-by. La Latina, another central area, is manly famous by its many bars and attractive prices. In Malasaña and Chueca you will find yourself in the middle of the hipsters and trendy scene of the city – people gather in the streets to drink, talk and spread their joyful Spanish energy. You can get very acquainted with the city in a short amount of time.
What are your favorite “beaches” or places to swim in Madrid or in regions around the center?
A lot of people may think that there are no beaches in Madrid but I will let you in on a little secret: in Pelayos de la Presa you will find the famous Pantano de San Juan where you will find over 10 kilometers of beaches and where you can bath as much as you want. Even so, if you prefer to spend a day in the city you may wish to visit one of the many public pools of Madrid, such as Universidad Complutense’s in Moncloa or Canal de Isabel II in Ríos Rosas.
Which markets can you recommend?
When speaking about markets, three immediately come to mind: First, Mercado de San Miguel, right next to Plaza Mayor. This is a specialized food market where you can find samples of many traditional spanish foods, from “Cocido” to “Paella”. All the ingredients are very fresh and just walking around this market will make you hungry. Secondly, I have to mention El Rastro. This is a flea market that is held every Sunday morning in La Latina, so remember not to sleep in. You will find yourself surrounded by dozens of stalls that sell all sorts of items, such as books, clothes and souvenirs, all at a bargain price. Finally, take your time to visit the farmer’s market in Matadero. Here you will find fresh and quality products that will make you want to come back.
What are you going to do after your travel to Madrid?
After these months in Madrid, I will spend six months in Italy as an Erasmus student. Once I finish my studies, I certainly plan to return to Spain.
If a person walks up to you asking for advice and you only had a few minutes to give him or her your best tip to learn Spanish, what would it be?
Meet the locals! Many “Madrileños” are eager to meet foreigners and will welcome you with open arms. Spend as much time as you can with them practicing your Spanish and you will be speaking fluently in no time!