Q&A with Instituto Hemingway

José Lopez is the Director of acclaimed Spanish Language School Instituto Hemingway located in Bilbao, Spain.

Read on to find out about this wonderful school and visit their listing on LanguaTravel. Odds are that you'll want to start your language travel immersion trip right away!


José, tell us about the experience of your adult learners over the age of 30.

We tend to have very good experiences with adult learners over the age of 30. In fact, adult learners are often especially driven and make for particularly focused students, owing to the fact that they have often taken time out of work or other commitments to participate in one of our courses. In general, adult learners have a particular appreciation for the value of a second language and the enjoyment that can be gained through the process of learning one.

What is a favorite activity of students at IH?

Naturally, that depends very much on the student. However, we always have a sizeable group of participants on Friday evenings, when we go to a local bar and enjoy some free pintxos and wine as a school. This is an activity that always has a high turnout, as well as being an inclusive way for students to get to know each other and the school’s teachers.

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What makes the culture in Bilbao ideal for language travel immersion?

Bilbao offers an alternative to those more traditional seaside destinations on the Southern and Mediterranean Coast. Thanks to its relatively low intake of tourists, Bilbao provides the opportunity to genuinely encounter a state of linguistic immersion. However, I would say that increasingly more people are cottoning on to this. Over the last 15 years especially, Bilbao has started to become popular with language learners who are looking for the ability to use the Spanish that they have learnt (outside the classroom), whilst experiencing a truly distinct and rich Basque culture that boasts an independent and award winning culinary tradition and a beautiful surrounding natural environment, parts of which have been preserved as UNESCO World Heritage sights.

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Where do most of your students come from?

We are fortunate enough to have students from every continent, which makes for a truly international school in which we learn more each day about other cultures and customs. Currently, we have a considerable amount of students from other European countries and the United States, however, we are seeing more and more students coming from Asia, especially from China and Japan.

How do your programs encourage active engagement and interaction inside and outside of the classroom?

At our school we understand that language learning from a textbook is not the only, nor the most engaging way of assimilating Spanish as a second language. We prefer a more interactive approach in classes, with activities that look to engage every student. We also believe that speaking practice in classes is of particular importance, owing to the fact that it is the most difficult skill to pick up outside of a Spanish speaking country.

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What is something about Bilbao that people might not know?

I think something about Bilbao that people might not know is that 40 of its restaurants boast Michelin Stars and it is one of Europe’s gastronomic capitals. Bilbaínos are proud of their food; as a result it is very difficult to find bad food anywhere in the city.

What is your favorite word or phrase in Spanish?

“Contigo es diferente”; this is our school’s slogan. This phrase encapsulates how our school is different from others, particularly through the friendliness of our classes and the inclusiveness of our afternoon activities.

What makes IH stand out from other language schools?

Building on my previous answer, I would say that we are an altogether more friendly bunch; always keen to get to know students through our free social and cultural activities, and to provide them with the best possible experience. Other schools do not offer students the possibility of free activities which can limit their ability to get to know other students and indeed the area that they are in. Often students come alone or in small groups; hence the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world can really enrich people's experience abroad. Moreover, we believe that Bilbao offers an abundance of hidden gems, which we try to uncover for our students.

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Would you mind telling us about the experience of students who choose to stay with a host family.

Host families are always a popular type of accommodation with our students. Normally, those undertaking Spanish courses look to practice their Spanish with the host families, as well as taking advantage of their local knowledge by seeking out insider information on what is going on in Bilbao during their stay. For the curious student who enjoys a family atmosphere, it can be a real highlight of their stay abroad.

Finally, how has travel and/or language learning impacted your life?

I have previously enjoyed travelling and language learning and, as a result, I decided to start a business in this industry. Having been Director of the school for 17 years I am proud to have helped thousands of international students learn, improve and refine their Spanish skills through our courses, as well as having exposed to them to all that Bilbao and the Basque Country have to offer. Overall, we have meet countless wonderful people and I look forward to continuing with this project, as Bilbao expands as a tourist destination and as Spanish becomes ever more popular as a second language option.