Where better to learn a language than in the country itself? Rupert Parker practises his Spanish skills
Palma’s famous cathedral, a short drive from the Hotel Bon Son ( while a vintage train ( transports you north PALAU DE L’ALMUDAINA, PALMA The site of a royal palace since the 13th century when the Mallorcan kings converted the Islamic fort which stood here — complete with furniture and tapestries from over the centuries. LA SEU, PALMA The capital’s huge cathedral dominates the town with the Gothic exterior hiding work by Antoni Gaudi among others. CASA ROBERT GRAVES, DEIA The home of the British writer and poet, who lived on the island for over 50 years, includes some of his own possessions as well as details of his life. THE TRAIN TO SOLLER The vintage wooden train travels from Palma to Soller in the north through the Tramuntana mountains, past olive groves and citrus trees. EAT ENSAIMADAS These pastries, filled with cream, custard or curd, are a traditional Mallorcan breakfast — Palma’s C’an Joan de Saigo has sold them since 1700, although Forn de la Gloria has another 18th century pedigree. THE CAVES OF DRACH The caves are one of the island’s biggest — and busiest — attractions. But despite the crowds, the spectacular underground shapes and lake are still magical.
Most people come to Mallorca for the sun and sand but I’m in Palma, the island’s capital, getting ready to start school. Instead of lounging on the beach, my plan is to brush up on my Spanish, spending four hours each morning in the classroom at International House. I just hope that my smattering of the language will stand me in good stead.
Even though I’ve spent time in South America, even attended a couple of classes before, I’m surprised by how little I can remember in my written and verbal tests.
The tricky part, as anyone who’s ever attended a language course knows, is that you’re often caught between a rock and a hard place — either it’s too easy and you learn nothing, or it’s too difficult and you still learn nothing.
On the basis of the tests, I’m assigned a class, just one above the beginners: we’re a small group of around 10 with Germans, Swedes, Italians, French, one English and myself.
Javier, the teacher, is young, keen and full of fun, so nobody is frightened of making mistakes — apart from me, of course. I spend the first lesson absolutely terrified, dredging my memory to recall any vestige of Spanish, but gradually I’m opening my mouth and semi-intelligible words and phrases start to spill out.
Fortunately school finishes at 1.30 which is just in time for a substantial Spanish lunch to nourish my brain. Palma has a huge number of excellent restaurants, many with a good value set meal.
Afternoons are free for homework, exploring the city or catching some sun, while the school organises optional activities in the evening too. During my week, there’s a guided tour of the old palace as well as a live flamenco concert.
Much of the class is spent doing routines with a partner, so you’re forced to get over those nerves and try to speak. As a result, my initial fear begins to disappear and I gain in confidence — so much so that I find myself trying to describe Yorkshire pudding and horseradish (rábano picante) in our last lesson on food, resulting in a gold star for my ingenuity. Most Brits take the easy way out and describe fish and chips instead, it seems.
After all my hard work, I feel I’ve definitely made progress. All I need now is… a relaxing holiday