117 – How Not to Sell Spanish Lessons

I’m not a salesperson.  I vaguely remember working in some sort of coffee bar as a school student in Sydney, but as far as I recall I’ve never worked in a shop.  I was a freelance trainer and consultant for 18 years so I suppose I had to “sell” myself to potential new clients, but I certainly don’t claim to know much about selling.

As a buyer, I reckon I’m fairly easy to sell to.  I tend to know pretty much what I want, but am happy to be guided by someone with expertise, to amend my initial thoughts.  And I don’t mind a reasonable bit of up-selling (when they manage to sell you something more than you thought you wanted).

And last month I was easy pickings.  I was in the market for some intensive Spanish lessons, in order to make sure I pass my B1 exam in November.  I don’t want to fail by a snidge and have to re-take it.  So I was open to persuasion.  I set off to Pedregalejo and El Palo to visit three language schools.

73-textbookObviously, before going to visit the schools, I had established what exam I wanted to take, and that I was (more or less) at the right level to take it.  I had done 5 or 6 online tests, including the Instituto de Cervantes test (click here to take the test yourself) and most had placed me firmly at B1.   Further, in my local language school we are on the final chapter of the B1 text book and we are about to begin the revision of what we have learned.  So the evidence was suggesting that with a bit of extra work, I should be able to have a reasonable stab at the B1 exam.

I went into the first school (which shall remain nameless).  I was second in line at Reception.  The young receptionist was having some difficulty with the student in front of me – the student was speaking a low level of Spanish with a strong Chinese accent, and the receptionist was speaking better Spanish with a strong Thai accent, and neither was understanding the other.  The receptionist ignored me.  When she had finished with the student, he left and she flopped back onto her computer and continued her work.  That’s assuming that her “work” involved Facebook.  I waited.  After a while I coughed.  After a while longer I said “Perdona!” and she turned round, looking surprised to see me, though I had been right in front of her when the student left.  When I explained I wanted to book a course of intensive lessons prior to doing the B1 exam, she said that the person I needed to speak to wasn’t there.  She didn’t seem inclined to tell me when they would be there.  When I asked if she could give me an idea of prices and dates for the B1 preparation, she said no and returned to Facebook without giving me the chance to ask any further questions.  I left.

I went to the second school (which shall also remain nameless).  It was very smart.  There were no less than THREE people on reception, none were playing on Facebook, and all gave me big professional welcoming smiles.  This was a better start.  Yes, they confirmed, they could offer me an intensive pre-exam course.  I would need to take their test to check my level.  Would I like to do it now?  Ah. That was slightly unexpected.  But I had the time, so why not?  They printed it off and sent me round to the attractive garden.


The test was hard and dented my confidence, but I struggled through to the final page and went back to Reception.  They sent me straight up to the Director of Studies, who explained that  she would email me an analysis of my level, and what support I would need in order to pass the exam.  She reassured me that my conversational level was good and that the school would definitely be able to help me get through the B1 exam.

Two days later the email arrived.  It said that I still have problems remembering when to use SER and when to use ESTAR.  True.  It said that my past tenses sometimes were a muddle.  True.  It said that I needed 6-8 weeks of intensive lessons before they would put me on the compulsory two-week B1 preparation course.  It said they could do all this for me for a little under €2,000 though this didn’t include the exam fee or the text books.  Basically I am a disaster and haven’t a hope of passing without massive (and expensive) help from them.

Well, it’s a tactic that probably works. Some of the time.  Perhaps other students haven’t done QUITE so many online tests as I have.  Perhaps some students hadn’t discussed it in advance with their local Spanish teacher.  Perhaps some students just like throwing money at language schools.  I don’t.  I suppose someone has to pay for the three receptionists (but it won’t be me).

I went to the third school.  Reception was empty at first but a nice young man bustled out of a side-room on hearing the front door.  He apologised, waved the water he had just got himself, and offered me a glass too.  I explained my story.  He laughed when I said that I was a bit odd and actually quite like exams.  He understood that I don’t need the qualification for work, it’s only for fun.  He went and got the Head of Studies and she said she’d be delighted to help me pass the exam.  We talked about the two-week exam preparation course, and I asked if I might be able to do just the second week.  Just from chatting and a few questions to demonstrate past and future tenses, she said that yes, my level was fine, and all I needed was some tricks to pass the exam, rather than any formal grammar lessons.  For that reason she suggested a few private lessons, as she said the group classes would probably be a bit boring.  Flattery, as always, worked a dream and I agreed to the idea of private classes.  I said I’d go away and think about it.  117-schoollogoI went back a fortnight later and the man on reception welcomed me like a long-lost friend.  The Head of Studies invited me in to meet the Director of the School and we chatted a bit more.  She said I should pass easily, and they would be interested in helping me afterwards, to prepare me for B2.  Scary, but good to know they feel positive.  I signed up for the exam preparation (a few private classes) there at Cervantes Escuela Internacional, and for the exam in November.

So what works best?  Ignore the student?  Bully the student and scare them into signing up for 8-10 weeks of lessons they don’t need?  Or flatter them?  Yeah, maybe I am that naive.  Maybe I fell for a well-rehearsed sales technique.  I’ll never know for sure.  But I liked the people so that’s where I want to spend my money.

©  Tamara Essex  2014                                              http://www.twocampos.com



Jose has given me a copy of a long list of really complex sentences.  Piling the verbs on.  Gulp.

Last week, he said that he didn’t remember having spent anything on books or paper, but you think he was telling a lie, don’t you?

La semana pasada, dijo que no se acordaba de haber gastado nada en libros o en papel, pero tú crees que mentía, ¿verdad?

Diana’s sister told him that there were so many people in the bar that she had taken twenty minutes to pay for the drinks and another five to make the calls.

La hermana de Diana le dijo que había tanta gente en el bar que había tardado veinte minutos en pagar las bebidas y otros cinco en hacer las llamadas.

 They look frightening but are very helpful for stringing verbs together and for saying aloud in the car on the way to the beach!

2 thoughts on “117 – How Not to Sell Spanish Lessons

  1. Pingback: 104 – All the Language Points in One Place | A Foot in Two Campos

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