In 2019 I wrote an article about the best places to study Spanish in Medellin. With the pandemic causing several high profile schools to fold, the article has since become outdated – and will be updated with a 2023 version soon. In the original article, I overlooked a school called OLSA International. The school’s director, Shane Keeley, invited Medellin Advisors to visit the school and find out more about their operations.
A Little Background
OLSA International is a language school, specialized in teaching Spanish for foreigners and English for Spanish speakers. The institution is certified by the Colombian Ministry of Education and licensed to sponsor student visas for foreigners. The institution opened its first campus in Barrio Estadio de Laureles in 2017. Due to the large influx of tourism after the pandemic and the growth of its programs, OLSA opened its second campus in the Manila neighborhood (El Poblado) in 2022.
We sat down with the school’s director, Shane, for an interview about the school. As a caveat, please know that we’ve never enrolled in any classes at OLSA and please see the contact us section of our website for our policy on recommending companies.
Medellin Advisors Interview with OLSA International
M.A.: Tell us a little bit about the school and some successes you’ve had:
Shane/OLSA: The results have been amazing, as students learn faster and improve their level of Spanish in more than 90% of cases. When it comes to language learning, OLSA offers certified and conversational Spanish in small groups in the mornings, private Spanish classes in the afternoons, virtual certified Spanish courses in the evenings, conversational English classes in the evenings and a free language exchange every night of the week that culminates with a pre-Friday night social party every week”
M.A.: What motivated you to open a Spanish School in Medellin?
Shane/OLSA: I actually came to Medellin to rest and work on my Math website (I was a math teacher for 20 years in the US). My original plan was to go from country to country while developing the content of my site to improve sales. After spending a month in Medellin and getting to know the charms and advantages that this place offers, I decided that I preferred to stay and started to study my options. In the end, after several months of research, I decided to put my more than 20 years of work in education to good use and open a truly unique language school. To help thousands of expats who come to this city every year, as well as colombians looking to learn English”.
M.A. What do you think are the advantages of learning spanish at OLSA?
Shane/OLSA: There are 4 main advantages of learning Spanish at OLSA International:
1. OLSA is focused on conversation, not worksheets. In my 20+ years in the field of education in the U.S., I learned that students always retain more information through practice, especially through real-world application. At OLSA, our students practice by speaking Spanish, not by filling out worksheets. This gives them an advantage when attending activities, events, or just talking among friends.
2. STUDENT VISAS – OLSA International is certified by the Ministry of Education and our classroom and virtual courses qualify for a Colombian student visa.
3. LOCATION We have two locations in Medellin (the Estadio campus and the El Poblado/Manila campus) and our virtual program is also certified. This means that our students can study in person in Medellín, or virtually anywhere in Colombia and still maintain a Colombian student visa.
4. FUNDACIÓN OLSA International is not just another Spanish language school. We own and operate The OLSA Foundation: olsafoundation.org which has two main projects. The Opportunities through English Project provides scholarships for our conversational English classes for low-income Colombians, and 2. Resilience – Our future project is to create a K-11 bilingual school for the orphan population in Medellin. For more information about our foundation, please visit our website. olsafoundation.org.
M.A. What type of people are your Spanish programs aimed at? What levels does OLSA offer?
Shane/OLSA: OLSA’s programs are designed for all types of people and can cover special needs. We have had the opportunity to host students of all ages and from more than 20 countries. Typically, our students are adults, but we have also created programs for younger students. In this growing expatriate community, there are all kinds of profiles among them: university students, investors, digital nomads and even retirees.
So OLSA is the best option available to help them in the learning process. While our students are mostly foreign citizens coming to Medellin who wish to learn Spanish. We also have Latino students who need to improve their English. In teaching Spanish, we have all levels: basic, intermediate and advanced (A1, A2, B1 and B2). In other words, at OLSA you can learn from scratch and if you already have some knowledge, you can also become fluent in any field.
In our Spanish programs, as previously mentioned, we have the university certification of which qualifies for Colombian student visas. Otherwise, we also have conversational and intensive immersion courses with different durations from 1-4 weeks. This allow students to obtain the linguistic competence required communicate with more agility and effectiveness.
M.A.: How long do you think it takes a person to reach an acceptable level of Spanish at OLSA? What has your experience been like?
Shane/OLSA: This is a common question and an area where we shine. We tell the truth. A language is not learned in a month, contrary to what some schools/websites say. The speed of learning a language depends on several factors: Do you have language skills? Do you like to read? Do you like to speak? Are you extroverted? What is your dedication to learning? All these factors influence the speed of language acquisition, and everyone learns at a different speed. No one can guarantee the speed at which a newcomer will learn a skill as complex as speaking a second language.
In OLSA we provide a personalized professional service in teaching Spanish to each student, with our team of teachers following up with the students, as well as providing all the necessary tools to help them reach their learning goals. This is why our success rates are considerably higher than those of other schools and why our students recommend us to their family and friends after they have achieved their goals. This fills us with pride, but a commitment to keep working hard to maintain the quality of our programs.
M.A. What kind of mistakes are the most frequent when studying Spanish as a foreigner? How does your teaching methodology help students deal with these difficulties?
Shane/OLSA: The biggest mistake we see as educators is that when people say they want to learn Spanish, what they really mean is that they want to learn to speak Spanish, but they are sold theoretical Spanish classes based on worksheets. Now, there’s nothing wrong with worksheets, or apps like Duolingo. But people don’t realize that this form of learning is called passive learning, which is fine for vocabulary building and grammar theory, but not so much for conversational Spanish. What people are really looking for is an active learning class, where they practice to improve their fluency in conversational Spanish; stringing words together to form sentences in real time, conjugating in real time and self-correcting because something doesn’t sound right, not because they are focusing on a grammar rule. This is how we speak our native language. This skill only comes with practice in real time, which is our specialty.
M.A.: How can interested people enroll in these Spanish programs? Are there any benefits you can offer our readers?
Shane/OLSA: Enrollment depends on the program:
Spanish University certified courses require a personal interview to determine the student’s objectives and completion of our New Student Package. These courses qualify for a Colombian student visa and have specific start and end dates.
Conversational Spanish classes require only a simple form and a free diagnostic to place the student in the appropriate level class. These classes begin every day of the week except Wednesdays.
Immersion Weeks packages begin on Mondays, so that we can prepare for the student’s Wednesday excursion and require at least a two-day reservation.
OLSA will be happy to give Medellín Advisors readers a free conversational Spanish class and a 10% discount on your first conversational Spanish package, just show us this article on your cell phone or computer!
For more information on Spanish study programs. OLSA has the following contact channels in Medellín:
WhatsApp / Cell: +57 311 394 0669
Landline / Telephone: +57 034 590 1600