Where are you from and what brought you to Madrid?
I'm originally from London, but my family moved up to Yorkshire in the north of England when I was young and most of them are still there. I moved back to London and stayed there for five and a half years before coming to Madrid in the summer of 2013.
I was generally very happy in London, I had a great lifestyle and I loved my job as Operations Manager for a private equity company, but I'd always wanted to live overseas and learn to speak Spanish. As a lot of my friends were starting to settle down and move outside London, I decided it was a good time to go for it. So I gave up my job and came here with no plan other than to do three months of Spanish school… and then see what happened after!
Why did you choose Madrid?
Madrid seemed like an obvious choice because I knew I wanted to learn Spanish and I already loved Spanish culture. I'd also read that it was the best place to find work in Spain. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made.
What are the biggest differences between London and Madrid?
The general working culture is very different here, the hours are often a lot longer and many companies don't seem to value, motivate and try to retain good employees. Though this seems to be changing with the growing start-up culture.
Socially, life is much more relaxed and spontaneous in Madrid. It wasn't unusual to have a full diary four-five weeks in advance in London and if you didn't make plans for a weekend it could be really lonely as everyone else was already busy. Here you can wait until Saturday afternoon to see if anyone wants to meet for a drink or dinner that night, which I love.
Two Bird Languages' Paint 'n' Sip English class. Photo: Ben Huddleston
Tell us about Two Birds Languages. What inspired you to start the company?
After completing Spanish school I was having difficulty finding a job, so I did a TEFL course and started working as an English teacher whilst I assessed my options. It was through teaching English, and also learning Spanish, that I had an idea to offer language learning in a more interesting way. I found that we often learn words and phrases that we'll never use, we talk about subjects we have no interest in and waste a lot of time speaking, listening, reading and writing just for the sake of learning the language.
I wanted to put the emphasis on the subject or activity rather than the language so people can learn it more naturally and in context, whilst also learning a new skill or doing something they enjoy. This allows them to use the language as a tool for communication, which is exactly what it is, and learn in a way that is proven to be the most effective.
Also, I'd met a lot of incredible professionals here, from artists, photographers and wine experts to psychologists, life coaches and marketing experts, who also had experience teaching English, so the idea for Two Birds Languages was born... the name comes from 'kill two birds with one stone'.
There are lots of language schools in Madrid. What makes Two Birds Languages unique?
Photo: Jane Spivey
Two Birds Languages is unique because people can choose the activity or subject they're interested in doing or learning and then improve their English at the same time.
Right now we have Paint ‘n' Sip, where you bring a bottle of wine to an art studio and replicate a famous painting, art courses, Mindfulness courses, "Find your Passion" workshops, wine tasting and professional workshops and we'll soon be offering photography courses, "clean food" workshops and even a course on dog behaviour and training… without the dogs!
The other difference and advantage is that many of our activities and courses are also open to native English speakers because they can get a lot out of them too. This means that the environment is even more natural for English learners and at the same time they have the necessary support and correction from the teacher.
It's about more than just the language, it's about the whole experience, learning, having fun and meeting people.
Who are your typical students? Who are you hoping to attract?
Typical students and those we want to attract are people with at least an intermediate level of English (some subjects require at least upper-intermediate), who are curious and open-minded, who want to learn new things and meet new people. I think these types of people are tired of the traditional way of learning a language and are looking for something different.
I love that people often go for drinks and tapas after our events and I see many exchanging numbers… a couple even got together after one of our activities a few months ago and they're still together!
Photo: Ben Huddleston
How have you found the experience of setting up a company here?
Setting up a company anywhere is a challenge and I don't think it's any different here, but what I've found has got me through the initial stages are the people that I've met at groups such as International Women in Business - Madrid, which I now help organize, Guiripreneurs and Escape the City.
Each of them has members who are setting up businesses or who have already set up businesses and it's been so inspiring and helpful to spend time with them and use them as a resource if I need advice on anything.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a lot of plans to develop and expand Two Birds Languages in the future and I'm really excited about what we've got coming up. I still can't believe that, having arrived here with no idea what would happen, I've ended up doing something that I absolutely love… and in a city that I adore!
Two Birds Languages offers activities, workshops and short courses in English so you can practice and improve whilst also indulging in a passion, learning a new skill or just having fun. Native English speakers are welcome at many activities!