How to pass INSEAD's Language Exemption Exam (Spanish)

Carlo Celis

Hey future INSEAD students,

February 2018 has just started and some application deadlines for the class of 2019 have already passed. If you are done submitting your application or are still thinking about applying, let me ask you a question first. Did you know that INSEAD requires its students to learn a 3rd language before graduating? Yes? No? Don’t worry!

In this blog, I will share with you what worked for me to prepare for the exemption exam so you can quickly check this requirement off even before the program starts.

The details of the requirement can be found here. I hope that I did not make you think twice about your application?? 

For those who can only communicate in two languages, like me, this requirement is a great learning opportunity so you can actually add this in your list of “why should I apply to INSEAD”?

In this blog post, I will share tips specifically on how to study for the Spanish exemption exam. I am coming from the perspective of someone whose exposure to the language is only through the cartoon Dora the Explorer (as she instructed my younger brother how to say certain words in Spanish). Also, this post is for those who choose to study on their own. In my case, I chose to study on my own instead of attending the intensive classes prepared by INSEAD because of schedule limitations.

Avoid information overload through targeted study

First and foremost, you only need to certify to a BASIC level. So you do not need to learn everything. My mistake is that I googled “how to learn Spanish” and drowned in all the resources available online. There are just too many things to learn so there’s a risk of you over studying. There’s only a subset of the language that you need to learn and I will help you identify these.

Use recommended materials

Learn Spanish

I used three main materials in studying Spanish. I listed them below in order of usage.

  1. Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish
  • This 45-chapter textbook can be purchased from Google at roughly 11USD. Complex chapters start at chapter 29. Chapters 1-28 should be a breeze. You can then skip and jump to chapter 31-39. To finish, you can skip chapter 40-44 and jump to chapter 45.
  • This book will help you understand the basic grammar rules and common vocabulary. Once you are able to answer the exercise sets in the chapters, then you should be able to pass the written exam.
  1. Coffee Break Spanish
  • This 4-season podcast will help you practice your listening skills. It used to be available on Spotify but the last time I checked the earlier episodes are gone. You should be able to download the episodes using podcast apps. You don’t need to subscribe to the Premium lessons because after finishing the textbook above, you should be familiar with the grammar rules and vocabulary.
  • In total, there are 160 main episodes (aside from their spin-off seasons). You can listen to the first 9 episodes to get a feel of the podcast then jump straight to episode 60-76. You can skip the topics covered in the other episodes. Again, the grammar lessons you need for the exam are already covered by the textbook above. Your objective in listening to this podcast is to train your ears for basic Spanish phrases.
  1. Extr@ en Espanol
  • Watching this 13-episode educational show was the best time I had during my study. It is a Spanish sitcom about 3 friends from Barcelona who have a non-Spanish speaking visitor. The story revolves around their daily life, which usually gets exciting when the visitor misunderstands a Spanish word. The show is scripted specifically for Spanish learners so the conversations are not as difficult to understand as other Spanish shows.
  • You will find the transcripts in the description. Watch the episode while reading the transcript, then watch it again without the transcript. Unlike the podcast above which will help you understand short sentences, this show will help you understand long conversations. This will prepare you for the oral exam during the certification.

When to study

Every day, I dedicated ~1 hour learning Spanish using the materials above. I suggest that you start 3 months before the program starts to build your confidence in learning the language.

Practice exams

You can find sample materials for the written exam here. For the oral exam, practice with a friend who can speak the language. In my case, I practiced having a long conversation with a Spanish speaker only once before the exam, but I passed! INSEAD, with its very diverse student pool, have many Spanish speakers so you can ask your new friends to practice with you during the 'Welcome Week'.

Ultimately, I enjoyed learning the language. I hope that you enjoy learning it too. But hey, bookmark this post first. When you find yourself choosing which Exit Language to learn, remember this post and you should learn how to communicate in Spanish before the program even starts.

Through this post, I hope that I convinced you that the language requirement is a great learning opportunity and that completing it is not as difficult as you might think. Good luck with your applications!