English Language Immersion in Tuscany
by Roy Barnes
The English language took center stage for a full week in November, 2005, with more than 1.5 million phrases in English being spoken in one of the great bastions of Italian culture: Tuscany. Sixteen English speakers came from all over the globe, some from as far away as Australia and Alaska, to converse in English with six Italians and nine Spaniards for twelve-plus hours a day over the course of seven days in a village/residence known as Il Borgo San Luigi, which is just outside of Siena.
This program in Italy is known as Villaggio Inglese, which is Italian for “English Village.” It basically follows the same format as the Pueblo Ingles programs in Spain. Because the program in Italy had just been created, Spaniards were also invited to be a part of the Tuscan village experience.
Since 2001, this unique volunteer program has been an important part of my life, though my previous times as a participant took place in remote areas of Spain. Pueblo Ingles and Villaggio Inglese have been two venues on the globe that I can go to and just be my unique, quirky self. By doing so, I am helping people who want to become more fluent in the English language accomplish their goal.
Because every Villaggio Inglese/Pueblo Ingles program brings in a different mix of personalities, each volunteer experience for me personally has been unique indeed! And this time, I was eating good Italian meals, especially the pasta, while nestled in Tuscany. I had the privilege to do my two daily jogs in a region of the world that contains so many rolling hills, pathways, and proudly-standing Cypress trees: It was like being lost in a perfect picture that I never wanted to get out of!
One of the Ultimate Reasons for Travel
On the volunteer side, Villaggio Inglese included only those who had at least one prior volunteer experience via the programs in Spain. I asked one very colorful Aussie volunteer by the name of Kisane why she had repeated, to the tune of her “third time lucky,” as she put it. She remarked, “I love meeting people, learning about cultures and a different way of life. I live to give and be open... I like to be reminded that all of us are searching for the same things… to better ourselves.”
By engaging with Italians, Spaniards, and other Anglos, the program can even foster life improvements for the volunteers themselves. For Larry (who hails from Dublin, and like Kisane, is a three-time veteran of the program), the experiences have given him the confidence to be more outgoing within his own community.
Before his first volunteer stint, Larry had a tendency to be very reserved and less open to meeting and reaching out to different kinds of people. His volunteering in the English language immersion programs has changed him.
“I didn’t realize that I could respond to so many different types of people,” he said. Larry was voted the hardest-working Anglo during the week by his peers, and conversed with such ease and quantity as if he were born to do just that!
Larry, like Kisane and I, was instantly drawn to participating in this English language talk-a-thon upon first hearing about it via the written/broadcast media or word of mouth from other participants who have spread the word about the English programs in Spain. This is a common theme among many repeating veterans of Villaggio Inglese/Pueblo Ingles.
By the end of the week, every Italian and Spaniard was exposed to more than 105,000 English phrases, both heard and spoken, in a variety of different English accents, from the Liverpool dialect to the Wyoming style, in as peaceful a setting as could be asked for. The temperatures were mild, with only one day of rain; thus, the great Tuscan outdoors during the autumn season was fully experienced!
More Than Just Language Comprehension
The creative side of the volunteers was strongly encouraged at Villaggio Inglese, just as with the past 160-plus programs in Spain. Skits ranging from a “mild” Jerry Springer-like parody, which brought down the house, to a presentation on the state of Oklahoma were among the creative bits featured in the meeting house during the evening.
Adding to the variety of English language-only interactions were groups assembling together after the completion of siesta time to discuss such topics as, “What five things would each group bring if they were stranded on a desert island for three months?” Some of the answers were very interesting indeed!
For the Italians and Spaniards alike, the Villaggio Inglese experience became more than just conversing in English for seven full days. Gumersindo, one of the more animated Spaniards who made the trek all the way from Cadiz, took part in his fourth such program to improve his English speaking and comprehension skills. He has benefited in many ways:
“It’s not just one thing because of the added value," he says. "You improve your English, you meet new people and you learn about new cultures. It’s a break from normal life. You get a new perspective. You see the big picture of life here. We have a lot of problems and issues in life, and you speak more openly with people you’ll never see again as opposed to, let’s say, your brother.”
Loredana, an Italian who is currently living in Sweden, came to Villaggio Inglese because her husband works for the Swedish government; as a result, he has a lot of contact with many English-speaking people. Loredana wants to be able to converse better with his English-speaking contacts in social situations.
For her, the best part of the program was “the occasion to meet people with different backgrounds and accents. I can be myself without problems. The differences between me and other students isn’t so big, so I feel comfortable.”
For both Anglos and English learners alike, Tuscany has fostered new miracles in bridging the gaps we humans have created for ourselves, language and otherwise!
Want to Go?
For complete information on Villaggio Inglese, go to www.puebloingles.com. You may also want to check out the sixty-plus programs scheduled in Spain at Valdelavilla (Soria), La Alberca (Salamanca), and Cazorla (Andulucia), including some that are scheduled exclusively for teenagers during the summer.
The programs in Spain are known as Pueblo Ingles. Participants of the programs in Spain will be kept up to date on future Italy programs. Normally, for both programs, volunteers are responsible for their transportation, room, and board expenses before and after the programs. Pueblo Ingles provides transport, accident insurance, meals, and lodging once the programs begin and throughout the duration of the program, which is a full week.
For More Information
Pueblo Ingles/Villaggio Inglese
Rafael Calvo 18, 4th Floor, 28010 Madrid, Spain
Roy A. Barnes is a past contributor to GoNOMAD.com with his articles on Pueblo Ingles and strange airport codes, and lives on the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming.
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