Habla Ingles? Language Immersion at ‘Englishtown’
A Free Vacation in Exchange for Speaking English. Yep!
By Lisa Lubin
What if I told you that I just had a whole week’s vacation in a four-star villa in a small beautiful village near Salamanca, Spain and it included three full meals a day with wine and it came with about forty new best friends… all for free? Well, I did.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘What’s the catch?’ Well, there was one — all I had to do was speak English. And considering it is my native language… how hard could that be?
Pueblo Inglés is not exactly a school for English. It’s more like an intense English ‘experience.’ It’s a unique opportunity for native English speakers to immerse themselves in Spain’s culture and people firsthand in exchange for just chatting with Spaniards.
And for the Spanish people, it’s like an intensive week-long English ‘sleep-away camp’ which gives them the opportunity to improve and practice their English-speaking skills the best way — by force of course.
For the duration of the week, they are forbidden to speak Spanish and must converse in and listen to English at all hours of the day… easy for me, not so much for them.
I was trawling the web one day looking for a job in Spain when the website for Pueblo Inglés popped up.
The idea scared and intrigued me at the same time — not only would I be able to travel for one week without spending a dime (that’s 15 cents in Euro), it would enable me to meet and connect with real Spaniards who mostly come from the professional business world — something often hard to do when you are a tourist.
I applied on a whim, not knowing if I truly wanted to commit to this week of constant jibber-jabbing and figured they probably wouldn’t accept me on such short notice or I could always say ‘no.’
Just one day later I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into the program and it was starting in two days.
The first day of the eight-day program we all gathered in a plaza in Madrid and were herded onto a bus. We rode for three hours west of Madrid to a tiny rural town called La Alberca full of winding cobblestone lanes and green hills dotted with clusters of trees all adorned in their autumn best dropping acorns and chestnuts all over the countryside.
Our hotel was in a bucolic setting with shady paths and ponds and was more like a group of several chalets. There were about 20 English speakers from Canada, the US, England, Australia, and Ireland and 20 Spaniards from all over Spain with ages ranging from early twenties to sixty plus.
English Spoken Here
The program directors laid down the law at the get-go: The most important rule of Pueblo Ingles — NO Spanish allowed. They really wanted this to be a true and hardcore immersion experience for the Spaniards — basically forcing them to drink, eat, sleep, and possibly dream in English.
Each morning after a buffet breakfast we paired off into ‘couples’ for ‘one-to-one’ conversations that would last about 50 minutes. After a ten minute break, we would then swap and grab another Spaniard for the next hour and so on.
Everyone was unique, friendly, and fun and despite my initial fears, we never once ran out of things to talk about. Everyday I was paired with different people and we constantly did different activities.
It certainly was an odd and funny sight to see all these coupled pairs of people wandering around the grounds, sitting in chairs, and strolling down the street. If someone didn’t know better, it probably looked like some kind of psychiatric institution or rehab center at which we were all getting over our drug, alcohol, or other addictions.
Of course, if they saw our parties every night, they would probably think it wasn’t a very good program.
Random Embarassing Behavior
We would usually have a break sometime in the morning and also other activities like games, conference calls, and presentations — during which lucky Spaniards got to tell us all about their jobs or Anglos entertained us with some kind of unique skill they have (singing, dancing, and other random embarrassing behavior).
A three-course lunch with plenty of vino (nothing gets conversations going like some cheap wine can) was at two o’clock, followed by the very crucial Spanish siesta (nap time) until five o’clock.
Then we continued with more talking, group discussions about anything and everything and hilarious skits. It reminded me of some university days doing role playing and brainstorming to come up with the most entertaining performance. It was fun to just be silly and what I really remember most is laughing almost all the time.
One day we toured the lovely nearby medieval village for a bit of a break.
A three-course dinner with more wine, of course, was at nine (a little late for the Anglos and too early for the Spaniards) and then their Inglés would really get tested as many of us hung out at the bar until the wee hours of the morning.
The Easy Life
The beauty of this program is your entire schedule is laid out for you. There is really nothing to worry about. I had my own small ‘villa’ that I shared with Potola, a sweet and hilarious flight attendant from Madrid.
Our ‘casa’ was just steps from the lobby and bar so it was so easy to stumble to bed before sunrise, and get up the next morning (even if it was only a few hours later) and just walk over to my next session of speaking English. There was no commute, no metro, no taxi. You just walked home in two minutes. Life was good.
It was easy for me, but much harder and more tiring for the Spaniards who had to do everything in their second language.
Imagine being constantly forced to speak Spanish all day. Your brain would be so tired. And even when they were ‘enjoying the fruits of the vine’ (read: drunk) and dancing, they were still speaking English.
After a week of fun, we all ‘graduated’ and received our certificates for completing not only a week-long English ‘course’ but one of the most fun weeks I’ve had in a long time.
All in all, the week spent at Pueblo Inglés was like an intense microcosm of life — a condensed, easy version — and having to say goodbye after our amazing week together was hard for me.
Hopefully the Spaniards improved their English, and I know I have made some amazing new friends in Spain that will remain in my heart and hopefully in my life forever.
Lisa Lubin is an Emmy-award winning TV Writer/Producer from ABC Chicago who gave it all up (at least for now!) to travel the world. You can read more about her travels on her website: LLworldtour.com.
To find out how you can have a free week in Spain, check out puebloingles.com.
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