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March/2006 * 03/29/2006

 

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The Valdelavilla village -  Photo courtesy of Bob Schimmelpfennig.

 

 

 

 

Author Roy A. Barnes (front right) talking with a Spanish participant in the Valdelavilla patio/commons area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The valley that surrounds Valdelavilla.

 

 

 

 

Pueblo Ingles: Like No Place on Earth
By Roy A. Barnes

Imagine having to go away for seven days to a place where cell phones don’t work and access to the internet is generally nonexistent. A place where you are forbidden to speak your native language; that is, you must communicate in a foreign tongue in which you will be misunderstood and pronounce many words and phrases incorrectly. Well, such a place exists in a valley of Mediterranean scrub forest that’s located in north-central Spain. It’s known as Valdelavilla, and the program with all the above hardships is called Pueblo Ingles.

In 2001, Richard Vaughan, owner of the English language training firm called Vaughan Systems, had a dream to help Spanish professionals gain a quicker fluency in conversational English, a skill that has as many twists and turns as the roads that lead to the Pueblo Ingles program once you enter the Spanish province of Soria en route to Valdelavilla. Pueblo Ingles, to date, has touched the lives of thousands of Spaniards and English-speaking volunteers combined. The Spaniards leave the program with a greater conversational mastery in their second language, and the volunteers leave Valdelavilla enriched in other ways. What makes the Pueblo Ingles experience so unique is that the Spaniards’ difficulties conversing with their English-speaking clients are overcome in an atmosphere that is as low key and supportive as possible; that is, compared to the dog-eat-dog business environment, where not being able to understand English and its many nuances is costly for the Spanish firms. This is why they send their employees (which make up about 80 per cent of the Spanish participants, the other 20 per cent are young students and others interested in becoming fluent in English) to this restored village resort.

The first requirement for volunteers to go to Pueblo Ingles is to be fluent in English. Any kind of English fluency will suffice, including British English, Boston English, South African English, Minnesota English, and Australian English. An outgoing personality and being open to interacting with people of a different culture is also a must because conversing is job one for all the participants of Pueblo Ingles. The day begins at 9 a.m. with breakfast and ends sometime after 10 p.m., when the last meal is completed. A ninety minute break in the afternoon takes place for siesta time or whatever the participants feel like doing after the 2 o’clock lunch. Even the three daily meals, which include traditional and regional Spanish dishes, serve as class time for the Spaniards, who are matched evenly with volunteers at the dinner tables for conversation.

The other talking and interacting sessions vary, including one Spaniard and one volunteer pairing up for 50-minute, one-on-one conversations during the day and afternoon. Each session alternates with a different partner for the Spaniard. The pairs may take a walk on the cobblestone streets of Valdelavilla, or along the trails that lead to and from this village which radiates a medieval ambience. The couples can also lounge around in the large patio area of Valdelavilla. Anything, as long as the Spaniard and volunteer converse in English.

What adds to the adventure of the Pueblo Ingles experience, besides the sense of timelessness that the participants experience while at Valdelavilla, is the close proximity to a vulture preserve. So while the participants are enjoying the outdoors and discussing the issues of the day or just life in general, the above sky will be populated with anywhere from a few to a couple score of these scavengers. Don’t worry, as long as the Pueblo Ingles participants display signs of life, the vultures will keep their distance!

After siesta time, a full group activity will take place. Later, some of the matched pairs may get together with other couples to play badminton or a table game like Spanish Trivial Pursuit, where the Spaniards are required to translate the questions from the cards into English. This can be quite a challenge, as an exact equivalent word or phrase from Spanish to English doesn’t always exist.

An hour before the 9 p.m. dinner, everyone gathers at the big meeting room that overlooks Valdelavilla for a nightly variety show. Both students and volunteers are each encouraged to make at least one presentation during the week about any subject to the rest of the group of around 40 people. Some of the Pueblo Ingles participants perform scenes from comedic plays like Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam or Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Paper scripts are used onstage, so memorizing lines isn’t required. Rehearsal times for the plays pre-empt some of the one-on-one talking sessions.

The intensive exposure of everyone speaking the English language over the course of a week brings a new confidence in the Spanish professional, greatly in part to the fact that he or she has been exposed to twenty or so different English accents on a continuous basis. The average Spanish participant hears and speaks 105,000-plus English phrases during the program! Even the hardest accents to comprehend at the beginning of the program are more easily understood after seven full days in Valelavilla.

Volunteers get to connect with people who are really accepting and inquisitive of the world in general. They are made to feel at home by the Spaniards as the Iberians strive closer to their goal of conversational English language mastery.

 

Sidebar:

For more information on Pueblo Ingles, go to www.puebloingles.com (then click on the English link).

The program is also offered at La Alberca, which is located in west-central Spain (Salamanca), as well as Cazorla, in south-central Spain (Andalucía).

In addition, a new program in Tuscany is being brought along, which features Italians getting conversationally-immersed in the English language the Villaggio Inglese way.

Check the website for updates concerning that particular program in Italy. The programs run year round. Slots fill up fast, but if applicants are flexible with their dates, they have a great chance of securing a spot. Programs exclusively for teenagers are scheduled to take place during the summertime.

Volunteers pay for their airfare to Spain and expenses before and after the program.

Once a program begins at a bus pick-up location in Madrid, Pueblo Inglesprovides the transport, accommodations, three meals a day, as well as accident insurance from the moment the volunteers board the bus in Madrid until they are returned back a week later.

As of March 2006, the founder, Richard Vaughan, is no longer associated with Pueblo Ingles, but the staff of Pueblo Ingles is committed to making the experience memorable for all participants.

Pueblo Ingles, Rafael Calvo 18, 4ºA, 28010 Madrid, Spain {The "4ºA" is Spanish for 4th Floor}; Telephone: +34.902.10.37.37; www.puebloingles.com (then click on the "English" link).



Roy A. Barnes is a freelance writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. To date, he has participated in this unique program five times. He has written for such travel-themed publications as Transitions Abroad, GoNOMAD.com, Associated Content, and Bootsnall.com.

 

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