For seven days in October we talked and talked and talked. 84 hours of contact time. One to one, two to two, small group activities, telephone calls one to one, conference calls one to three, whole group meetings, lunch time conversations Anglo-Spaniard, with wine, dinner time conversations Anglo-Spaniard, with wine, liquid English in the evenings.
This is Pueblo Ingles, an innovative and stimulating one-week intensive English language teaching experience you can have if you are planning a trip to Europe. The school targets Spanish business people and matches them with Anglos (people who speak English well but not necessarily as a mother tongue) from all over the world. It’s a volunteer program for the Anglos, meaning you don’t get paid, but its worth it. My wife and I were planning a trip to Europe, including Spain, and had heard of this school. We thought it would give us a chance to get to know some real Spaniards and an opportunity to dig into the Spanish culture a bit more deeply than by just being tourists. We weren’t disappointed.
Our week-long session was held in a resort near La Alberca, a Spanish national heritage site, where we had superb accommodations and meals supplied free by the school in exchange for our volunteer teaching. The gist of this program is that listening to and talking English in a concentrated way over a week will greatly improve the Spanish clients abilities in the language. The Spaniards already speak enough English to communicate, so they are not raw beginners and in fact some are really quite fluent but may be looking for accent reduction or greater control of the nuances of English usage. On the Anglo side we represented a variety of accents including Londoners, Aussies, Kiwis, Yanks and Canucks. Age doesn’t matter either, with some Anglos in their twenties and the oldest in her eighties. Although this was our first time volunteering there were others who had been there multiple times, including some of the Spaniards. This program is a run-away success as a business. Our week was the 623rd time the week-long program has run.
One of the Spanish students, Inaki, is a young architect from Barcelona. He has worked in his field for a few years but with the ongoing financial crisis the building industry has slowed to a near halt. There are 5 thousand architects in Spain, he explains in his presentation to the group, for a population of 50 million. Its very competitive and he needs to find an edge that will give him an advantage. For him, English is that edge. Another young man, Antonio, works for Ericsson, the global telecom provider, as a purchaser. He needs English to communicate with the thousand providers of product that his company deals with. Yet another Spaniard, Pablo, is the head of navigation control for the 14 km wide Strait of Gibraltar that handles a hundred thousand vessels a year. He often has to communicate in English while looking out for illegal immigration, nautical sports vessels, pollution hazards and search and rescue.
Each of the Spaniards has to do two presentations before an Anglo audience who are expected to ask questions. The first is simple because its about themselves and their job and only three minutes. They know the subject and can talk about it easily. The second presentation is more demanding. They need to come up with a topic that will engage their listeners and speak for five minutes. By the time this presentation is due the Spaniards and Anglos have developed trust and friendships and the job of coaching takes on a more personal tone. You want your student to succeed and you really pay attention to how they prepare. Friendships form.
We ended our week with farewells and exchanges of email addresses. Jen and I stayed in Madrid for the following week, exhausted and exhilarated. We had lunch with Javier, one of our students, at his downtown executive tower one afternoon and saw him in his business suit, confident and speaking English with ease.
You can learn more about Pueblo Ingles at http://www.morethanenglish.com