In these wallet-tightening times, travelers are looking for ways to vacation for less money. What if I told you that I just had a whole week’s vacation in four-star villa in a 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 is one—all you have to do is speak English. And considering it is probably your native tongue … 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 Spanish professionals.
Brian Bolles, a Pueblo Ingles Master of Ceremonies, says, “This life enriching experience is not just a trip or a regular holiday. This is your chance to discover the real Spain and its people, but in your own language.”
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.
The idea scared and intrigued me at the same time—not only would I be able to vacation for one week in the heart of the Spanish countryside without spending a dime (that’s sadly only 6 Euro cents), 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.
“It is rare indeed to find a business that lives up to its advertised promises. My stay at La Alberca, not to mention my time in Madrid, proved to be everything that was promised and more. Not only will I recommend Pueblo Ingles to my friends as a vacation alternative, but I will also suggest it to my co-workers as a creative and effective way to improve their ability to discuss business and cultural matters across language barriers and international borders,” said Frank Taylor, another participant.
For anyone who likes to talk, like me, enjoys making new friends, and learning about a different culture, this eight-day program is for you. You are responsible for your flight to Spain and your hotel accommodations in Madrid before and after the program. A bus picks you up the first morning and three hours later you arrive at a tiny bit of paradise. There are several venues for Pueblo Ingles around Spain. The one I chose was called La Alberca—a tiny rural town full of winding cobblestone lanes and green hills nestled between the mountains of the province of Salamanca. Our resort hotel was in a bucolic setting with shady paths and ponds and was more like a group of several chalets. There were about twenty English speakers from Canada, the U.S., England, Australia, and Ireland, and twenty 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 hardcore immersion experience for the Spaniards—basically forcing them to drink, eat, sleep, and hopefully dream in English.
Each morning after a large buffet breakfast we paired off into “couples” for “one to one” hourly conversations that we could have anywhere we wanted—the pool, strolling to town, or just in a set of comfy chairs in the sun. 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.
Birgitta Bergsten, a fellow volunteer says, “I’ve learned things about Spain and the people here that I would not have learned if I had been a tourist. This program has so many deeper meanings, i.e., understanding people from different countries.”
Everyday you are paired with different people and are constantly entertained with different activities like games, conference calls, and presentations—during which lucky Spaniards get to talk all about their jobs or entertain the group with some kind of unique skill they have (singing, dancing, and other random embarrassing behavior). 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. A three-course lunch with plenty of vino (nothing gets conversations going like some cheap wine can) was 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 was fun to just be silly and what I really remember most is laughing almost all the time. We took a break one day during the week and were transported back to the fifteenth century as we toured the nearby medieval village of La Alberca. We followed narrow cobblestone lanes past wine cellars, stone fountains, and centuries-old homes. Each night we enjoyed a three-course dinner with more wine, of course, and then the Spaniards’ Inglés would really get tested as many hung out at the bar dancing and laughing until the wee hours of the morning.
The Easy Life
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. The warmth, sense of humor, and eagerness of the Spanish participants made it very easy for us to have a great time. Because of the intense week together, amazing friendships were formed and wonderful memories were created to keep for years to come.
Pueblo Ingles’ programs run year round and there are three other locations in Spain besides La Alberca..