If you can read that headline, you may be disqualified for Englishtown, or Pueblo Ingles, the language program run by Vaughan Systems in Spain (tel. 34/91-391-34-00; www.vaughanvillage.com). That's because ideally, the company wants outgoing and open-minded English-speaking natives -- with no knowledge of Spanish or experience teaching English as a foreign language -- to come to picturesque villages scattered throughout Spain and voluntarily teach the natives how to speak English. All you have to do is pay your way to Madrid and any additional expenses before and after the program; they take care of the rest. Your exchange is talk, talk talk -- for seven days straight. For the naturally gregarious, curious types the program seeks, talk truly is cheap.
Founded in 2001, Richard Vaughan created the program to provide Spanish business professionals an opportunity to improve their English skills, with English speakers, in a language immersion situation for a whopping fifteen hours of conversation a day. "Yes, you will talk here more than you ever will in your own mother tongue," says marketing director Nicole Escario.
"For English speakers, we bring them together as they share a love for conversation, adventure, and the chance to meet new people and learn about Spain straight from the horse's mouth. For the Spaniards, they come to these towns to be able to better speak and understand in the 'real world.' They report an increase in confidence, listening, and fluidity," says Escario.
In the past five years, the program has grown to include four locations in Spain and, as of 2005, Villaggio Inglese in Italy's Tuscan countryside. (Don't get too excited about Italy though -- it's reserved for program veterans only.) Last year, more than 2,000 participants came from English-speaking countries including the United States, Canada, Ireland, England, New Zealand and Australia. Escario says about a third of Anglo attendees are repeat visitors and, demographically speaking, are varied; the oldest was 81. Typically, about 20 Spaniards and 20 English speakers attend each program.
Vaughan, an American with nearly thirty years' experience in language education, started the program in what had been an abandoned mountainous village of Valdelavilla, in Soria, northern Spain. In 2003, they added "Puerta de Gredos," or Gredos Gate, about two hours west of Madrid. Soon, an outpost in La Alberca (in Salamanca) opened, at Hotel Abadia de los Templarios. Italy's Villaggio Inglese, situated near Siena and San Gimignano, was launched last year. And this month their new spot in Cazorla (in Andalucia) opens; it's surrounded by olive groves. Approximately 80 programs are slated for this year running nearly all year-round (although not in every location) and almost always begin and end on a Friday.
"Teaching English is one percent explanation and 99 percent practice and drill," says Vaughan. Consequently, English conversation permeates trips, meals, board games, theatrical improvisation, socials and more. Activities include telephone conversations, one-to-one conversations that rotate among members and last up to an hour apiece, and workshops on public speaking and presentations. Because the approach is not strictly dry and academic -- participants have more freedom to have meaningful dialogue about politics, art, culture, food and whatever else comes up in conversation.
With so much intense, extensive conversation, it's no surprise that many participants walk away feeling changed; many report their days in Spain as "the most stimulating in their life, and at least four have said it was a life-changing experience," says Vaughan.
Talk about the Englishtown program on our Spain Message Boards today.