Improve your Spanish, Expand your World
Do you want to improve your Spanish? If so, you can always find a podcast, online class, or virtual teacher at the click of a button. These are all good ways to tune up your Spanish from the comfort of your home. But perhaps you’d like more structure? Then you could try classes at a community college or university, or lessons with a Spanish teacher or native speaker in your town. There’s nothing wrong with any of these tactics.
But what if you’re looking to, oh, I don’t know… change your life? Become one with the Spanish culture and make amazing (lifelong) friends from all over the world? Travel to a remote village and find yourself lost in time, while you practice trilling your rr’s? Then we need to talk, because none of these things are available to you from the comfort of your living room.
You can start there, though. Just grab your laptop and head over to diverbo.com. Here you’ll find an amazing Spanish-based company that runs English and Spanish immersion programs in Spain and Germany. Their programs transport students and teachers (who are actually not teachers, but native speakers) to venues in Spain and Germany for an immersion experience like no other. I’ve done both programs- I’ve volunteered as an English teacher though Diverbo’s Pueblo Inglés, and recently completed my first Spanish immersion at their Pueblo Español.
Sharing the magic of Diverbo has become my mission in life.
To date, I have three Pueblo Inglés programs under my belt. I enjoyed my experiences at Pueblo Inglés so much that this summer I decided to see how the other half does it, and try an immersion myself. Pueblo Español was every bit as magical as my experiences with Pueblo Inglés… times about a thousand. (And I consider Pueblo Inglés one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.)
During my 8-day immersion, I received over 100 hours of Spanish language practice, learned first hand about the culture and history of Spain, enjoyed authentic Spanish food & wine, and basically got to the heart of what it means to be a Spaniard. (You can’t get this from a classroom or online course!) Plus, I now have a list of Spanish and Anglo friends who, in the course of 8 days, achieved the status of “lifelong friends.”
Let’s not forget that my Spanish improved by leaps and bounds.
How does it all work? Let me take you through my week at Pueblo Español.
My immersion began at Diverbo’s Madrid office - the central point where all participants meet to board a bus bound for their venue.
(Side note: As testament to the lifelong friends you’ll meet when you do a program with Diverbo, I got a ride to the office from my friend Rocio’s husband, Rodrigo. I met Rocio at my first Pueblo Inglés in 2012, and now she and her husband are dear friends who I visit each year, and who visit my husband and me in the States. So, if you’re doing a Diverbo program, know that you’ll leave with amazing friends.)
At the office, I encountered a group of people- both Anglos (English speakers) and Spaniards- awaiting our boarding call. I knew that from the moment we stepped on the bus, English would officially be off limits for the next 8 days. There were 8 other Anglos joining me and nine Spaniards as we headed for our destination - the Doña Teresa Hotel, located in the charming village of La Alberca. (We’d have about a 4.5-hour bus ride.) I sat next to a Spaniard named Marta, and my language immersion began. While going over introductions, she quickly got to work, teaching me how to correctly pronounce “gracias” the Castilian way. (Not “gra-see-as” but rather “gra-thee-as”) This took a good ten minutes for me to grasp, and was something that no one (and I’ve been studying Spanish since I was 9) had ever taught me directly.
Five hours later, we were at the hotel. We quickly got oriented with the format and schedule of the program as our master of ceremonies, Raquel, gave us the low down on what was in store for us that week. Note, this was done all in Spanish - Diverbo is serious about their “no inglés” policy. Afterwards, one of the Spaniards turned to me to be sure I understood Raquel’s information. The Spaniards are good about that- checking in with Anglos to clear up any confusion.
And, the week began! Here’s what went down on most days:
9:00 a.m. Breakfast This, and other meals are meant to be a way to casually converse in Spanish; no high-pressure discussions. The rules are simple - all Spanish (of course) and the table must consist of two Anglos and two Spaniards to avoid a table full of Anglos or Spaniards.
10:00- 2:00 “Tu a tu’s” (one-to-one conversations) Every hour, Anglos are assigned a new Spaniard and a few new Spanish phrases to discuss. We use these as launching points for our discussions – about life, work, the world… anything that comes naturally as we get to know our Spanish friends/teachers. The “classroom” for these discussions is anywhere we want it to be- from talks while strolling the village to discussions over a café con leche in the village square to rides in a Spaniard’s convertible.
In addition, this time block was adjusted to accommodate field trips in the village, a day trip to Salamanca, and other activities. The variety in the week was nice, as it broke things up and allowed us to really get to know the Spanish culture through the spots we visited and the explanations in Spanish.
2:00-3:00 Lunch This is Spanish-style lunch - it’s bigger than a typical American lunch, so definitely part of the cultural experience. However, there’s always the option of ordering a salad or something lighter. Note that the staff of the hotel bends over backwards in case one has special dietary needs (gluten free, vegan, etc.). Plus, every lunch includes wine, which helps keep the conversation flowing, and as a bonus does help my Spanish.
3:00 - 5:00 Free time! After speaking Spanish all day, this is a great chance to recharge with a siesta. I took this time to power nap and then explore the village and converse with the locals a bit. I saw others walk to the nearby hotel pool for a dip, and still others took the time to catch up with work on the hotel terrace.
5:00 - 8:45 Group Activities The diversity of our activities continues as we are challenged to use our Spanish in all sorts of ways. All activities are designed to help us use the language for real-life scenarios vs. repeating phrases from a grammar book. For example, one time we worked in groups of 4 to create a travel brochure. In another session, we came up with an idea for a new product. We always finished these activities with presentations to the entire group. We also participated in theater sketches, listened to Spaniards give talks on topics of interest, and did mock teleconferences to practice speaking/listening in Spanish while on the phone.
8:45Dinner By this time, I’ve spent my entire day thinking and speaking Spanish, so you’d think I’d be ready to just stop and have a quiet dinner by myself. Nope. Here’s the thing about Pueblo Español - all of the hard work that happens throughout the day doesn’t feel like work - it feels like getting to know new friends. So when it comes time to dinner, we all just want to chill together and continue our conversations… in Spanish, of course.
10:00 - ??? Culture, fun, socializing. It’s important to note that I’m pretty sure Spaniards don’t sleep. With this in mind, on most nights we utilized the time after ten to continue to embrace the culture of Spain. This meant a queimada ritual, a trip to the village to listen to music, a low -key Spanish trivia game, and a party night at our own personal disco. Other times we just all met on the terrace to talk together.
The 8 days passed quickly at Pueblo Español, and each day brought us closer as a group in a way that can only be experienced, not explained. Pueblo Español is not just a language immersion; it’s an immersion in humanity, where we discovered that although we come from different worlds, we are fundamentally the same.
The bottom line is, there are many ways to learn a new language, just as there are many ways to spend 8 days of your life. But if you want learn a language, experience a cultural awakening, and get to know some of the world’s finest people, then please, check out Diverbo. Your world will be bigger because of it.