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Working Vacations in Spain

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Sometimes it's hard to know who gets more out of the experience; those being helped or those providing the assistance.

Visit Spain For Free: English Speakers Required

The Spaniards go to Englishtown, in Valdelavilla, to improve their English language speaking skills. They go to spend time with Anglos; to be totally immersed in the English language.

They go to learn to 'think' in English. The Anglos, on the other hand, do it for the adventure. They do it to learn about the Spanish culture; to make new friends. They want to make a difference in someone's life.


Englishtown (or Pueblo Ingles) is the brainchild of Richard Vaughan; who owns Vaughan Systems, a principal provider of English language programs in Spain.

Mr. Vaughan spends most of his time conducting training classes for business executives. One such program is this off-site, linguistic experience.

One evening, Mr. Vaughan spoke to us in Valdelavilla. He emphasised, by lightheartedly putting some of the Spaniards on the spot, the importance of an immersion experience to language acquisition where you really learn to hear the language.

And it was true. Spaniards reported that at some point during the week, they actually began thinking in English, gained confidence and no longer had to go through the laborious process of translating in their minds.

At Englishtown, ONLY English is spoken

The core of the weeklong program is 'one-on-ones' in which English-speaking Anglos are paired with Spaniards for a series of 50 minute conversations.

The classroom is the great outdoors, weather permitting, with teacher/student pairs strolling the grounds or chatting over coffee.

Generally, the dialogue will start with basic icebreakers: "Where do you live?"; "Where do you work?"; and "Do you have a family?"

Quickly it progresses to more lofty subjects such as the health care system; pre- and post-Franco Spain, wine producing regions of the country, and even nuclear reactors.

Much of the talk includes typical American idioms which, when translated literally, don't make a bit of sense! What is a "glass ceiling?"; How do you "roll with the punches?";  What is a "silver bullet?" or a "silver lining?"; Who is your favorite "bean counter?"

Every Spaniard has an opportunity to have a one-on-one with every Anglo. This way they grow accustomed to the different English accents, not only from America but from the U.K., Ireland, The Netherlands, and Australia.

Students are mostly business executives from multinational corporations who are serious about their language acquisition needs. Some of the Spaniards are sent to Englishtown by their employers; others come on their own accord and pay their own expenses. Whatever the case, they know they need the language to advance their careers.

Structured Activities Make Learning Fun

Throughout the week the one-on-ones are supplemented with structured, group activities.

These activities provide opportunities for more informal, candid discussion. Groups of four, two Anglos and two Spaniards, work in teams answering questions such as "What would you take if you only could take 13 things with you to an island?"; "Who, out of a given list of people, would you take with you to start a civilisation?"; and "What are two truths and one lie you can speak about yourself?"

These discussions are always followed by presentations, so Spaniards can practice speaking to a crowd.

Another part of the program requires Spaniards to prepare formal ten-minute presentations related to their jobs or hobbies. Anglos are available to assist in the scripting or can act as critics. Phone conversations and conference calls are also on the agenda and provide Spaniards with the additional challenge of not being able to see their partners while in conversation.

Evening presentations are the most relaxed with either Spaniards or Anglos sharing their knowledge or experiences. We were lucky enough to have a yoga Instructor from Madrid who shared his hobby, as well as an Anglo from the U.K. who spoke about his adventures 'watching' earthquakes. We often enjoyed theatrical productions starring both Anglos and Spaniards!

Friendships Develop; Comfort Increases

As the week progresses, everyone becomes a lot more open and conversational; which isn't surprising considering one spends 15-hours a day talking with the same group of people!

Anglos and Spaniards now play board games and exchange card tricks while others share personal stories and aspirations for the future. One evening is reserved for a fiesta and the creation of a 'secret sauce' beverage, which, as Englishtown legend states, contributes to the Spaniards becoming fluent so quickly!

All meals are served in a central dining room with required seating, two Spaniards and two Anglos at a table. The Spanish wine and authentic local cuisine not only provide a true culinary experience, but ensure that the conversation flows. In actuality, these are working meals simulating typical American business lunches complete with simultaneous conversations and noise.

It isn't surprising that at the end of the week people exchange hugs, tears and e-mail addresses. Deep relationships form in a relatively short time.

Camp For Grown-Ups?

In Englishtown, the days are regimented and sometimes exhausting.

Nine o'clock is breakfast, followed by one-on-ones from 10am until 2pm.

Lunch is served daily at 2pm followed by a siesta from 3pm until 5pm.

Group activities begin at 5pm in the Activity Center with one-on-ones from 6pm until 8pm.

The final event of the day is dinner at 8pm and from there many socialise in the bar or retire after an action packed day.

No doubt, the Vaughan Systems organisers maximize the time spent in Englishtown. Their research indicates that a one week Englishtown experience is comparable to literally months of classroom instruction!

Despite the seemingly grueling schedule, in a strange way, Englishtown is relaxing; a clear break from 'normal' routine. It's frustrating at times working through the language barrier, but like summer camp, it's a whole lot of fun!

In the end, everyone leaves having an experience they probably will never forget. Not only that, do you remember the last time you laughed until your stomach hurt?

Solo Travel

A wonderful side benefit of Englishtown is it provides an opportunity to travel to Europe solo, with the confidence that you'll know people once you're there.

Vaughan Systems does a great job of providing e-mail addresses of all the Anglos enrolled in your particular Englishtown session, so you can co-ordinate travel plans or meeting spots before or after your commitment to the Englishtown experience.

I stayed in Madrid a few extra days and had a great time with my new found Anglo and Spanish friends visiting the obligatory cathedrals and churches, the Prado, Thyssen, and Reina Sofia museums, Retiro Park, the Palacio Real, and El Rastro; possibly the largest flea market in Europe.

Where is Valdelavilla?

Valdelavilla is located four hours north-east of Madrid.

The nearest town in this very remote area of Spain is Soria, which is 45 minutes away by taxi.

Valdelavilla was built in the 18th century as a quaint village with stone walled houses and cobble-stoned streets. It has since been rebuilt by public corporations and a foundation and is now used as a hotel and conference center.

The village is part of the tourist circuit along with several other remote areas in the countryside; visitors come here to experience old world Spain and partake in its natural beauty.

Vaughan Systems rents out a portion of Valdelavilla for its programs. It has similar programs in other areas of Spain and invites the curious to learn more and apply for an Englishtown adventure at Vaughan Village.

By Paula Louise Biskup.

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