Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Travel

Teach in Spain: No Spanish Allowed

No foreign language skills? No problem. Programs in foreign countries pair English speakers with those learning the language.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the January 2008 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

I never thought my foreign language deficiency could be an asset. Not speaking Spanish helped me and my wife, Alice, land a free week at a four-star resort in western Spain. All we had to do was talk -- in English.

Madrid is headquarters for two companies that recruit English speakers to help improve the conversational English skills of Spaniards, most of whom are employees of multinational corporations. These are English-immersion programs, so the companies prefer that the instructors not know Spanish. English speakers aren't paid, and we had to pay for our airfare.

RELATED LINKS

25 Best Travel Sites

Plastic Rules When Traveling Abroad

The Lure of Living South of the Border

After hearing about the Pueblo Ingles program from a friend, Alice and I applied at its Web site, www.puebloingles.com. A similar program is available from Vaughan Systems (www.vaughantown.com). Retirees make up a good portion of the volunteers.

Advertisement

Weekly programs run almost year-round. We heard within two weeks that we were selected for the week of our choice. We had access to a Web page where we introduced ourselves to other English-speaking volunteers who had signed up for the same week.

On the evening before the Friday start of our program, we met our fellow "Anglo" instructors at a restaurant. Our group included 13 Americans, three Canadians, three Brits, an Irishman and an Australian.

On Friday morning, we boarded a bus and met our Spanish participants. Garret Scally, our entertaining master of ceremonies, went over the ground rules: English only, and Anglos should do 60% of the talking. Although the Spanish participants have a basic command of the language, our role was to expose them to conversational English.

Each Anglo was paired with a Spaniard during the five-hour drive to the resort outside the historic village of La Alberca. The Spaniards ranged in age from mid twenties to late forties with professions as varied as power-plant manager, oil-company accountant and radio-station executive.

Advertisement

For part of the trip, my seatmate was Ana, an accountant in her thirties who works for a large firm in Madrid. Her English was somewhat stilted. I often had to repeat myself or choose another word before she caught on to what I was saying, and vice versa.

At one point, we could see the huge cross marking the tomb of General Francisco Franco. That sparked a chat about what young Spaniards think about the Franco era. Like many of her generation, Ana had mixed feelings about the dictator.

During meals, we sat with a rotating mix of Anglos and Spaniards. A typical day started with breakfast at 9 a.m., followed by several one-on-one discussions with Spaniards on issues such as global warming. We resumed these conversations after lunch. Because so much business is conducted by telephone, Anglos and Spaniards spoke by phone with each other. We also engaged in team exercises, such as promoting an imaginary new product.

A few Spaniards had cars, and several times Pepe, head of a major engineering company, and I toured the countryside during our one-on-one talks. We discussed his family, business dealings, and social and political developments in Spain.

Advertisement

From 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Alice and I read or napped. Formal activities usually ended with dinner at 9 -- often followed by socializing around the bar.

Veteran Anglo participants say they have made long-lasting friendships with Anglos and Spaniards. We're hoping to keep in touch with several participants, an effort made easier by an online community that Pueblo Ingles maintains for program graduates.

After a farewell luncheon on Friday, Alice and I rented a car and toured Portugal. We enjoyed our experience at Pueblo Ingles, but we felt we had earned our keep. We will apply next year for its Italy program, which is reserved for veterans of the program in Spain.