It is a bone-chilling and gray March day in Madrid. My husband Hank and I are huddled together on a busy corner with 20 other English-speaking volunteers from around the globe. Nearby, an equal number of Spanish executives eye us with looks ranging from timidity to terror. We are waiting for a bus that will take us 3 hours from Madrid to a hotel near the ancient village of Barco de Avila in a remote area of the Gredos Mountain Range.
For the next 8 days, our two groups will be sequestered together for an intense English-immersion program called Pueblo Ingles (previously known as Englishtown). Pueblo Ingles is the brainchild of American businessman Richard Vaughan, who came to Spain in 1972 to teach English and never left. Dissatisfied with traditional English-language school curriculums, Vaughan developed Pueblo Ingles to bridge the gap between classroom English and real-world English conversations.
Come along with us on a rich and rewarding journey that will transform our two distinctly different groups from shy strangers to cherished friends.
Our Anglo group is a model of diversity. Composed of an almost number of men and women, our ages range from early 20s to 70s. We are writers, musicians, chemists, artists, executives, students, and retirees from the United States, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. A father and son from Hawaii are touring Europe on bikes for one year on a fellowship, teaching wheelchair tennis. A young woman originally from Nigeria, now living in Boston, is completing her Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Harvard. There are a few couples, like Hank and I, and many single travelers.
The Spanish group is equally diverse, an even mix of men and women in their late 20’s to mid-50’s. They are mid- to- upper-level executives with companies like Vodaphone, Microsoft, Oracle, Mercedes-Benz, Cemex, and the Bank of Spain. They share the common need to understand and speak English in their careers. For them, this week is serious business. Their professional success depends on their ability to become fluent in English.
Boarding the bus, we each sit with one of our Spanish counterparts for their first Pueblo Ingles conversations. The next 3 hours prove long and arduous for our Spanish "victims" as they call themselves. Although they all speak intermediate classroom English, they quickly believe we must be speaking some other unknown dialect. Not only do our individual conversations sound unintelligible, but the various Anglos don’t even speak the same English. There are drawling Southern accents (like mine), northern accents, nasal West Virginia hill-country accents, Irish brogues, clipped and proper British accents., and more. Some Anglos speak slowly and distinctly.
Others speak fast, their conversation peppered with slang and words like "gonna." Isabel asks, "What is a gonna?" Later, Beatriz tells us all she could think about during that long, long bus ride was, "What am I doing here? Please get me out of here. This is an impossibility!" As our bus turns into the tall gates of the Gredos Gate Hotel, everyone falls silent. The late afternoon sun paints majestic snowcapped peaks on all sides in breathtaking hues.
Continue on to my next journal and learn about a typical day at Pueblo Ingles.