Be prepared to get a glimpse of my thoughts, heart, soul, feelings, frustrations and progress. I will share with you my personal experience attending a 1-week intensive Spanish course in Spain. This isn’t your typical classroom course, it is 8 days and 14-15 hours of conversation each day! This is like no other program I have experienced, so I am going to spill the beans and let you know what I think about full Spanish Immersion in Spain.
You know me the practical one, so of course this is going to be full of information for you to use, as you are contemplating learning a new language. I will likely tell you way too much detail, but this isn’t just for you, it’s also a memoir for me! So just know it is going to be a bit long, so just go ahead and grab a cup of tea or coffee and come back to read when you have time!
You decided to keep reading!
Oh I am so excited you decided to keep on reading, even though I warned you about it being long. Okay, that means you want the nitty-gritty details and that is exactly what you are going to get. This won’t really be a day by day account of the activities, but more like a summary of the things I did and experienced. Oh yes, and if you are really up for more of my torture, feel free to watch my video at the end!
It all began with an Intensive Spanish course in Spain (Madrid to be exact)
My time away started with a 4-day intensive Spanish course in Madrid, for 4 hours a day. This was a great opportunity for me to meet a few of the other students attending the full week Spanish conversation course as well. I was staying just a short walk from the classroom, so it was easy to just enjoy my week. Each morning I would wake up, make my way to class, spend 4 hours in the classroom and the remainder of the day was mine.
Of course this all happened at the same time Alan and I were working on a very big project. So most of my free time wasn’t spent touring Madrid, it was me in the hotel room working away, with a little mix of studying Spanish. It wasn’t ideal for my prep for Spanish immersion, but we also need to make money to keep our dream Spanish lifestyle going. So of course I just had to make the best out of the situation and get my work done.
The Bottom of the Class
The format and style of this class was all about conversation, games and getting us to speak. I really enjoyed my time in the class and I feel it helped tremendously with my confidence heading into the full week of immersion. The length of the class was just the right dose for me and it was sprinkled with a bit of grammar too. It wasn’t your standard lecture and this is grammar, but it had a good mix. There were a total of 4 students in the class and we were all going to the same immersion session together.
I will be honest within the first hour, it was quite clear that the other students had a better grasp of Spanish grammar and were more advanced than me. It isn’t a normal occurrence for me to be at the bottom of the class. Don’t get me wrong, I can speak but it isn’t always done correctly. I also discovered that I do actually know a bit more than I thought I did, so it was all good. I would take this opportunity to rise up and reach a new level of speaking Spanish.
All of us students bonded and after just 1 day, I could feel an improvement. This was going to be awesome and I was so excited for my upcoming journey. I made sure I had plenty of sleep each night and returned to class each day with a hunger to learn. After our final day, it was time to prepare my mind for the next 8 days of Spanish immersion.
Just because you think it, is it true?
The night before the immersion, my mind was spinning like crazy. The silliest thoughts were racing through my head and I don’t even know where it was all coming from. Most of which were nervous, doubtful and negative thoughts.
- “How can I possibly speak for a full day in Spanish?”
- “People are going to get so frustrated with me.”
- “I won’t know what they are saying to me. What happens when I don’t understand and can’t ask in English?”
- “What if they aren’t interested in my life and my stories?”
- “I don’t know all of my grammar, how can I possibly have time to learn it all?”
Of course the list goes on with all of my worries, but I also had visions of grandeur. Yes, I was going to spend 1 week in a Spanish immersion course and just magically come out fluent! See, I can think both negatively and positively. but the reality is nowhere near either of those extremes.
At the end of our 4 day class
After the final session of our intensive 4-day class, we met up with our amazing program director Silvia as well as our main contact at headquarters, Maria. The treated us all to lunch and we also finally met the 5th student attending the course. Following lunch, it was off to explore the museum with a stop off to take a photo next to the big pickle!
Spanish Conversation Course
The day had finally arrived! It was time to hop on that bus and go away for a week and embrace my Spanish language immersion program. I was excited, nervous, thrilled, and a bit shy. Rather than boring you with a day by day listing of things we did, I am choosing to bore you with all of the questions I kept being asked once I returned. The same questions have been asked over and over, so I figured you may be wondering the same things.
Where was the immersion course held?
Pueblo Español is held in a variety of location around Spain, typically in smaller towns. The main gathering and departing point is in Madrid, at the main headquarters. The entire class is bussed to the location together and that is when the full immersion begins, on the bus journey!
My session was in the small town of La Alberca, with just slightly over 1000 residents, it was just the right size to explore for the week. This town is picture-perfect in so many ways and just an hour away from Salamanca. Be on the lookout for a full post just on the town, as I fell in love with it.
La Alberca is a municipality in the province of Salamanca in the autonomous community of Castilla y León, Spain. It is the capital of Sierra de Francia Comarca. In 2003, the population of La Alberca was 1105, and the area 60.73 km². Its altitude is 1048 metres above sea level…more from Wikipedia.
Where did you stay?
We stayed in the village at the 4-star Hotel Doña Teresa. We each had our own room and mine was very spacious, with a balcony and amazing views! I have to admit, I didn’t spend much time in my room, but when I was there it was a great night sleep for sure. We enjoyed most meals at the hotel restaurant and everything was delicious from the breakfast buffet to the 3-course lunches and dinners. If you would like more info about the hotel, check here for current prices and availability.
How many students were there?
No two Pueblo Español experiences are the same and that is because the participants and volunteers are different every time. The standard size can vary from 12-20 students, each matched with an equal number of volunteers. Our class was particularly small with only 5 students and 5 volunteers. Our class has an Australian, German, and 3 Americans (2 of us living in Spain).
The bonus is that we really had an opportunity to get to know everyone on a deeper level. The downside, well at times you really had to dig deep for more conversation. That said there were plenty of activities, games and themed topics to keep us all going.
Who are the volunteers “Spanish speakers” attending?
The volunteers are native Spanish speakers and they also apply for the program. There is no English allowed, so even if they know another language it is Spanish-speaking only. We of course had 5 volunteers and it was great to have people from different regions of Spain. This allows us students to become accustomed to hearing different accents and fine-tune our ear. Our volunteers were from Galicia, Madrid, Valencia and Castilla y León.
The volunteers don’t need to pay for the program, but they do need to have a great deal of patience and be prepared for the long hours. This isn’t a vacation, it is certainly work for them, but filled with loads of fun, great company, great food and wonderful accommodation. Without the volunteers this amazing experience wouldn’t be possible, so I pause to thank all of my volunteers (Manuel, Angela, Nacho, Salva, & Rosa).
Describe a typical day
Wow, I am not sure there was a typical day, but one thing for sure we did have a general schedule for the day. We would start with a buffet breakfast, each table of 4 had 2 students and 2 volunteers. Of course with 5 students, that left 1 student who sat with the final volunteer and the program director. During meals it random seating, so we mixed it up each day on our own.
In between meals we had activities, which changed each hour. I am not sure if this is a standard schedule for the program or if we have more activity time, because of the size of our class.
10:00 Tú a Tú (one on one)
11:00 Tú a Tú (one on one)
12:00 Tú a Tú (one on one)
15:30 Siesta or free time (I needed that siesta!)
17:00 Activity or Tú a Tú (one on one)
18:00 Activity or Tú a Tú (one on one)
19:00 Activity or Tú a Tú (one on one)
23:45 or much later…. Good night time!
What were the activities?
Oh I absolutely loved the activities! We played games, built towers, had a scavenger hunt around town, phone call role play, a half-day excursion to Salamanca and of course presentations and skits. (Okay I admit, I was not a fan of participating in skits. More on that later.)
We were also fortunate enough to experience the Corpus Christi festival, one of the most beautiful celebrations in La Alberca. All of the town windows and balconies along the procession route were adorned with traditional handmade quilts and embroidered cloths.
Did you get to go sight-seeing?
During our one-on-one sessions, we could go anywhere we liked. Sometimes we would go for a walk through the village, others we would sit out on the terrace, or at times we would find a nice spot in the hotel lobby for some AC.
We had a jamón (ham), wine and cheese tasting in the village that was wonderful. We also had a tour of a traditional casa in the town of La Alberca. This family home has been turned into an amazing museum and a walk through history.
Casa museo “Satur Juanela” shows the traditional life from the past. In each of their four floors with stables, barn, kitchen, pantry, alcoves and rooms, and finally the attic, where visitors can enjoy an interesting audiovisual. It preserves all the furniture and original equipment of the house, allowing us to know how people lived in the Sierra de Francia, until just a few decades ago.
We did have one day where we were off to Salamanca in the afternoon. We had a great tour of the town and then stayed in the city for dinner. I just love Salamanca, so it was nice to visit it again. Remember to check out our Things to do in Salamanca post, but now I have more to add to it!
Did you see the Pig?
The small pueblo of La Alberca has a unique tradition. Each year a pig is let loose to live on the streets of the Pueblo. It is raised by the village and fed by everyone, including tourists. The church blesses the young pig on June 13 and from that moment until January 17, it is the town pet and tourist attraction.
The pig’s adorable free ride comes to an end on January 17, which is the feast day of St. Anthony of Egypt (a shrine to whom is located on the edge of town). Historically, on that day the pig was presented to the poorest family in town. Today, however, the pig is raffled off as part of a day-long ceremony, with the proceeds going to a selected charity or NGO. Local delicacies of this pig-rich region such as black ham, pork loin, and chorizo can be found in the traditional tapas bars in town.
I was there at the end of June, so the pig was young and only let out for a few hours a day. Different families were caring for it, waiting for the day of blessing and release on July 13th. So I didn’t personally get to see the pig, but a couple of people from our group did. Click here for more info about the tradition.
Did you have much personal time?
The short answer is no, but I didn’t come to an immersion program to spend time alone. Each day we had about 60-90 minutes for siesta. This was our free time to do what we like. Believe me I took advantage of a little nap each day. We also had from about midnight to 9 in the morning free, ha! Sometimes it was later than midnight and at the beginning of the week I was still waking up at 7:30 in the morning. Towards the end, I would get up just 15 minutes before breakfast.
Could you contact home?
Of course, but we were very busy with the program so needed to limit this to our personal time. As you can see above, it was either during siesta or late at night. I tried my best not to have my phone out or readily available during the program, as I didn’t want the distraction. I didn’t have my watch, so I did keep it near to check the time for switching activities etc.
Did you get frustrated?
Oh you bet I did! I was secretly hoping I would magically be filled up with vocabulary and be able to say whatever I like. I was thrilled with how much I learned, but my brain can only work at its own pace.
When your brain says enough!
On our last day, we were going around the room and just giving our closing thoughts and I started off okay. I was going around the room saying a little something special about each person, but then I became very emotional. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I didn’t even know where all of this emotion was coming from.
By the time I made it to the last 2 people, I no longer knew any words. I was actually speechless and this had to be the most frustrating moment of the entire week. Words were pouring into my mind with exactly what I wanted to say, but in English and I couldn’t think fast enough to express how I felt in Spanish. It was a painful, exhausting and frustrating few minutes. Once I stopped and composed myself I felt better, but it was as if someone shut off my Spanish brain.
What did I love?
Oh I loved so much about this program.
I loved the structure and mix of activities, but the games were my all-time favorite. I guess I have a little competitive streak in me. We built towers, played board games and played group games.
One night after dinner we split up into 2 teams and played a verbal trivia game and it was a blast. We opted for the more aggressive shout out the answer style for the first hour and then realized we were all far to competitive and had to tone it down after midnight to a “write the answer down” style of playing. Great laughs and good learning.
Surprisingly, I also loved the phone role play. Normally I am not a role play kind of gal, but when you put me on the phone, I was fine. I went to my room and then called one of the volunteers in his room. We each had designated scenarios given to us in advance to read and act out over the phone. I had so much fun with Manuel, we just kept on chatting beyond our assigned scenarios.
I guess I felt less intimidated on the phone, as no one was looking at me. I wasn’t reading into body language and facial expressions, so it allowed my confidence to flourish. We had a great time and it was very rewarding.
At the start of the program you are getting to know a group of strangers. By the end of the program you are saying goodbye to friends. People you have opened your heart to and exposed yourself in a foreign language. You have made bonds that can’t be described or explained to anyone, unless they too have been through the same program. It is an amazing experience and I look forward to keeping in touch with my Pueblo Español family.
What was my least favorite thing?
Okay, after 8 days of full immersion, there has to be something that was on the don’t like this list. Well, I have a clear winner! I don’t like participating in skits! I don’t like theater and acting, so when I am handing a role to play with a limited amount of time to study, the shy me takes over. These were all optional, but I did them anyway. Believe me, I would have prefered to curl up and hide under a table, but I didn’t. I just needed to get over it and embrace the program so I did. I still don’t like it, I didn’t enjoy it, but I did do it. I am proud of myself for that, as normally I would have opted out.
On the flip side, I really enjoyed being a spectator of the theater and role play when another team was performing.
I also was usually exhausted and tired after dinner and really wanted to just go back to my room and have some down time. Early in the week, I did this one night and went up to my room at 11pm. I had a nice bath and it was quite relaxing. Unbeknownst to me, I missed an activity and I felt really bad, so for the remainder of the week I was up for everything.
Would I do it again?
You bet! I would certainly do it again, knowing exactly how it flows and what is expected. I think I would build up my vocabulary a bit more and study more grammar before attending again. I would love to experience this program with a bigger group as well. Who know’s maybe it is something I should do again next year. One of the students in our group has come 3 years in a row. He was clearly the most advanced in our group. He even knew a few of the volunteers and the program director from previous visits. Watching them all with their instant bond was amazing.
Did I improve?
I think it is impossible not to improve, so yes I made great strides. I had a few scary moments, where I really thought I had forgotten Spanish. Am I fluent like I envisioned before attending? No way. I made great improvements and my listening skills are really top-notch.
My speaking skills are far more confident and fluid and I also picked up new vocabulary. Hey, I acted in impromptu skits, did two presentations, spoke in Spanish for at least 12 hours a day and survived! I certainly could notice a difference as the days passed, so I am pleased.
No matter what, I do still need to memorize my verb conjugations. I did learn a bit from the conversations, but it wasn’t about grammar and classes. We did have some activities which covered these areas and of course I loved those. I still have plenty of improvement to make and studying to do, but this really helped launch me more quickly in the right direction.
I am a firm believer that immersion is the best way to learn a new language. It won’t be without loads of emotion, frustrations, progress and setbacks, but it works. I now have a deeper appreciation of what we put our kids through when we first moved to Spain. I remember coaching them and helping them get through the tough spots the first several months.
I still have a long way to go and I would really love to take better advantage of living in Spain and create my own type of immersion. Don’t get me wrong, I get by with my Spanish just fine around town and by no means am I fluent, but my journey will only continue if I make it happen. I need to continue to improve and embrace the intercambios I have set up in town. I receive positive feedback from my Spanish friends and they complement my Spanish, so I know I am on the right path.
We want to see Video!
Okay, I had every intention of including a video in this post, but at the time I didn’t plan on writing a short novel. So for the moment, this is what you get. In the coming weeks, I will filter through all of my video, including video taken of me doing my presentations and more. I will make a video and separate post just on that, so be on the look out!
Heidi’s Journey to learning Spanish
Read all about my journey learning Spanish and my goal of attending the 1-week Spanish conversation course with Pueblo Español.
- What Happened To Speaking Spanish? Expat Confessions
- This Will Make You Understand The Path To Speaking Spanish
- Learning Spanish – Alan & Heidi Speak!
- Speaking Spanish Update: After 4 Months Of Studying
- YIKES! Heidi’s Going To Pueblo Español!
What about Alan?
Okay, so I know Alan and I started this journey together and he is slated to attend Pueblo Español in October. This fall he will ramp up on his Spanish classes in town as prep for his week of immersion. Be on the look out for his progress updates in September!
More info about PUEBLO ESPAÑOL
Address: Calle Orense 4, 7th floor. 28020 Madrid, Spain.
Phone: +34 913 913 400
Please tell them Wagoners Abroad sent you!
Pin me for later!
I know one of our blog readers is attending the July session, so I can’t wait to hear all about it. Have you taken part in a Spanish conversation course or a Spanish immersion program? Tell us all about it. Would you like to attend Pueblo Español?