Ever thought of teaching English without a university degree, and being rewarded for your services? Does a week’s free stay in a converted farmhouse, now a four-star hotel in the countryside, in Spain, appeal to you? If your answer is “yes!” to both questions, then Englishtown is the opportunity for you.
Recently re-christened Vaughan Town, the former Englishtown is not an actual city but a concept to simulate an English-speaking environment in Spain, to help Spanish professionals hone their foreign language skills. Spawned by Vaughan Systems in Madrid, this “learning by immersion” experiential approach not only improves language fluency within a week, it also penetrates the speaker’s psyche, as evidenced by one Spanish gentleman: “I have been so influenced by these rigorous exercises, that last night I found myself speaking English with my wife,” he said, “in my dream.”
The year-round Vaughan Town sessions bring together about twenty fluent English speakers with an equal number of local professionals, for a 13-hour per day English-speaking marathon for a week. Your job, as an “Anglo,” is to participate in diverse activities, per schedule, instigating your counterparts’ thoughts and giving them the opportunity to express themselves in English.
The English speakers come from around the world in all ages, college students through retirees. In the two sessions I attended, we had New Zealanders (“Kiwi’s”), Australians, a lady from Singapore, Englishmen, Irishmen, Americans and Canadians. Their occupations ranged from oilman to police officer, university professor, teacher, retiree, homemaker and anything in between. Most had a bubbly personality, a healthy curiosity, a sense of adventure and keen interest in people.
The Spaniards are, in general, technocrats from Vodafone, Microsoft, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Ford and other global companies, facing the challenges of international relations with their rusty knowledge of English. A few ambitious professionals venture on their own, to improve their fluency for personal edification. We had a lawyer in one group who hunted elephants in Africa with her husband, a lady who organized dog shows around the world, a writer, and a doctor doing research in nuclear medicine. Generally the Spanish group is more homogeneous, ranging in age from late twenties to early fifties.
Although 13-hour “work” days seem daunting, in reality Anglos have it easy. Breakfast at 9:00 is followed by hourly one-on-one interviews, or small group discussions through 2:00 p.m., the lunch hour. Wine, served with meals, precipitates the traditional siesta hour through 5:00 p.m. Thereafter, all congregate in the meeting room for group activities like building a bridge, discussing the creation of a new product, promoting a brand name or solving a sociological issue. Views are exchanged, situations analyzed, negotiations take place and compromises are made to come up with a solution within an hour. Sometimes the hours are filled with games, puzzles or presentations by a Spanish recruit, a tough test for them.
At eight p.m. the group convenes in the meeting room. After the initial get-to-know-each-other session, any of the attendees can sign up for the talent show to sing, act, deliver a speech, offer a few good jokes, or read a humorous or interesting article to seal the day on a happy note. Some members put on a group performance and let their imagination roam. An organized dance, midweek, is a treat. A visit to the neighboring town of twenty minutes’ walking distance, is a relief from “job stress”.
Vaughan Town is not looking for teachers or linguists but outgoing personalities with a good command of the English language. Interviews usually revolve around getting to know your partners and appreciate your similarities and differences. I doubt if rocket science, stem cell research or space explorations are discussed during these encounters, but if they untie your counterpart’s tongue, they are worth a try. The goal is to make your Spanish partners comfortable enough to share their feelings with you, in English.
The last evening is reserved for the traditional Queimada, a witches’ alcoholic brew, known to heal all ills, including pinings of the heart. It is a night for celebration and letting go of all your inhibitions - if any are still lingering - a night of “global warming of cultural relationships.”
The Vaughan Town experience feels like a mini-vacation for Anglos. Free room and board, wine with meals except for breakfast, restful afternoons, jacuzzi bathtubs which were our privilege in Gredos - a venue of about 2 hours’ bus drive from Madrid - and a charming resort in the heart of nature are yours to enjoy. The clean air, the absence of noise, buzz and dust, the lack of e-mails, telephone calls and faxes, unless you are addicted to a laptop, help focus your attention on the people around you, on the environment and on “smelling the roses”. The chirping of the birds beneath the eaves of the hotel building brings back the voices of nature.
Vaughans Town is always in need of new recruits because of their exponential growth. The recruitment process is very simple. Just fill in an application an application available at www.Vaughantown.com. Madrid being at the crossroads of three continents, it is easily accessible by air and is a convenient stop on the way to Europe or Africa. Spain also offers other cities of fame, if you like to explore the country. Madrid has a good public transportation system. Bus tours stop at interesting tourist attractions. With one ticket for one or two days it is possible to hop on and off the bus to visit these attractions.
Vaughan Town personnel will pick you up in Madrid at a designated place and drop you off the following week. English speaking attendees are insured for this period. Otherwise you are responsible for your transportation to and from Madrid and your stay in Spain . If expensive, full-service hotels adversely affect your budget, there are “pensions” all over town offering a comfortable bed and clean shower at reasonable rates. The company provides detailed information once you qualify for acceptance.
For those of us who attended, Vaughan Town has been a unique experience, enriching our lives and the lists of our friends. It has offered indelible memories of fun and frolic in a clean, healthy and culturally enriching ambiance. For Seniors, who sometimes feel their life’s mission has ended, it is an excellent opportunity to rejuvenate, feel useful and be appreciated. Then, of course, there are the fireside stories to tell the grandchildren and the thrill of an occasional visit or an invitation to spend time with a newly acquired “friend of the family” from yonderland.