Paul takes the blog to tell about his experience:
When we moved to Mexico I had several goals in mind. One of the most important to me was to learn to speak Spanish well. I have always had a pretty good ear for languages and considered myself the type of person who could pick it up quickly. I had studied Spanish in high school and remembered some basics, and I spent a lot of time listening to instructional CDs before the move.
We have now lived here almost 2 years. While my Spanish had improved, and I could handle functional transactions, read the newspaper, etc., I was disappointed with my progress, particularly comprehension at normal speaking speed and vocabulary acquisition.
The problem is, in Mazatlán I speak English most of the time. So, I decided that I needed to get away from friends and family here and immerse myself in Spanish someplace where I didn’t know anyone who spoke English.
After some internet research, I chose Guadalajara Language Center. Guadalajara is about an 8 hour bus ride from here, and I don’t know anyone there. The school offered to arrange a home-stay with a Mexican family including 3 meals per day for a very reasonable price. I enrolled in the intensive 4 hour per day program for two weeks. I took an aptitude test and was assigned to an intermediate level program.
When I arrived in Tlaquepaque (area of Guadalajara where the school is located) on Sunday afternoon, I took a taxi directly to my home-stay house. It turned out to be a large, beautiful house where I met Alicia, my hostess, and her 3 dogs and voluble parrot. I was shown to a large room off the courtyard with its own bath. I had my own entrance. Because one older lady lived here by herself, it did not provide a lot of interaction other than at meals, but it worked out fine for me.
I did not have access to the internet at the house, but I could use the computers at the school whenever it was open. I had a small television with 7 Spanish language channels. I watched this a lot to work on my comprehension.
I had a 2 hour class in the morning at 9, and another 2 hour class at 11:30, then home for lunch. My afternoon was free. I had some light homework most days. My classes focused on the various past tenses and when and how they are used, and on the use of the subjunctive mode. One of my instructors emphasized that you can be understood if you don’t use subjunctive, but if you want to speak Spanish properly, you have to master it.
The second week, my 11:30 class only had 1 student, me. My instructor asked what I wanted to emphasize and I said comprehension. For 4 days, we conversed for 2 hours about everything under the sun at normal speed using normal vocabulary, “as if she was talking with a friend”. This was so valuable for me, my confidence in my Spanish went way up. I don’t know for sure if she spoke much English, she didn’t use it at all in class. On the last day of school for me, my instructor took the intermediate students to the zoo. We traveled via bus. Guadalajara has a fantastic zoo, we had a great time and used our Spanish frequently. I also went out and played pool at a local bar 1 night with other students.
The school arranged an intercambio with a former student of their English program. We met several times for a beer, where we spoke Spanish for a while and English for a while. Our skills were about equivalent.
I spent a lot of time exploring Tlaquepaque, there are many galleries and shops where you can buy paintings, sculptures, pottery, furniture, jewelry, exotic tequilas and probably anything else you might want. None of the merchants or restaurants tried to speak English to me after I addressed them in Spanish, a big change from Mazatlán.
If anyone is looking for a good way to boost their language skill, I recommend a few weeks at a school that offers a home-stay program. I enjoyed it very much, and learned a lot.