Paul was immersed

July 29, 2009

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.



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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

    1. Paul — Thank you for the post. I was just thinking of you and Nancy while walking Jiggs this evening. I had one of those days today in my Spanish class where I could do everything on paper, but I could not comprehend anything spoken. You and Nancy have been great role models for me. You have helped restore my confidence that I can get over this hump.

    1. I really admire the fact that you were so pro-active about learning Spanish well and went for it. I would love to do the same program but can imagine it is really pricey. My husband speaks Spanish like a pro, and even though we “say” we will speak only Spanish just doesn’t happen. Also, he learned in Paraguay and says it is much different than here. I have looked into classes in Maz but most have hours and hours of paperwork homework and I am not interested in that. I guess I need to pull out my CD’s and listen some more. I, too, can pick things up fairly quickly, but oh…those tenses! ‘-)

    1. how very interesting all of that is, and what a great opportunity. it sounds like you had a very beneficial trip! It is good to be so immersed in the language. that is one of the many reasons I love alamos so much. we have needed to learn the language in order to be here, to meet the mexican community, to shop, to dine, to do anything. every day we continue to learn more and to study.

    1. Steve – stick with it, it takes a long time.

      Zoe – It takes a lot of work and homework, there is so much to learn. My course wasn’t expensive really.

      Chrissy – you’re welcome.

      Lindalou – You guys have the right attitude, that is a big part of learning.


    1. Paul – Sounds like the conversation part of your studies was the most valuable part. I’m curious what the homework consisted of: were you asked to write essays, or was it more fill-in-the-blank? Jan, Brenda and I have a conversation class with Lolita, and we make notes when she uses unfamiliar words or phrases. But I’m starting to think an hour once a week just isn’t enough. It doesn’t help much to use Spanish with English-speaking friends since we’re likely to perpetuate the same mistakes until they’re hardwired into the brain. It seems to me that an immersion experience like yours, plus making friends and speaking mostly Spanish with bilingual Mexicans who are willing to correct you when you get back home is the way to fluency.

    1. Bliss,
      You’re right, the conversation was the most valuable. Our homework was writing sentences or stories using the various past tenses correctly, using por or para correctly, and using subjunctive.

      I took two 1.5 hour classes per week for almost a year here in Mazatlán, and I learned a lot of grammar, but it didn’t help my comprehension much. I think the only way to master the language is to speak it with native speakers as much as possible. The immersion did give me a big boost in confidence

    1. Very interesting to hear how these immersion classes work. I would be scared to do it. Nobody on the island wants to speak Spanish with me. Unless I insist, insist, insist. They all want to use their English since, for them, English = money. Although a few people speak English here in La Crucecita, 98% of the time I am forced to speak Spanish. I’m actually amazed at how well I can communicate and understand. I didn’t think I knew that much.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Your blog address was forwarded to me by Sheryll, a friend that I met through a local intercabmio group and with whom I practice Spanish. I mentioned to her that I’m considering an immersion class in Guanajuato. It was fascinating and inspiring to read of your experience. My present challenge also is oral comprehension. The more I read of Guanajuato the more I am looking forward to the trip. We’re tentatively planning to go there in January. Thanks for the good information!

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