One reason we chose Mazatlán as our home in México was because we weren’t fluent in Spanish. We knew it would take time to learn and that until we achieved more fluency we’d be more comfortable in a place with some English speakers. We knew we’d want English speaking friends and a bit of a safety net. While we don’t for a second regret our choice of Mazatlán, the quantity of English speakers here means that we aren’t living immersed in the Spanish language, which is of course the optimal way to learn.
We’ve taken classes and learned a lot – and Paul even went to Guadalajara for two weeks of language immersion a couple of years ago. (He wrote about it, here.) But since then he didn’t feel he’d been making enough progress, especially with his comprehension. He had the bad habit of getting stalled when someone spoke a word he didn’t know – instead of sliding past and trying to get the whole of the conversation between context and his own vocabulary. He knew it would be hard to progress further here in Mazatlán, especially as so many Mexicans have returned after living in the US, bringing with them their perfect English.
Paul is a fantastic researcher, and he decided to attend the Spanish Institute of Puebla. They offer a 3 week program which includes 6 hours of classes five days a week and excursions to various historic sites in the area. The Spanish Institute also strongly encourages students to stay with a Mexican family while attending school, and they can set the stay up for you.
Paul flew to Mexico City and took a bus to Puebla. He was picked up in Puebla by his host family, Antonia and Ricardo. They live in an older home in Centro, just a few blocks from the school. He had nice room (with a desk, of course!) and a private bath. Antonia made breakfast and dinner, but for lunch he and the other students went to a comida economica near the school.
On his first day his hosts showed him the way to school, which was about an 8 block walk from their house and close to the zócalo. After registration and orientation he signed a pledge to speak only Spanish while at the school or involved in school activities. His placement test was evaluated and he was placed in an “Intermediate 1” level class, which pushed him pretty hard but was manageable. The main emphasis of the class was the various uses of subjunctive. His teacher, Miriam, was very patient and positive. Classroom instruction was four hours daily, and the curriculum was quite varied, making use of movies, lectures, discussions, and lots of grammar exercises. The school has a computer lab with about a dozen computers and they were available to check your mail or to help you with your coursework. There was a large library of books, cd’s, and movies. Paul also had a couple of hours of homework to complete every night.
After a break for lunch each student met individually with a guide for two hours of conversation. Depending on your interests, you and your guide might visit churches, museums, parks, or sit in a cafe and talk. Paul and his even went to an amazingly huge shopping mall. The first week Paul was there he and his guide walked so much that his feet were sore at the end of the day!
Some Spanish Institute students were studying on fellowships. Some were Spanish teachers improving their skills, and there was an ESL immersion teacher who wanted to experience the immersion process firsthand, and more. One student had been there for six months – came to the school without any Spanish and was graduating at a near fluent level. Paul is pleased with his progress. He has improved his comprehension and feels capable of conversing without anxiety. I am so happy for him, and if it hadn’t been so hard to be apart for three weeks I’d consider going myself. Paul is glad that he chose this school – the multi-disciplinary approach with movies, conversation, grammar, homework, music, and home stay all combined to give him what he needed to make the progress he’d been wanting.
On the weekends there was usually an excursion – Paul enjoyed them both. The first was a visit to Cholula, stopping along the way to visit points of interest and culminating with the spectacular view of the Spanish church on top of the grassy mountain that – unknown to the Spaniards – was the Great Pyramid of Cholula. The following week they went to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, Chapultepec Park (and castle) as well as the zócalo in Mexico City.
Paul loved the city of Puebla, and he promises that we’ll go back together soon. At the top of this post is a lovely teapot that he bought there, a perfect choice since Puebla is famous for its talavera. There are more photos below, too.