At Proyecto Español, students come from around the world to learn new languages like English, Spanish, and German while experiencing the richness of Spanish culture, food, climate, and sightseeing. Many of them are full-time students who are on summer vacation, taking a gap year, or fulfilling a language requirement for their course of study. Adults come too, though—young adults, middle-aged people, and retirees as well. Each comes for their own reasons.
I sat down with one of those adults: Karin, who is from Austria. She said that she found Proyecto Español via Google Search but that one of the deciding factors for her was that she and her children would “be possible to spend some time in the school and at the same time be able to go to the beach… a complete holiday.” The other deciding factor, she said, was that the school was connected to an academic institution in Germany, the Goethe-Institut.
After signing up for classes, she chose to live with a host family in Alicante, a choice she says she would recommend even to adults. Her host mother, an elderly woman with a daughter, doesn’t speak English, an immersive experience, Karin said. “It’s wonderful…. the way they speak, the way they, you know, what they cook and how they live. It’s a wonderful way of being able to experience not only the language but also the culture, how people live.”
Her two sons attended the summer camp program that Proyecto puts on between school years to learn Spanish. She was happy overall with the program, she said, noting, “Looking through the eyes of a mother… I appreciate the way it is taught, in a playful way.” She liked that the afternoon activities “are simply diverse, they are coming together, and I know they are safe.”
While they were in class, she attended an introductory course in the mornings. The day I interviewed Karin, her class “learned about verbs, means of transport, and [asking] questions.” Here’s the thing: she already speaks English, German and French fluently. I asked her why she valued learning more languages and here’s what she said:
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures, and I know that it’s important to learn languages in order to enter into a deeper understanding of a culture and a country….The English language is kind of absolutely necessary in our day-to-day life today, but it’s beautiful to speak French because it also opens up other countries and other experiences.”
Karin pointed to a number of Proyecto Español-led excursions as valuable experiences she wouldn’t have had if she hadn’t come to Spain. “It was beautiful to be at the Fuentes de Algar, and I also went… just sightseeing in town, and I enjoyed the wine and tapas tasting with you guys, and I went up the Castillo [de Santa Bárbara] with you, and so all of these little offers are a good incentive,” she said.
Karin believes that while it is inevitable for her boys, who learned English by playing video games and watching movies, to learn more languages, it’s just as important for people her age. She called herself a generational outlier for knowing more than one language, “a little exotic,” and said that her parents don’t speak any other languages than their mother tongue. “I think I will continue with Spanish…. I would come back to Spain.”
Karin, an avid sailor, has other places beyond Spain on her bucket list, and laughed when I asked her about it. She wants to get her ocean sailing certification, continue with Spanish, maintain her French (“I am a bit afraid that I will lose my French… while learning, improving my Spanish”), and to go to South America—“countries where it’s more safe.”
What Karin repeated throughout our interview is that learning new languages is “absolutely crucial,” and provided “business possibilities, [and] work possibilities later on” as examples why. She didn’t sign up to learn Spanish because of her work, however—she works as a marketing and PR expert at a non-governmental organization—but she said that she “hadn’t begun to study a language for a very long time… I can feel the synapses in my brains, coming together in a different way…. For me personally the experience of culture, language, beach, people, is just a wonderful one. So, it has an implication.
“I think it’s wonderful that we have English as a common language…. but I also think that it’s limiting, yes, because I love the term of ‘unity and diversity’… I think we need to be simply careful that you are encouraged as English-speaking people in America, in Britain, to learn other languages,” she said. “The more languages you speak the better you will be off, I’m sure, in terms of work and in terms of… being able to have friends all over the world.”
— Peter Edgar.