Recently, I spent a week in Spain. I was a volunteer with Vaughan Town, and my purpose was to help Spaniards who were already fairly fluent in English to improve their English, through a structured process of relationships between “Anglos” (native English speakers) and Spaniards. We all stayed in a lovely hotel in a small town about 200 kilometers west of Madrid.

The Vaughan Town system has been in use for many years and has proven very successful in helping Spaniards with their English. There were about 35 of us in total, fairly evenly divided between Spaniards and Anglos.

We employed a wide variety of techniques, such as one-on-one discussion sessions, where the Anglos were able to work very carefully with the Spaniards as they made fairly minor mistakes, usually, in conversation, and we were able to correct them. An example would be mixing up the tenses, as in “I went to have” done something.

We employed a wide variety of techniques, such as helping them make presentations in English (which was fairly stressful for many of them), and telephone discussions between one Anglo and one Spaniard, where the body language was not visible.

Of course, we had many opportunities for group dialogue and discussion and a certain amount of partying that was very nice. We were all forbidden to speak any Spanish for the week.

We also played a few games such as Trivial Pursuit. We put on a number of short plays or other group activities designed to be rather humorous.

In just a week, I could see considerable improvement in the spoken English by many of the Spaniards. Of course, some of them were considerably better in English as a starting point, and others had to struggle a bit.

In the course of the week, and as I initiated many conversations in the one-on-one sessions, it was very obvious to me that family is extremely important to Spaniards. While I did not recruit any candidates for personal histories to be put on FamilyArc, I certainly did talk about the concept of preserving family histories and talked about FamilyArc itself. They were intrigued.

I took a variety of my family photos on my iPad and used them as conversation starters with the Spaniards in the one-on-one sessions, by asking them to describe what they saw in the photos. They also learned new vocabulary, as many of the pictures contained objects they recognized but did not know the English words for them. This took them out of their comfort zone and they really enjoyed this tactic.