A Very Special Kind of Spanish Immersion Course

From Gordon and Cynthia

This is a blog that we are posting on behalf of a lovely lady called Katie who has set up a Spanish Immersion course with a difference. It includes Yoga, too! We’ll let Katie give you more information as she is the expert on what she offers.

The blog is in two parts; firstly you’ll get to hear about Katie’s journey to fluency in Spanish and then,  in the link provided you can find out more information about the retreat itself.



My Spanish Evolutionretreat scale

The story of one gringuita´s journey from nada to fluency in español


As a North American, I must admit that I was always slightly envious of the more sophisticated Europeans, mesmerized by their ability to switch from one language to another with such grace, ease, and class.

I grew up taking a few “Spanish classes” in grammar school which meant that after several years of foreign language lessons, I was capable of counting to 10 and remembering a handful of colors (with help).  That´s definitely not fluent, by a long shot.

In high school, I studied French with a bit more focus so my studies advanced more than my grammar school years in Spanish.  In fact, I could count to 20!  Awesome right?  Well, actually I could do a bit more than count to 20.  After 2 years of French, I felt much more comfortable conjugating verbs, making sense of genders and nouns, and even just moving my mouth in a whole new way to make brand new sounds.  However, I was a very far cry from fluency.

Americans definitely get a bad reputation for not being very worldly, not speaking other languages or even being able to point out other countries on the map.  While this is true for many of my countrymen, it most certainly does not apply to us all.  Some of us have the curiosity, desire, and resources to learn more about the world, that which lies outside of the Land of the Plenty.

I myself did just that.  Instead of learning from a desk in the States I wanted to learn for real, to immerse myself in the Spanish language with fluency as my goal.  Between high school and college, I took a gap year in Salamanca, Spain which is probably the greatest city on Earth for students.  It is small and safe and filled with people from all over the world who are open to learning and sharing new things all the time.

I always tell people that I didn´t actually learn Spanish in Salamanca.  I mean I definitely learned Spanish grammar, verb conjugations, and vocabulary.  But a language is much more than just its structure and form.  Like many University students on an exchange program, I lived with a variety of other young people, none of whom were actually from our host country.  In our apartment we were Americans, Norwegians, Germans, English, and Dutch.  We were missing the Spanish, and therefore our common language was of course English!  So while I loved Salamanca and was surrounded by Spaniards of all sorts, I really didn´t speak much Spanish besides my basic oral skills to order myself some tapas and vino.

When you come back from an abroad program that lasted an entire year, people tend to expect that you will be fluent, completely perfect in your newly learned tongue.  That was not my case, and it is also not the case in the majority of study abroad programs for English-speaking students.

I came back from Spain embarrassed to even speak a few words of Spanish because I knew that while I understood the mechanics of the language I had no practice moving my mouth to make the right sounds come out.   Upon arrival to the States, I started my University career studying accounting as well as Spanish.  Once again, I was immersed in the grammar, conjugations, and vocabulary of the Spanish language during my studies.

After another 4 years of Spanish I was quite good at naming off the more complicated verb conjugations like subjuntivo pluscuamperfecto, but I still had no practice (and therefore no courage) in the speaking department.

All of this changed when I moved to Peru after graduating from University.  I had gotten a job as Program Director for an orphanage on the outskirts of Lima in a neighborhood where nobody spoke English.  I was forced to SPEAK Spanish not just conversationally but also professionally.  I was actually giving lectures and training to staff in our program in Spanish.

The first couple of months of Spanish speaking were brutal.  Every evening I was completely exhausted.  I made many mistakes and as a perfectionist that was a hard pill to swallow.  I would talk slowly and choppy since in my head the conjugations were happening real time.  I had to think about them for a few seconds before speaking them out.  And if you think about every single word for a few seconds before speaking, then the conversation can be pretty drawn out.

However, as time went by I felt better and better about my speaking skills.  I employed several methods to increase my rate of learning new words, speaking them, and then retaining them for future use.  For example I became a truly great listener!  I was careful listening to HOW people were conjugating their verbs and also WHAT vocab words they were using.  I also became a good asker of questions.  EVERY SINGLE TIME I did not understand a word or phrase, I asked the person speaking to me to repeat and to explain.  Instead of thinking of me as a nuisance, they were actually very patient and willing to help.  Most people will appreciate your effort in learning their language and culture.

I also used a lot of visualization and sensory techniques so that means I can usually remember exactly where I was when I learned new words, what I was experiencing, and how I was feeling.  We all learn and retain new information differently.  But the most important thing to remember is to be aware, be present in the moment so that nothing (no word, no verb, no gesture) is missed.  More awareness means a faster learning and retention rate for your second language exploration.

I´ll never forget the moment when it really clicked.  It was the moment I knew when I really and truly realized that I was fluent in Spanish.  It was my 9th month in Peru.  I had travelled 8 hours outside of Lima to give a training to a handful of nuns at a different orphange nestled in the Andes in the city of Huaraz.  In the middle of the training walking them through the program details of our orphanage, I had this amazing sensation wash over me.  I was in It competely, 100%.  I was Spanish.  I WAS the Spanish language.  If someone had asked me to say something in English at that moment it would not have been possible.  I felt Spanish not just in my mind but also in my physical body.  It was incredible, a true a-ha moment!

I am so grateful for my experience in Peru.  I, unlike most native English speakers, actually had a shot at fluency in a second language because I was thrown into a true immersion experience.  That´s what my brain and body needed, a full swim in the vast ocean that is Spanish.  Of course I have yet to explore all the depths and corners and currents of the ocean but that´s the fun part.  Learning never stops, especially in your second language.  There is always a new slang, a new dialect, or a new accent to explore.

Since my a-ha moment with the nuns in the mountains of Peru, I have started my own businesse called Sacred Retreats Peru with the mission to spread the beauty, mystery, and sacredness of Peru with others.  This summer July 2015 I will be leading a Yoga and Spanish Immersion Retreat in Lima.  The idea is to give students of Spanish and of yoga a true immersion experience.  No English will be allowed on our trip, except of course in emergencies.  J  I want everybody to have a chance at the blessing I have been given, a chance to learn another language, to embody that language, and to speak it with ease and gracefulness and fluidity.

For more information about the retreat check out the Sacred Retreats Peru site at www.sacredretreatsperu.com.  Me encantaría saber de ti.  J