Volunteer Experience at Pueblo Ingles

La Alberca, Salamanca, Spain - main square
Plaza Mayor at La Alberca, Salamanca, Spain
Photo © suitcaseinspain

updated 14 April 2023

Diverbo (Pueblo Ingles) hosts weekly English “talkathons” in Spain and Germany.

Residential English Programs. Have you heard of it? Neither did we until John heard about it through a friend. While travelling through Europe for the first time in 2011, he applied to Diverbo and was accepted.

What is it?

Diverbo, (Pueblo Ingles) is one of the companies that offer residential English programs. These are programs for non-native English speakers who are looking for a way to increase their confidence when speaking English. Diverbo for adults is based in Madrid, Spain and offers programs in different parts of Spain as well as Germany.

The program at La Alberca differs from regular English classes because the Spaniards spend 5-days or up to 7-days speaking only in English. The Spanish participants should have at least a basic knowledge of English so that the conversations can flow since there is no grammar or vocabulary instruction—just pure conversation.

In exchange for English speakers volunteering and committing a week to conversational English, we are treated to free meals and accommodation as well as insurance during the retreat. You may have additional expenses like food or drinks you consume outside of mealtimes or shopping for souvenirs during your free time.

Food and Accommodation

At La Alberca, we were hosted in villas at Abadia de los Templarios. To ensure that English is spoken throughout the program, a native English speaker is housed with a Spaniard. Each participant receives their own room with an ensuite washroom, along with WiFi connection, shared kitchen, living room, dining room and fireplace. The villas also have access to the swimming pool and tennis court.

Much effort is made to produce a well-rounded menu which includes a breakfast buffet, 3-course lunches and dinners. Water and wine and tea or coffee are complimentary during lunch and dinner. Additional drinks can be purchased at your own expense.

Mealtimes are relaxed and often taking about an hour and a half to enjoy. Each table must have equal numbers of Anglos and Spaniards, rotating each mealtime so the conversation never stops.

If you have any dietary concerns and/or allergies, simply tell the Diverbo Volunteer Coordinator when you apply or before the start of the program.

 Villas at Abadia de los Templarios
La Alberca, Salamanca, Spain

The Schedule

Madrid, Spain is where it all begins. The day before the program starts, the native English Speakers (aka Anglos – taken from the world Anglophile) are treated to a tapas lunch and Flamenco show at Casa Patas in Madrid courtesy of Diverbo. The first day of the program starts early….meeting at 9:15am in front of their office on Calle Orense in Madrid. From there, you will be taken by private coach to the destination with a quick mid-morning stop for a snack at Avila.

The daily schedule is broken down to each hour of the day. Breakfast is from 9-10 a.m., followed by four hours of “one-to-one” sessions (really 50 minutes each session with a 10-minute break to grab some water, go to the bathroom, etc), where Anglos are paired up with a different Spaniard each hour.

You can do anything you like during the one-to-one sessions as long as you keep the conversation going. If you decide to go for a walk, make sure you are back in time at the meeting area for your next session. John enjoyed walking the nature trails during many of his one-to-one sessions. I, on the other hand enjoyed sitting outside on the terrace or poolside while conversing with my Spanish partner.

Lunch is from 2 pm – 3:30pm, followed by free time (siesta-nap time) until 5 p.m. At that time, everyone meets up and starts with a group activity at 5 p.m., then two more one-to-one sessions begin at 6 p.m. At 8 p.m., a one hour variety-style show is performed starring the Anglos and Spaniards themselves; acting out short skits, performing in improvisation troupes, and even showcasing their talents with magic tricks, song, or dance. The variety hour became the highlight of each day.

Dinner usually runs from 9pm-10:30pm and afterwards, everyone is free for the rest of the evening. The first night, exhaustion usually sets in after a long day of travel and intensive conversation so most people head straight to bed. As the week progresses, friendships are forged, and conversation flows easier so naturally, more people tend to stay up and have a few drinks, play some cards, and sometimes, the program director and master of ceremonies joins in by playing some music and everyone starts dancing!

During some of the one-to-one time slots, extra activities are scheduled to incorporate variety and additional learning opportunities for the Spaniards. These activities include structured telephone conversations and interviews (since understanding a foreign language over the telephone can be quite difficult), conference calls, and formal presentations. And if you are lucky enough to be cast in the show for that night, you receive a few hours of structured rehearsal time in lieu of one-to-ones.

On the last night, the program finishes around 8:30pm and the participants are given free time to prepare for the final diner and ensuing party. By this point in the week, most Spaniards’ English has improved to the point where they don’t have to “think” as much and conversations flow quite easily. There are some strong friendships (and occasionally even a romance or two), and the group easily parties through the early hours of the morning.

What is an English Speaker?

The program coordinator makes every effort to ensure a wide representation of English speakers from all over the world with different accents, ages, backgrounds, and careers are included in each program. There is a formal application process for English Speakers to qualify for the program. Most importantly, the English speakers must demonstrate a general love of people and conversation, since it’s your conversational skills that make or break your ability to enjoy the week and provide value for the Spaniards.

Don’t worry, if you can’t think of conversational topics off the top of your head. The hour flies by quickly as you and your Spanish partner get to know each other while each of you share bits and pieces of your culture, family, work and more. Although John and I truly enjoy talking, these are the times we sat back and enjoyed listening to the stories our Spanish partners shared with us.

Volunteer Bonus – The Cultural Experience, the Friendships

After completing my first week of volunteering, I had made an amazing number of new friends. I was so happy to have met an amazing group of Spaniards from all over Spain and grateful for the chance to have meaningful conversations with each of them. It allowed me to learn more about the different villages/towns/cities and the Spanish lifestyle which is more than I could have imagined.

None of the ones I met worked in hospitality or tourism, but each one had sold their “village”, their “city” as the best in Spain. Our new Spanish friends give John and I the reason to see more of Spain as we now have our own “personal guides” ready to meet us when go and visit their cities.

We also stay connected with a number of the English speakers from a wide variety of countries, some of whom we have had the privilege of spending time with when they come back to Spain.

See you again soon!

Saying goodbye is the most difficult moment so I usually say “See you again soon!”. We exchange photos and email addresses and WhatsApp groups created along with promises to stay in touch. It is truly surprising how quickly each group solidified and became friendly, as we reflect on the intensity of the program and hope for the continuance of many long-standing friendships.

Although some Spaniards may repeat the immersion program, the main thought for many of the English speakers is: When can I come back?

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