Last summer, in early August, in a little French beach village called “Beaulieu-sur-mer” (which literally means “beautiful place on the beach”), I hosted my first Mindful French Retreat with my eager and curious participants. But what made 5 people cross the world to spend a week there together?

Transformative” “Life-changing” “An incredible week”. This is what you could have overheard at the typical Southern French cuisine restaurant where we had our last meal together. We were all smiling, avoiding to tear up as we were saying goodbye. Five strangers, almost. Who became five friends, living an incredible adventure together.

As I’m preparing to launch registrations for the next Mindful French Retreat in 2020 in Bali, and after tons of requests on Instagram, today I’m telling you all about language retreats, and why you should join one too.

What a Language Retreat is not

  • A language retreat is not a boring intensive course.  You won’t be sitting in a classroom of 15 students learning about the language, drilling grammar and vocab exercises.  Instead, you focus on communication first.
  • A language retreat is not a touristic language trip. It is not a touristic holiday where you check off things from a “to-see” list, quickly running from one place to the next. Instead, you slow down, blend in and savour the new places you see, the new dishes you taste and the new smiles you meet.
  • Finally, a language retreat is not a club med stay in which you can choose from a list of one-size fits all activities by the pool or at the tennis court. Instead, you’re in for an adventure that was designed for you by your dedicated and passionate teacher.

Language Retreats: a Definition

A language retreat is typically organised by passionate independent teachers who design a unique experience for an intimate group of learners. Together, they explore and live the language in an authentic way. Far from the textbooks, far from the language classroom setting, far from the anxiety or “performing” in the language…

Usually, this includes

  • A complete immersion in the language you’re learning;
  • Authentic and spontaneous conversations: you speak, eat, drink, walk, shop, read, think and dream in your target language;
  • Specially designed discoveries about the culture of the place you’re visiting.

4 Reasons Language Retreats Are So Effective

  1. During a retreat, you “retreat”. It means you are outside of your daily life,  in a relaxing little bubble far away from your usual responsibilities. and you experience a moment just for yourself. Nothing to worry about but yourself and your language practice.  
  2. Being with a group of like-minded people and a teacher you trust and appreciate makes you want to communicate. This encourages you to leave your comfort zone and your inhibitions back home, and create a connection with your group, with the language, and ultimately, with yourself.
  3. As with any beautiful travelling experiences, you will live a lot of strong emotions. And emotions enhance memory. Therefore, the words, expressions structures you will hear and learn during your language retreat will stick!
  4. One week, 6 or 7 days, at least 72 hours of French. Need I say more?

How I had the Idea of a Mindful French Retreat

I had already organised a few language trips in the past, especially to the UK, but one of my most memorable experiences with languages and travels was in Rome back in 2014. After feeling somewhat disconnected from my Italian practice, during this trip, I completely fell in love with the language and the culture. This completely transformed me, as if I had connected to a new part of my soul. 

In September 2018, I discovered a group of women here in Vietnam, called “Chicks Club” who would meet every other Sunday for a full 5 hours of wellness and conversation.  I thought “What if I could gather a group of French learners to spend a week together, speak French all the time, and take care of themselves through mindfulness”. 

The Mindful French Retreat was born.

So, Language Retreats are “a thing”?

Absolutely! 

And that’s why today I’ve invited some of my fellow language coaches to tell you more about the Language Retreats they offer. 

Meet María Ortega Garcia, Embodied Spanish Coach and María Seco from Spanish for El Camino, who collaborated on their latest retreat, guiding their students on the famous Camino de Santiago. 

Meet also Marta Piñero from Hablamos en el Sur, who took her participants to the intimacy of her home in Seville, Spain.

And finally, Elfin Waters from All About Italian, who designed a beautiful immersion in her hometown: Gaeta, Italy.

I’m so honored to share this space with such talented and inspiring women, and to let you discover their experience with Language Retreats. 

 

So let’s travel a bit! First stop – Northern Spain!

María Ortega Garcia

Could you tell the readers a bit about you and what you do?

I teach Spanish through creative expression such as creative writing and poetry, introspective activities and experiences. I help students to embody the Spanish they know, and move from knowing Spanish intellectually, to develop an intuition for the language.

What is a language retreat?

It is an immersion experience where the participants have the opportunity to concretise the language learning they have acquired over time. It goes beyond putting the language in practise. It is rather having a feel for the language and internalising it.

How did you get the idea of creating a language retreat yourself?

I attended a retreat lead by a friend, which was cathartic for me and a turning point in my personal development. I couldn’t believe that a 3-day immersive experience with lots of resting time could be so powerful. Then, months later, I connected the dots and organised my first retreat in 2016 around creative writing in the mountains in Spain. 

Language learning and personal development go hand in hand. Offering containers where both can happen is an important pillar of my teaching.

What kind of retreats do you design, and why?

My retreats are always oriented to experience culture and arts, and explore inwards and outwards. So, reflecting activities, journaling, creative writing are a constant in my retreats, along with a relaxed atmosphere according to the « relaxed Spanish way of living ». 

When and where was your latest language retreat?

The last retreat was in motion. María Seco and I embarked on the Camino de Santiago and brought a group of students with us. We walked and we talked. Every day, we would get up and have breakfast in the « albergues » before walking to reach the next stop on the journey. During the walks, we had lots of conversations and we were able to experience the Spanish culture on the different stops on the journey: from gastronomic delicacies to traditions and customs.

In what ways did the retreat help the participants ?

The participants were really inspired and found more motivation to continue their language learning after the retreat. Some of them told me they felt more confident speaking Spanish. Others felt a deeper understanding of the language and Spanish culture. They connected with the other participants in a meaningful way so they kept in touch, building a community of people on a similar journey.

Key words: Confidence, support and connection with the language and «  »through » » the language.

Any future retreats planned?

Yes, two for 2020. The first one happening in May of next year is Camino 2020, again. It was a success so we wanted to repeat. And another one in Cholula, México in October. 

Thank you María! Where can people find you?

My website is my home: https://mariaortegagarcia.com or Instagram: maria.ortega.garcia

María Seco

Hi María, could you tell us a bit about you?

I have a real passion for the Spanish language and culture and I happen to live on the Camino de Santiago: a series of ancient pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. In recent years I became fascinated by it and felt called to walk it. Naturally, I decided to combine these 2 passions: I teach Spanish on the Camino! 

The Camino can be a life-transforming experience and I believe that being able to communicate in Spanish definitely increases its positive impact. So I help future pilgrims learn the Spanish they need to make the most of this amazing experience.

What is a language retreat, according to you?

It’s a wonderful opportunity to, not only improve your language skills, but to immerse yourself in the culture. You can learn about it in a classroom but you can’t compare that to experiencing it first-hand. You can see how people live, you can interact with them… you’re surrounded by a new language and culture and you have someone there to guide you and help you make the most of it.

How did you get the idea of doing a language retreat?

As an English learner I was fortunate to experience the benefits of spending some time immersed in the language. Then, at a language conference I met María Ortega, who had been organising Spanish language retreats for a while. We decided to combine her expertise on retreats with my knowledge of the Camino and create something together.

How did the participants react to your latest retreat on the Camino?

The feedback was very positive. The most obvious benefit was to improve their Spanish, of course. But it was also both a physical and a mental challenge: you get to know yourself better; you learn to live a simple life, with just the contents of your backpack; you interact with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

One of them said: « I was looking for an opportunity to learn Spanish that didn’t involve a classroom. One where I could meet people and experience Spain naturally. Walking the Camino seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’m very grateful for having been able to share it with the group. I learned so much! ».

Any future retreats planned?

Yes! We’re doing it again in May 2020. But this time we’re walking the Camino Portugués, from Tui, on the Portuguese border, to Santiago de Compostela.

Exciting! Where can people find you and sign up?

They can reach me on my website: www.spanishforcamino.com, and on Facebook and Instagram @spanishforcamino

Marta Piñero

Could you tell the readers a bit about you?

I’m Marta, I’m from Spain and I live in Belgium. I help Spain lovers to speak Spanish like the locals and have better conversations, so that they feel at home during their stay in Spain. 

Tell us, what is a language retreat?

I believe a language retreat is a great way of, not only learning but also, and mostly, living the target language and discovering who you can be in that language. 

During a retreat you don’t switch to another language, so that you permanently think, listen, speak, laugh and even dream in Spanish.

You will never forget what you learn during such a retreat, in a small group of people, and where your confidence grows every second while having fun.

How did you get the idea of doing a language retreat?

I have always dreamed of doing something like this, but the how was not really clear to me until a couple of years ago, thanks to the help of the fabulous coach, Elena Mutonono.  She helped make everything crystal clear to me. So, I went for it and organized my retreat in the marvellous city of Seville, my city, where I still have my own house. A linguistic and cultural immersion in the sunny south of Spain

What kind of retreats do you design, and why?

I organize very exclusive language and cultural retreats in Andalusia, where the participants get to live the Spanish life:  cooking and tasting delicious Spanish recipes, talking with the locals, watching a movie, savoring their wine, etc. All while having lots of conversations and  fun activities.

When and where was your language retreat?

My retreat took place in Seville, in the south of Spain, last September (2019). Seville is my hometown and with my group of 3 women, we stayed in my own house for 5 wonderful days, which of course made everyone feel at home!

Every morning we would have breakfast together and talk about what we did the previous day, and plan the ahead. We would take it really easy every morning and sometimes just hang around the swimming pool playing games, reading, but mostly talking!  We would prepare lunch together and then we would visit the city and some of the greatest monuments in Spain, like the stunning Plaza de España or the spectacular Real Alcázar. 

We also watched a Spanish movie together and talked about it. Another day we went to the market to buy some ingredients to cook for a group of Spanish locals who visited us at home. We also visited one of the oldest Sherry wine cellars and tasted their wines before having a drink in a chiringuito (beach bar) and taking a relaxing walk on the beach. 

Every activity was directed to the same purpose: make them think and interact in Spanish, help them grow their confidence and learn new things about Spanish culture. 

I’m sure they will never forget this retreat, because I never will either.

How did the participants react to the experience and how did they benefit from it?

They really enjoyed the experience. They ended up being really confident with each other and even knowing themselves better. They realized they could think in Spanish after a while and they were really happy to have learned new expressions Spanish locals use in everyday life but which you don’t usually find in textbooks.

I think at some point they stopped being afraid of making mistakes and they realized that’s the only way of really making some progress.  After the immersion program, this feeling of self-belief and confidence doesn’t just go away. It will stay and keep growing if you keep nurturing it.

Are you planning a future retreat?

Sure, I can’t wait! I don’t have the exact dates yet, but the next one will probably take place in May or June 2020. 

I’m still deciding what kind of program to design, so maybe we can ask the readers:

Which kind of program would you prefer? 

– a language & culture retreat in a city like Seville or Malaga

– a language & gastronomical retreat in Cadiz.

– a language & hiking retreat in some of the most beautiful white villages in Andalusia.

Where can people find you?

You can find me on Instagram and Facebook, @hablamosenelsur.  My new website will be ready in a few days: www.hablamosenelsur.com . In the meantime, you can visit my former website and read some of my blog posts here: https://www.leerspaansonline.com/blog/

Sounds wonderful! Thank you Marta!

Finally, we travel to Italy to meet with Elfin!

Elfin Waters

Tell us about you and what you do

I help passionate Italophiles get close to the country and the language by creating meaningful and beautiful experiences. Like sipping a cappuccino, language learning should be beautiful and intense. 

The way I see it, people spend way too much time on textbooks and not enough on authentic Italian and on making their language learning a memorable experience. My students want more Italian beauty in their lives and I give them the tools to bring it in their daily routine no matter where they live.

What is a language retreat, according to you?

It’s a moment to take a break from your routine and focus on yourself and your passions. It’s a treat you’re giving yourself, a moment to reward yourself for all the busyness of daily life. How better to do that than by connecting with another language and making friends for life?

How did you get the idea of doing a language retreat yourself?

My students come to Italy very often but always complain that no matter their level of Italian, they felt this distance from the country, like they’re blocked in a tourist bubble that reflects on their language skills as well. When they visited me, they treasured the small things like helping me cook or lay the table. They want to live Italy from the inside.

To live Italian not only learn it. 

Last summer, I had this idea of taking them to Gaeta, my hometown, one train ride from Rome. Away from the tourist frenzy, very beautiful and where nobody speaks English.

What kind of retreats do you design, and why?

My language retreats are about spending time on yourself and taking things slowly. Life in a small town is quite simple. Perfect for taking a holiday and learning a language because people have time to stop and chat with strangers, have a cup of coffee that ends up turning into an aperitivo and go watch the sunset if the day is beautiful. 

My retreat incorporates that need for making authentic connections and the endless linguistic possibilities a small town offers. 

There’s no better way to learn Italian than by connecting with natives people and having authentic conversations with people who are amazed and thrilled to be of help.

How was your latest retreat?

My latest retreat was last month, in Gaeta, Lazio, a small town one train ride from Rome. There were only three spots because I wanted to offer a very customized experience to my students. 

It lasted 5 days and we participated in town events, making meals, dinners with friends. We’d start our days at 8.30 with breakfast and a short journaling class. By journaling every day, my students got to the end of the Retreat with a beautiful log of their stay. 

After that, we’d have our activities in town. For instance, we had a day at farmers’s market. My students had to turn off their phones and find the market by asking directions and then, buy the ingredients off a list I’d given them for their lunch.

Or there was the « eavesdrop » activity where students had to go and take note of what they overheard people saying and then we’d work on the language. 

The town was our playground with the natives more than happy to join in. Everything, even a trip to the only flower shop in town, became an adventure. Two of my students went in to buy some flowers and they never came out of the shop because they got caught up in a conversation with the owner and bystanders who were fascinated by their story of wanting to learn Italian. 

The weather was so lovely it was perfect for all the exploring we did. We shared our passions, life stories and ended up doing completely unplanned stuff like taking light painting pictures ( one of the participants is a photographer) at the beach at 12 am. Beautiful. 

How did the participants react to the experience and what did they take back home?

I was afraid they’d be scared so I tried to tone things down. But they felt so comfortable with the place and were so charmed by the people that they wanted to do more and pushed themselves so much. We’re talking about students who are quite introverted so I was quite surprised. Who’d have thought that possible?

Now they’re even more determined to improve their Italian! One has enrolled in a gazillion extra courses and others are working with me and challenging themselves more and more. They’re inspired! And I admire them so much! Truth is, I’ve learned so much from my students, it never stops amazing me. I feel so blessed of meeting such special people thanks to my job. 

When is the next one?

In December, I’ll be hosting a Christmas Getaway weekend in Gaeta. Festivities in a small town. It will be running from 14-16 December. It’s a small festive occasion to soak in Italian Christmas traditions and food at Christmas with a day trip to Naples for some shopping.

Thank you so much! Where can we reach you, read you, hear you?

You can find me on Instagram at @allaboutitalian. 

I also co-host a podcast, Con Parole Nostre, that are friendly and authentic chats in Italian with two fellow teachers, Silvia and Barbara. You can find it on Soundcloud, Itunes and Spotify. You can get my monthly newsletter with tips on making learning Italian a beautiful experience. And my website should be up soon, it’s under construction.

Final words

Language retreats are the ultimate experience when it comes to experiencing the language you are learning. Far from anything else you’ve tested in terms of “language classes” or even “language immersions”. It’s the people you spend the retreat with, the everyday moments that you share with total strangers who then become a part of your life. They bring you beyond what you thought you could live in the language you’re learning, in so many unexpected ways, that they are worth the investment. Because you’re building skills and memories that will stay with you forever.

What about you? Have you ever been on a Language Retreat? What is your experience? 



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