Choosing The Best Spanish Immersion Destination for Your Child – 3 Essentials

Choosing Your Spanish Immersion Destination

As I prepare for my son’s yearly Spanish immersion destination visit a thousand thoughts are rushing through my mind: Is my son going to understand the Spanish of the south of Spain? Is the food going to be as delectable as the food in Latin America? Are the kids in Málaga open and embracing of new cultures?

This year’s Spanish immersion destination is going to be a totally new adventure as we will be traveling to Málaga, Spain. As many of you know, every year we try to incorporate a Spanish learning and reinforcing adventure for our son at the same time we enjoy a different part of the world.

This year my son is going to be attending a camp NOT at all related to learning Spanish, in the town of Rincón de la Victoria in the outskirts of Málaga, in the Costa del Sol.

If you are thinking about starting your own series of Spanish traveling odysseys, feel free to join me as I will be describing our discoveries and giving details of our Spanish immersion in the south of Spain.

Why Choosing Your Spanish Immersion Destination is Key

Today I will be sharing how to choose your destination and why it is key to making the Spanish learning and practicing process a smooth experience.

I found that an ideal Spanish immersion destination for children has three main components:

1-Time Dedicated To Spanish Learning or Practicing

This is what makes a simple visit to a Spanish speaking country different from what I loosely call an immersion.

There should be some dedicated time either to learn or speak Spanish continuously. I would say the right number of hours is at least one third of the day not counting the time your child is asleep.

For example, if you are taking your little one for a week, and she sleeps for 9 hours a day you have at least 15 useful hours in a day. If you spend 5 hours learning or practicing Spanish you will have reached your goal of spending at least one third of each day on language learning.

I developed this “one third rule” after taking my son to at least 4 different immersions in the past 8 years where he experienced different schools, pre-Ks and nursery schools.

2-A Setting Involving Other Children Her Age

This is one of the most exciting parts of the adventure. I discovered that when my son had to interact with adults, he wasn’t as prone to speak in Spanish. It actually made him feel out of place.

The opposite was totally true when interacting with kids his own age. For example, when he wanted to communicate with the cool kid who had the water gun, he had to speak the language no matter what, and so he did.

Kids are clever, flexible creatures, and as a parent you could simply sit back and watch their interactions to realize how resourceful they are when they need to achieve what they are after.

When you place your child in an environment with children her age, she will feel more confident and ready to overcome obstacles that arise.

 3-Recreation and Relaxation As Part of The Package

When I started taking Ian to Spanish immersions I naively thought he was going to sit quietly in the classroom and be happy about the process. After all, it was in another country and with new surroundings, and what’s not to like about that?

Wrong, I was very wrong. The first time I traveled with my son to Colombia I signed him up for a wonderful nursery school called Mañanitas where he was to spend the majority of the day. From 8:30 am to 3:30 pm he was going to enjoy the day doing fun activities with children his age, all in Spanish. We were traveling without Dad that summer and separation anxiety kicked into high gear.

The first week he missed Dad terribly and cried every time I dropped him at Mañanitas where I had to disappear without him noticing. The most discouraging fact was that he didn’t want to participate in the activities the teachers had prepared for the little rascals. He was only 4 years old.

It took him 2 full weeks to start adapting to his surroundings and lifestyle. By the third week, he was much better. It helped that Daddy had arrived! However, there was only one week remaining of the whole adventure and I was left with a bittersweet feeling in my heart.

As a good persistent Colombian I didn’t give up. I saw how much he enjoyed the experience once Dad was with us and we took off discovering and traveling to surrounding towns where Ian could enjoy free time and activities like horseback riding.

Choosing Your Spanish Immersion Destination

Celebrating El Dia de las Velitas in Colombia. My son’s first Spanish immersion adventure.

From this Spanish immersion in Colombia I learned a valuable lesson: It is important to pair learning with fun, not the way you see it but the way your child would.

The best part of the Spanish immersions destinations we choose is seeing how feelings of anxiety vanish with the expectation of visiting an exciting water park nearby, the beaches in the area, the zip lining available 45 minutes away or the beautiful palaces ancient personages built many moons ago.

Believe me, I found out the hard way what makes a great Spanish immersion adventure for a child. I could have accidentally killed my son’s love of learning Spanish, but fortunately instead I found a way to intertwine it with my son’s passions and desires. Objectively, what child is going to say no when he knows the experience that awaits him is framed by his most loved activities?

Gaucho Culture in Argentina

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It may surprise you to learn that the national hero of Argentina, a country known for its cosmopolitan cities, rich arts scenes, and fine wines, is a rough-riding cowboy figure known as a gaucho.  The gaucho symbolizes strength, independence, and freedom. Gaucho culture has excited the Argentinean imagination for centuries and many songs, poems, and stories celebrate these solitary, romantic Argentine cowboys and their relationship to the land.

History of the Gaucho

The first gauchos appeared on the Pampa, the vast untamed grasslands in the interior of Argentina, sometime in the 18th century. Mainly orphans of mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry, these first gauchos made a life for themselves domesticating  the huge free-ranging herds of horses and cattle that had escaped from Spanish colonies over the years.

The gauchos’ needs were few, and many were content with just a good horse, a saddle, a knife, a lasso, and the clothes on their backs. They had all the free-range beef they could eat, and when they wanted tobacco, rum, and mate, they took hides and tallow from the cattle and sold them to British and Portuguese traders in defiance of the Spanish colonial authorities. Then they had all they needed to fuel a night of their favorite pastimes of drinking, gambling, singing, and fighting.

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Over time, the wild herds on the Pampas were controlled and divided up into private hands. The new owners hired the gauchos to look after their animals.

By the early 19th century, Argentina began to really struggle to be free of Spanish rule, and armies of gauchos proved invaluable to this effort, earning themselves heroic status forever.

Gauchos Today

Today roughly 150,000 men keep the traditions of the gaucho culture alive. Most of them work for the owners of great ranch estates called estancias, caring for herds of horses and beef cattle through the cold wet, winters and brutally hot summers.  Now-a-days, gauchos still spend much of their time out in the Pampa, living much as gauchos did hundreds of years ago.

Visiting an Estancia

If you would like to experience a taste of gaucho culture for yourself, you can visit one of the many estancias scattered throughout the interior of Argentina.

Though most estancias have every modern convenience for guests, as soon as you step outside into the realm of the gauchos you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time.

Most gauchos still wear traditional attire, consisting of a wide belt called a chiripa, a wool poncho, and pleated trousers called bombachas over tall leather boots.

They also use the same methods for herding and roping livestock, including throwing bolas (leather-wrapped rocks on long straps) to catch cattle by the legs.  You can witness their astounding feats of horsemanship in a performance at the estancia or even go with them on a trail ride out into the fields for a more authentic experience.

When visiting with gauchos, you absolutely must join them for a night around the fire. Famous for their skill at cooking on an open fire, the gauchos can grill up a delicious beef dinner so you can taste the original “asado” that became the national dish of Argentina and it is one of the favorite Christmas foods in South America. After dinner you can drink rum and listen to a performance of Chamamé, the unique gaucho folk music.

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