Tulsa native runs English language program in Spain

Sunday, April 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Spanish business professionals have turned to Oklahoma native Richard Vaughan to boost their language skills in today's competitive corporate world.

Vaughan, who grew up in Tulsa and started learning Spanish in fifth grade, is chairman of Vaughan Systems, one of the largest English language training firms in Spain.

Vaughan's Englishtown programs offer a special way for Spaniards to sharpen their English skills.

``In Spain, English is critical for business success,'' said Vaughan, adding that Spaniards consider it more important to have a command of English than a master's degree in business administration.

Vaughan Systems employee 119 teachers who provide language training to about 3,200 managers and technical personnel in more than 200 Spanish and multinational firms.

In 2001, Vaughan created the first of his Englishtown programs which provide English speakers the opportunity to visit Spain and pay only for the cost of their transportation to Madrid. In turn, Spaniards receive an intensive immersion into the English language of the visitor.

Vaughan Systems purchased an abandoned 17th century village and transformed the five and a half acres with 15 buildings into Valdelavilla, a self-contained village where only English is spoken and no cars are allowed on the streets

This year, the program expanded to a country resort near El Barco de Avila. A sheep farm of centuries past has been transformed into a four-star facility.

This year, 30 English-immersion programs are offered at the two sites with 16 ten-day sessions and 14 seven- day sessions.

``There is something magical when people from different countries come together and become friends,'' said Juan Carlos Medina, chief financial officer for Vaughan Systems who also oversees the Englishtown programs.

The Spaniards enjoy the programs because they receive the opportunity to communicate conversationally in English.

``I expected to obtain a little improvement in my English but I was really surprised because I learned so much,'' said Jose Manuel Azorin, who is a professional with Vodaphone, a large mobile telecommunications company. ``I have received the most important things: knowledge and friends.''

Most English speaking participants find out about the program though the Vaughan System Web site or from a friend.

Vaughan said it is usually first-come-first-serve for the English speakers who want to participate, with the only criteria being that each group have a wide range of ages.

During a recent program, 19 English speakers _ ranging in age from their late 20s to a 74-year-old woman _ worked with 18 Spaniards ranging in age from 21 to 56.

The English speakers came from New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, and the United States.

Throughout the day, English and Spanish speakers pair off for 50 minutes of English-only conversation.

The same rule applies to meals: only English is allowed and each table is a proportional mix of Spanish and English speakers.

The Vaughan staff stresses that the English speakers are not there to teach English, but only to speak it so that the Spaniards can get accustomed to a variety of accents and word usage.

The Spaniards must have at least an intermediate level of speaking and understanding English.

After dinner, the pace is more relaxed. One night is devoted to a Spanish ceremony called Queimada, which includes an alcoholic drink that is set on fire and then consumed after the fire is extinguished.

On another night, paella, a dish Spain is known for, is prepared and served. Afterward, a guitarist plays flamingo and other Spanish music for dancing.

For Jason Swan, 31, of Melbourne, Australia, it was his fourth trip to Spain, but his first time to take part in the program.

``It is such a different environment,'' said Swan. ``You can't meet people on this level if you just travel around.

``The day sessions were important and I took this opportunity very seriously. But at night you meet the real people and it is this combination that made the experience special,'' he said.

Says Vaughan, ``If people in every country took part in a program like this there would no longer be a problem with war.''