One of the reasons I chose to travel to Cuernavaca this past April was that it is one of the world’s centers for Spanish teaching. Cuernavaca has in excess of 40 language schools and attracts language students from all over the world to this beautiful city with the near perfect climate. After all, Cuernavaca is “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, the City of Everlasting Spring.
During my first week in Cuernavaca I had the oportunity to study Spanish at the Ideal School for Spanish and I enjoyed my one-on-one instruction with Estela, one of Ideal’s most experienced teachers. With humour and patience she put me through the usual torture of the Spanish subjunctive, of “ser y estar” and many of the other grammatical nuances that the Spanish language tosses at us non-Latinos.
During my stay at Ideal I really enjoyed the atmosphere, from our first guided walk with one of the teachers through downtown on our first day (with first-hand instructions on how to use the bus system), to our field trip (to a gallery opening), to the coffee breaks, to some of the tasty authentic Mexican snacks served (e.g. chilaquiles), to various birthday and going-away celebrations. The ambience was very personal and enjoyable, almost family-like.
The school itself is located in a beautiful residential neighbourhood with a tropical inner courtyard. My classroom was outside, under a “palapa” (a palm-leaf-thatched Mexcian sun umbrella) and learning Spanish open-air, amid blooming bugainvillas and chirping birds was an experience in itself.
Let me present to you Hermilo Brito, the creator of the Ideal School for Spanish, and also the president of the Association of Spanish Language Schools in Cuernavaca.
The Ideal teaching team, with Hermilo Brito (center). The chilaquiles are ready to be served…
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your personal background. How did you get involved in the field of language teaching?
Now many years ago, on the 60’s, I had the great opportunity to work in the first Spanish teaching center in Cuernavaca. This center was established by Ivan Illich, a philosopher and catholic priest; the center was named CIDOC (Centro Cultural de Documentación). It actually wasn’t a school, it was a center, well known in the university and intellectual circles, to discuss innovative ideas about the end of the past century. Among the activities at CIDOC were the sending of volunteers to countries in Latin America; those volunteers were required to learn Spanish, so CIDOC had an important Spanish teaching department. In CIDOC, I acted as Spanish language teacher, Coordinator, Director of the Spanish Programs and General Manager.
In 1975, Ivan Illich decided to close the center, this represented an opportunity to establish IDEAL (Instituto de Estudios de America Latina) just like a Spanish school, following the path that I had initiated in CIDOC doing what I like: teach my language.
Over all these years I continued training myself to improve my skills in the language-teaching field, taking courses and attending conferences related to this subject. My concern has been to improve and develop our methodology, in order to become a leader in our area.
2. You are also the President of AIPEC, the Association for Spanish Language Schools in Cuernavaca. Please tell us about the association and Cuernavaca as a language learning destination.
The association of Spanish Language Schools in Cuernavaca was organized 11 years ago; 12 schools concerned with turning our city into a global center of Spanish learning got aid from the Mexican government to promote Cuernavaca. After 11 years, Cuernavaca’s overall cleanliness has improved, we have more tourist services available to foreigners, the city is safer, we have talked with our colleagues from the tourist services to coordinate our efforts to offer the best to our visitors, we have organized shows and cultural events for all Spanish language students, and we are in contact with different government offices to promote Cuernavaca as “The World Center for Spanish Teaching” among other activities and challenges.
My teacher Estela with the “cuadro de tiempos”
Cuernavaca is the world’s second most important city teaching Spanish as a second language. The success of Cuernavaca’s language schools, in addition to the development of an appropriate teaching methodology also resulted from the city’s excellent location; we are 1 ½ hours away from the largest city in the world, Mexico City, and very close to various places where students of Spanish language and Mexican culture can get to know the different facets of this country, through activities which range from cultural visits to museums and archeological sites to recreational destinations such as Acapulco. Visitors can choose from among a wide variety of places to visit.
Cuernavaca, by itself, offers numerous cultural and tourist attractions. Above all, Cuernavaca offers the opportunity to admire and learn about the different times of Mexican history. Above all, Cuernavaca is best known for its weather; local temperatures are between 20 and 30 ºC (68 to 86 ºF) almost throughout the entire year.
3. Please tell us about the history of your school, Ideal Latinoamerica.
Our school, IDEAL, was established on 1975, after the CIDOC (Centro Cultural de Documentación) project ended. The CIDOC trained many teachers and people to teach Spanish as second language. I was one of the people involved with the Spanish-teaching activities and, jointly with a colleague, we established IDEAL (Instituto de Estudios de America Latina). With the enthusiasm of the first years, we reached our goal to create a place where students from all over the world could meet each other to learn Spanish and discover Mexican culture.
In 1996, due to the distinctive didactics and philosophy of the School, I continued this project by myself together with my son, who follows the tradition of Spanish-teaching. We both have in mind to develop the best method that will allow students to learn the language in the best and most dynamic way.
The beautiful property of the Ideal School