This article is from the February 1998 The Mexico File newsletter.
Back to Articles List

Learning Spanish through Culture Immersion not just for college kids and tourism.

by Robert B. Simmonds, Ph.D.

Danette Mora, a high school Spanish teacher in Northern California, never dreamed, when she decided to attend college in Puebla, what lay in her future. She is the founder of the Language Experience Programs, a popular summer study program based in Puebla which takes people into the heart of Mexico and allows them to learn not only the language but the ways of Mexican culture.

Danette started her program in the summer of 1988 with 19 students, and each summer enrollment has grown. To date about 500 students have completed the program. Although there are larger Spanish programs, they seem to be confined to the "touristy" parts of Mexico. Danette’s program is unique in that the students have the opportunity to study Spanish and immerse themselves in the culture of the "real" Mexico.

Her program is based on personal development and individual attention. She said recently, "One of the more ‘personal’ aspects of the program – the things one doesn’t put in a brochure – is how the experience has affected or changed the lives of many who have attended...the appreciation of a new culture, the opening of new doors – both in Mexico and at home – lifelong friendships (and marriages!), etc. It feels wonderful to be a catalyst for so many good things."

She has designed the program so that those who enroll in the two week program can experience three different "Mexicos." Students are encouraged to take the three-day Mexico City guided tour (about 80 miles northwest of Puebla), which she describes as "the cosmopolitan capital, the land of the Aztecs." And they also have the option through the program of taking a trip to the quaint mountain village of Cuetzalan, which she portrays as "a tiny rural town with its cobblestone streets, coffee plantations and largely indigenous population that still dresses in its traditional garb." And of course the core of the program is based in Puebla, which, according to Danette, "is not touristy. Even people who have been to Mexico don’t know where Puebla is." She describes it as a "colonial and homey city."

In fact Puebla, the City of Angels, is the fourth largest city in Mexico with a population nearing two million. It lies in the Valley of Cuetlaxcoapan and is flanked by four extinct, snow-capped volcanos. It is a friendly city and year-round temperatures at 7,000 feet range from 60 to 85 degrees F. Puebla is the home of the famous Mexican dish, mole, and the Cinco de Mayo battle.

Students live with Mexican families in Puebla in accommodations which are comfortable and clean. Double and single options are available. And three meals a day are provided. Spanish classes are held in the mornings and a complete schedule of afternoon activities is provided, like learning to cook authentic Mexican dishes, exploring the world’s largest pyramid, watching local artisans at work in their shops, or playing Trivial Spanish, of course. The afternoon sessions are designed so that participants can get to know the Mexican way of life, its history and traditions.

Four levels of Spanish are taught (Spanish 101, 201, 301 and 401), and a placement test directs the student to the appropriate class. Academic credits can be obtained for completion of the classes from the University of the Pacific. The teachers are chosen for their experience and enthusiasm. In addition to Danette, the staff of the program consists of a housing coordinator, six to eight faculty members and about half a dozen school assistants. Sessions for the 1998 program are held from July 5 - 18, July 19 - August 1, and from August 2 - 15.A two-week session costs $695, with discounts for those who stay for four or six weeks.

Danette Mora’s program aims to immerse the participant in authentic Mexican culture, and in this sense it stands out from most other programs. It is not glitzy, beach-oriented or cleansed of the beauty that lies at the heart of Mexico. In fact it thrives within the soul of the veritable Mexican experience. And that makes for a neat way to brush up on one’s Spanish.

For more, contact Danette Mora at the Language Experience Programs at 916-683-2314 (phone and fax) or call toll free: 888-5ESPANOL. Email: dmora@egusd.k12, or check out her excellent webpage at