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Episode 61: Learn Spanish through Immersion (Interview with Jessica Taylor, For the Love of Bachata)

    Learn Spanish Con Salsa Podcast Episode 61
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    Episode 61

    Learn Spanish through Immersion

    Interview with Jessica Taylor, For the Love of Bachata

    Do you have to move to a Spanish-speaking country to achieve Spanish fluency? In this episode,  I sit down with Jessica Taylor, widely known as DJ Tay, who shares how immersion helped her improve her conversational Spanish fluency beyond formal education.   She also gives her advice for creating immersion experiences if you don't have the time and money to travel.

    Jessica is the founder of For the Love of Bachata, known for its wildly popular dance festivals.  She shares her story of how she went from reluctant Spanish student to Spanish teacher and sought-after Latin music DJ.


    Speaker Transcript
    Tamara Hola y bienvenidos al episodio 61. Welcome to episode 61 of the Learn Spanish Con Salsa podcast.
    Tamara If you've been struggling to become fluent Spanish, you may be wondering, Do you have to drop everything and move to a Spanish speaking country to finally achieve fluency?
    Tamara Well, in this episode, I sit down with Jessica Taylor, widely known as D. J Tay, who shares how immersion helped her improve her conversational Spanish fluency beyond formal education.
    Tamara Jessica is the founder of the wildly popular For the Love of Bachata event. She shares her story of how she went from a reluctant Spanish student to a Spanish teacher and a sought after latin music deejay
    Tamara At the end of episode, stick around because we will also give you some information about some events that you can attend if you're interested in a true immersion experience with not only Spanish but also with Latino culture.
    Tamara I also have a few discounts for you, so make sure you stick around to the end of the episode so that you can hear more information. So with that, let's get started: Vamos a empezar.
    Tamara Hola Jessica, bienvenida a Learn Spanish con Salsa.
    Jessica ¡Hola! Gracias por tenerme aquí.
    Tamara You could share with the audience, for people who may not know you. I just kind of told a little bit about you and how you got into this thing called bachata.
    Jessica Sure, I run For the Love of Bachata here in Pittsburgh. I've been doing that for the last seven years, and I was inspired to dance Bachata and salsa actually back in college with some Latino friends I had and, I don't know, everything just kind of led me to where I am now, you know, hosting events and deejaying as well. English is my first language and Spanish is my second language.
    Tamara So what made you want to learn Spanish and what got you into Latino culture?
    Jessica You know, I feel like everything in my life has been accidental. It's been unplanned, you know, both with what dance has become to me, but also with Spanish. You know, I'm currently a Spanish teacher. I teach kindergarten first and second grade currently, but I have taught K to five in the last 10 years. And my students always assumed that I was just, like, always passionate and always like the best viewed it. And that's just not my story. So I started learning Spanish in middle school. I think like a lot of people here in the United States, I almost didn't even take Spanish almost lined up for German because I thought it was easier, you know, like a typical 11 year old mindset.
    Jessica I think in this my mom intervened and guided me towards the language that would be more relevant to my interests. And then I kind of took it through middle school and high school, not really always liking it that much, but you know, always doing my best because I value doing good work. And it wasn't really until my last year of high school, when I wasn't like Level five Spanish, that I felt like, Oh, I'm starting to be able to use it. And that was all thanks to the teacher I had that year. She was really exceptional.
    Jessica And then even when I went to college, I originally went to be a computer and business teacher, not a Spanish teacher. But I tested well on the entrance exam when I got to college and they let me skip out of a couple of the bottom level of classes. So I kind of thought like, Oh, maybe I will double major. And then at the end, you know what? I'll be fluent in Spanish at very least, and it turned out to be the thing that I love the most.
    Jessica You know, majoring in Spanish in college brought me into studying abroad in Costa Rica first and then in Spain. It brought new people into my life, and I've always loved and appreciated diversity. So that has been really great. And I also just learned how much more fun it could be to teach a language. Because language encompasses all aspects of being a human on this earth. You could teach anything while teaching a language as well. So, it was never really planned. It just kind of unfolded with the years of my life.
    Tamara It's interesting that you say that because I think a lot of us, like you mentioned being from the U. S. will have a similar experience. They tell you, pick a foreign language in middle school, which, in my opinion, is way too late. So I'm encouraged to hear that you're actually teaching at K through five levels. But, you know, we pick a language, and then we may or may not really be into it. And I love how you're saying how things just unfolded for you and that as you realize you were good at it. And then you started to have these experiences and that's when you really developed more of a passion for it, because I think a lot of us, anything that's academic or learning, especially if we weren't good students in school, that we can have these misperceptions about our ability to learn a language, especially as adults.
    Tamara So we have this feeling that oh, I'm just bad at languages because they didn't do well in school. And also how long it took for things to click for you. So you said you went to Spanish level five in high school and I had a similar experience, but unfortunately, I don't think I had a teacher as good as a teacher it sounds like you had made it relevant. When I first left the country, I realized I couldn't understand or speak any Spanish at all with my public school education.
    Tamara So I'm curious to hear when you actually felt like, I'm actually fluent in Spanish or that I've mastered the language like you mentioned traveling abroad and going to Costa Rica, was there a specific moment? You remember where you were like, Oh, I finally have this down and I finally feel like I speak Spanish. I'm not just learning Spanish?
    Jessica You know, I don't feel like I had that “aha” moment. I know a lot of people get it, And it might be because I was spending those years of my life becoming a Spanish teacher and worrying about whether I was gonna pass the proficiency exam , just always having that laser sharp focus on the accuracy of my language. I don't know if I ever stop to appreciate the point that I was conversing fluidly and effortlessly.
    Jessica But looking back, I would say it probably happened the semester I spent in Spain, thanks to the immersion and the length of time I was there. Because when I had been to Costa Rica before, that was just four weeks long. So it was a great experience. But looking back, I can remember times I had no idea what people were really saying to me. But in Spain I was living with a family. So I was having conversations all day long.
    Tamara So do you think that immersion and actually being in the country was sort of the key to get you from just where you felt like you were proficient, focused on passing exams. So where you really felt like you were fluent?
    Jessica Yeah, absolutely. I think it's the best way that you could learn if that's something that you can afford time wise and financially, I think that's the best.
    Tamara So you mentioned travel, and we do talk a lot about travel on the podcast, and I do want to say sideway to talking a little bit about different places that you visited. And specifically an event coming up in the Dominican Republic in a few minutes. But first I want to just kind of get this idea of immersion.
    Tamara So I know a lot of people say that, in order to learn a language fluency, you have to sort of pack your bags and go to a different country. But for those of us who can't afford to do that, or to stay for a long term basis, what kind of advice would you give to them? And what do you do, with your students as well to help create an immersion environment, even if you're not traveling?
    Jessica So, with my students there so little in kindergarten and first grade, they're not even very literate yet, so it's really hard to recommend a lot of the digital experiences that are out there that can be more accessible to people. So in my classes I try to create lessons where I can use moments of simulated immersion with them and certain lessons lend themselves to that better than others.
    Jessica But I try to give them that experience where they have to figure out what we're doing in this lesson, by using not just the words that they know, but by also learning to use their other senses to figure out what we're doing, you know? So I did like a lesson on sink and float with the students, and I had the big smart board lesson with the objects and had the physical objects. I had a big container of water and I wasn't using any English, but because they were learning to look for other clues, they were able to follow along and participate and make predictions record their answers, decide if the prediction had been correct or not. So that's what I try to do for the little ones.
    Jessica And if you're older, finding lessons like that is a challenge, right? Because, like you said, our public school education didn't always have the best teaching methods, and you also find that in community education as well. But I would totally recommend for adults to find conversation clubs where you get together and everyone agrees to speak the language together because that's a place where you can really grow when you're experiencing that struggle to communicate. But that's where you grow is when you push through. So that's what I would recommend.
    Tamara I found out a great resource for that is meetup.com. Usually no matter where you are definitely in the US but even in some other places that if he's kind of search for Spanish meetups, you confined that. What I find like you mentioned, it's sort of that struggle of being able to communicate. What happens with a lot of lessons that you take or if you take classes that you always have that crutch we can switch back to English, right, and you get stuck So you have to find a good group, you're right.
    Tamara It is hard, I think, to find a group where everyone agrees not to revert to English, and they actually don't do it, because it's still easy. And I've also found in social situations I don't know if you found this is well, it's when your inner called like sort of a mixed group, at least linguistically. So if you have some people that speak Spanish, some people that speak Spanish and English, people that only speak English, especially here in the U. S. you usually end up in a social situation speaking English just because you don't want to leave people out that don't speak Spanish.
    Tamara So it could be kind of awkward, to try to get that conversation, practice it in a true social setting, like with friends. So I always recommend, like you said, fine people who were intentional about. We're going to speak Spanish in a mixed company. Sometimes you don't always get that full immersion.
    Jessica Yeah, I totally agree.
    Tamara So I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about how, I'm curious to know, how you became a deejay and specifically for bachata because bachata is from Dominican Republic you're there in Pittsburgh. So I'm really curious about the connection between you and, I know you travelled and you just mentioned going to Costa Rica and into Spain, but how did you then get into bachata and Dominican culture?
    Jessica It's kind of the story of me becoming a Spanish teacher. So way back in high school, I know that I always loved when I would see salsa dancing in movies, and I wanted to do it. But it wasn't something that was available to me at that time. And then, in college, I started hanging out with more students and the Latin student organization as a way to connect with others, in a way that was relevant to my major. And they kind of started teaching me to dance. So that was my first entrance into dancing.
    Jessica I loved it. I love that every time you would hang out with people like dancing would break out, you know? And then when I graduated, I didn't start dancing right away. I went right away into a graduate program in teaching ESL for 10 months. So But that landed me in Ecuador for a month one summer, and I was so, I thought I was gonna have the best dancing experience ever, because obviously, like, I don't necessarily know the roots of all these dances yet.
    Jessica You know, I know salsa and merengue, I know bachata, but I don't realize that they're not necessarily native to Ecuador. So I must say, I was super disappointed that I already knew a lot more than the locals there because in Otavalo in Ecuador, where I was at least in that one place, they knew, the basic step and a basic turn and that was it. It was super chill and I was just like so deprived of what I had known in college.
    Jessica So when I came home, that's when I started taking salsa lessons in Pittsburgh and instantly fell in love soon after. I realized my community didn't really like bachata that much. And I had an instructor that liked bachata. And he got me starting to go to DC for bachata events like, DC bachata Congress and other ones. So I was coming home like, look everybody, there's all this great music, and there's all these things you can do, and it's better than what you know and people like nah- nah- nah!
    Jessica And I was also trying to get the DJs to play all these other songs that I had found and they're telling me no. And so eventually, I'm told that this is called situational leadership, right? So I felt the need, and I decided to start For the Love of Bachata.
    Jessica At first it was supposed to just be sharing music with people, which got me doing more and more research along the way. I accidentally started doing events. And outdoor socially I had done with just a few friends before, just, like, exploded. There were, like, 100 people that one time, so that kind of propelled me into hosting events. And I did that for a couple years, and I was obviously playing my own music because the other DJs weren't playing what I asked them in the first place.
    Jessica And I was just making playlists and iTunes, but other people were like, You think like a deejay. You think like a deejay. You need to start deejaying. So, I told them after I finished with my master's degree because obviously I've never stopped taking classes for some reason. I told them I would begin. So in 2015 I got my first controller and I started deejaying.
    Tamara Well, I love that. I love the idea of the Deejays not playing the music you like, so you became a deejay here. So there's so many times. I wish I could do that. I can't tell you. But anyway.
    Tamara I know you've talked about your travels and learning Spanish. But now I want to talk about your travels as a deejay because I know you've been all over the place and I'm always seen the For the Love of Bachata. I've heard great things about the events there that you have in Pittsburgh on, even though I'm from Baltimore, So I'm a Ravens fans through and through. You know, for me, it's enemy territory, but I might be able to get over that For the Love of Bachata.
    Tamara One event I want to talk to you about in particular because I know that's coming up and I had Carlos Cinta on the show last year. We talked a little bit about the Paradise and just for those folks who may be familiar with going to a salsa Congress or, like you mentioned, the DC bachata Congress that's like in a big hotel and you have workshops and you have performances and dancing. Could you explain a little bit about the events, but at the Paradise and how that's different from a traditional dance salsa or bachata congress?
    Jessica It really is a cultural experience. Like you and everyone else were staying in one of several resorts in the town. They're all walking distance from each other, and the workshops are spread out at different venues, like one is a dance school. One is a bar and restaurant and there's a couple others, and everything's just walking distance from itself.
    Jessica So you're getting to know the town. You're getting to know the people you're getting to know the sites, and then it's also built in these excursions. So every day you kind of get in a flow like get up, you have your breakfast, you take your workshops, you get back, you get ready. And then one day it's the beach party. They take you to the beach and there's music and everybody's dancing. And it's amazing. You know, another day is a pool party, and another day it's a trip to a natural pool. This is really incredible. And then when you come back from that, you have dinner, you get ready, you go out dancing in town again, this is so cool. It is such a cool experience.
    Tamara Can you talk a little bit about the town? Because I know you mentioned like it's like you're in this particular town and a lot of people that think of DR really think of Punta Cana? Right? I think of staying at an all inclusive resort and just kind of being there and being on the beach. But tell us a little bit about the town and what kind of interaction you're able to have since you mentioned it was such an immersive experience being there.
    Jessica Sure, it is not like your big fancy Americanized resort feel. Even though the resorts have that Dominican vibe overall, it's like a small town. Like I said, everything you can walk to, everything's really chill. You know, it's not super Americanized, which is refreshing for those who want to travel to see the culture to experience the dancing, it's authentic form or to practice the language.
    Tamara So the area Las terrenas, is that a safe area of the country, or is it an urban area?
    Jessica Oh, it's very safe. I mean, I would never tell someone like just go out by yourself at night like you always want to be aware of yourself. But, it felt very comfortable, like me and one or two friends would walk everywhere together at night, and we never had an issue. There's always people out, so that is another thing that helps you feel pretty safe. But yeah, that the town just has that chilled vibe.
    Tamara So it's more like a small beach town works versus like a big resort or like a big urban area.
    Jessica Yeah, for sure.
    Tamara And so you mentioned also being able to talk to people and getting immersed in the language. So I'm curious because you said that you spent some time in Spain and in Costa Rica, and I know that Spanish spoken in Dominican Republic is very different than both of those places. Talk a little bit of that: Did you have any culture shock when you got there and you were talking to the Dominicans there or were you just kind of used to it because you've already been listening to a lot of bachata , was it like a shock for you are were you able to pick it up pretty quick?
    Jessica I didn't mention earlier when I was talking about dance, but I had been to the Dominican Republic some years ago. It was in 2011. It was between studying programs and I wanted to work on my Spanish. So I went to first, it was Santo Domingo and I was staying in a Spanish school, but I actually got really bored in Santo Domingo because it rained all the time in the summer. And the beach was so far. So we transferred north to Susua, and we spent a weekend in Samana before we did that. Which Las terrenas is in Samana so i don't know if you're familiar with the area.
    Jessica And so I spent about three weeks total in the country, so I was already somewhat acclimated to the sound of the accent. I find that their accent is so like, rhythmic and calming for me, but, the slang that they use, You know how they cut their words and half have their own things, like “que lo qué” you know,”cómo tu tá”. Those are probably the only two phrases that I know what they mean. I was there for, like, three weeks, and I came back still, like, utterly confused sometimes. So there is that, but you'll think about when you travel, you know, because there's, like, 21 countries in the world that speak Spanish. So, you just roll with the flow.
    Tamara I did have the experience the first time I'm with the DR as soon as I got off the plane. Someone says “Hi Tamara, que lo qué”. And I was like, “uh?” Okay. You know, I'm literally tried to translate in my head. Like what? That witch. What? Huh? I was like, That's going on right now. So yeah, it can be something to get used to. But it's interesting because, like when I first started as well, I realize that every time I would travel to a different place that the dialects were very different. And in school, they tell you, Oh, Spanish is just Spanish, right? Let go. It's like this one language. It's like, you know, super generic and then traveling and talking to people. You find out that's not true.
    Tamara So that actually is what led me to come over my own guide to Dominican Spanish I compiled a phrase book of over 200 something different words and phrases that are just used in DR with some of the teachers on the island to develop a course, with dialogues, because if you're not used to the accent, it's gonna be hard, to get up to speed, especially for just there for, like, a week for an event.
    Tamara So I had developed that because they're just literally nothing out there. And it's even different, like even if you have friends that live in the US that air from the Dominican Republic or have families from there like, I find that even they speak differently. So, like when they go back to the island, people go, you talk like an American, right? So, pero it's really interesting.
    Tamara And especially if you're just starting out in Spanish or if you can't really hear the differences in the accents yet, it can be tough to sort of sort all that out on your own. So I do think that I'm just being aware of it and being prepared to know that, you know, maybe it's not that your Spanish proficiency isn't up too far. But maybe it's just like a phrase that you haven't heard before because of where you are. I think that always helps just to have that cultural awareness.
    Jessica Yeah, and I think Dominicans are fairly aware that they have this unique pocket of Spanish. So when you express your confusion, I think they're pretty good at adapting for you.
    Tamara Yeah, I think there's this, I actually don't believe in neutral Spanish, But I do think that there is this thing that happens even amongst native speakers when they know that they're from different countries, that they have to adjust and adapt like, Okay, you're not from where I'm from, just like I would call it.
    Tamara The same is like if you're talking to someone in your family versus, someone at work that you just met, you're not going to go into all of your insider phrases and like stuff that only you talk about your family with was kind of like that, right? You're aware of who you're talking to and you adjust so that they are more comfortable. But it is cool to kind of go ahead of time. Some of the phrases like “que lo qué”, right?
    Jessica Yeah, that one you're gonna hear all the time.
    Tamara Don't walk into a business meeting saying that, but yeah, definitely. If you write informally yeah you could say that. Okay, we'll just go. I want to thank you so much for your time and sharing a little bit about your experience with Bachata paradise. We really got a chance to talk to you about the events and also just hearing about your experience.
    Tamara And I hope that really inspires anyone that's listening. Who may really be into dance and into that music, but you don't speak the language,you don't have to start out having been a genius at languages from birth , it is something that you can pick up even as an adult is something that you can learn. So, Jessica, for those out there who are not familiar with For theLove of Bachata, how can they find you on social media and get in touch with you?
    Jessica You could follow on Instagram at for the love of bachata on Facebook just search For the Love of Bachata, you could like the page. And on those two social media platforms, I post all of our events. I will post on the Facebook page also posts about other events and dancers and stuff that could inspire you. And if you want just a lot of information concentrated about For the Love of Bachata events, I would go to the website, which is fortheloveofbachata.com.
    Tamara Great. Thank you so much for your time. And thanks for being on the podcast.
    Jessica My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
    Tamara I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Jessica. Now, if you're interested in your own Spanish immersion experience, I definitely would suggest that you check out the events, bachata paradise. If you're interested in more information, you can go to bachataparadise.com, which is bachataparadise.com.
    Tamara I'm also going to include a link in the show notes with all the information about bachata Paradise and also Jessica's events for the love of Bachata, so you can check out fortheloveofbachata.com as well if you're interested in attending an event in the U. S. But if you're ready for a full immersion experience and you want to go to the Dominican Republic, this May join us at Bachata Paradise.
    Tamara Yes, I said, Join us because we will be having a meet up for any podcast listeners that attend the event. I will be there this year in 2020. It will be from May 21st of the 31st. So it is a full 10 day event. There are four-day, seven-day and ten-day packages available. So, if you can't stay for the full 10 days, you can definitely check out one of the shorter options.
    Tamara Now, this is an all inclusive event, so your pass includes your lodging, your transportation. So you'll get transferred from the airport to the resort where you're staying. It includes meals and includes all the parties, workshops, performances, everything that's going on at the event and in the town of Las terrenas you'll be able to attend with your pass to Bachata paradise. Now, I will warn you for listening to this in 2020 and it is before May 21st and you're thinking about going. I would definitely get on it right now, at least to secure your deposit, because spaces are going quickly If you're listening to this after 2020 this event does happen every year, so still check out. bachataparadise.com and I will make sure that the show notes Page is updated with the information for this year's event.
    Tamara If it is after May 2020 when you're hearing this, okay, so go to learnspanishconsalsa.com/61 That's learnspanishconsalsa.com/61 . And there you'll be able to access the show notes page with all the information about the events. Now, if you're sure that you're ready to check it out, you can go right to bachataparadise.com and if you want a discount and of course, always looking out for you guys always want to make sure that you can enjoy things with a little bit of a reduced rate if I can get that for you. So if you're interested in attending Bachata Paradise, you can enter the code S C S for Spanish con Salsa. That's SCS 4 for the four day package, SCS 7 for the seven day package, or SCS 10 for the 10 day package.
    Tamara So again, if you're interested, I'm also going to include those codes in the show notes page so you don't have to remember them right now. But make sure again, if you're interested in attending in 2020 get on it right now, see what spaces are left and at least getting your deposit so they can secure your spot for the event. So I hope to see you in the Dominican Republic this May, if not hopefully on a future trip and whatever you do make sure that you find an opportunity to immerse yourself not only in the Spanish language, but it also an aspect of Latino culture that you love, whether it be; literature or music or dance.
    Tamara Whatever it is, make sure that you have a full immersion experience because that will definitely help you achieve fluency faster. So that is it for this episode of the podcast. I hope that's something you have heard today has helped you go one step closer from Spanish beginner to bilingual. Thank you for listening to the Learn Spanish Con Salsa podcast at learnspanishconsalsa.com
    Bachata Paradise - Save with Discount Codes SCS4 SCS7 SCS10

    Guest Information:

    Jessica Taylor (DJ Tay)
    Website: https://www.fortheloveofbachata.com/
    Instagram: @fortheloveofbachata
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/love4bachata/

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