Spanish and Language Tourism. At UNAM

Luis Miguel Samperio Sánchez
Tourism is one of the activities that have been experiencing growth and diversification worldwide after COVID-19 pandemic was brought under control with the application of vaccines. In Mexico, tourism is an economic sector as big as that of food industry or cars.

In terms of diversification, there is tourism based on cultural and creative industries [see box], known as cultural tourism, which relates the stay, time, and objectives of the traveler not only to the historical and artistic heritage of the place visited, but also encompasses other material and immaterial areas of the voyage, such as popular arts, gastronomy, music, and language. The latter has given rise to the development of the so-called language or idiomatic tourism.

The World Tourism Organization distinguished language tourism as activities carried out by people during their travels and stays in places different from their place of residence for a consecutive period of time shorter than one year, in order to make a linguistic immersion into a language other than that of their natural environment. (Piédrola Ortiz & Artacho Ruiz, 2011:2; our italics)

Cultural, Creative and Language Industries
According to Crovi (2013), the expression cultural industry was first used by members of the Frankfurt School, in particular Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in the 1940s, to analyze the change that was occurring in the social terrain occupied by culture.

Creative industries, according to Toussaint (2013), are a type of cultural industry that uses other cultural industries, at the political, economic, and social development levels to obtain benefits and subsidies.

The language industries (Asociación de Industrias de la Lengua en el País Vasco, n. d.) are those sectors responsible for designing, producing, and marketing products and services related to language processing.

Language tourism, then, is part of the cultural and creative industries and, therefore, an element in the production and commercialization of services that constitute the language industry. Much has been analyzed about this industry from an economic perspective since it represents value chains. Likewise, the language field has reviewed the impacts of this kind tourism in activities related to translation and text revision, as well as its presence in publishing and IT tools.

Based on the definition of language tourism proposed by the WTO, it has been carried out in Mexico for one hundred and one years—at least in terms of what can be documented—and UNAM has been its main promoter through the educational activities of the Teaching Center for Foreigners (CEPE, Spanish initials).

To explain the above we must remember that in July, 1921, José Vasconcelos, then Rector of the National University, founded the Summer School that would later become CEPE. In its first decades, this center was intended to be a destination for foreigners who wanted to deepen their knowledge and practice of Spanish and learn about Mexico’s history, art, and literature. For more than a century, the task of disseminating Mexican language and culture has been developed with a linguistic immersion approach, expressed both in the cultural contents offered by CEPE through its Spanish courses, as well as in the cultural activities that take place there to support the use and mastery of Mexican Spanish variant.

CEPE offers five educational services: Spanish and Mexican culture courses for non-Spanish speakers, Mexican culture courses and diplomas, courses for teachers of Spanish as a foreign language through diplomas and updating courses, certification of Spanish as a foreign language proficiency, and printed and digital publications on Spanish and Mexican culture.

Language tourism at CEPE is mainly expressed in the service of Spanish and Mexican culture courses for foreigners, which are organized in nine levels, from beginner to advanced. The courses are offered in a face-to-face modality and in an intensive manner for six periods per year. All courses have a duration of one 126 hours distributed over six weeks. In the first five levels, 90 hours of Spanish are taught, in addition to 18 hours of language practice and 18 hours on culture. The number of hours dedicated to the latter increases significantly from the fifth level onwards, as students become more proficient in the language and can access more complex knowledge of the culture.

In the Spanish language and Mexican culture courses for non-Spanish speakers, the complementary activities offered to students also contribute to language tourism as they consist of cultural tours, arts & crafts workshops, and recreational activities designed to strengthen Spanish learning. In addition, Spanish language proficiency certification is integrated into the program of Spanish and culture. At the end of the courses, those who take the exam of the International Service for the Evaluation of Spanish Language (SIELE, Spanish initials) will have an assessment of their reading and listening comprehension abilities.

As part of its academic activities, since its foundation, CEPE has had a program of guided tours to sites of historical, artistic, and cultural interest in Mexico City, as well as to archaeological sites and nearby “magic towns”. The intention of these tours was and still is to deepen the knowledge of Mexican culture, and the habits of the people who live here to strengthen language tourism.

On the other hand, to assist Spanish teaching and learning tasks, educational materials that gather and integrate years of experience and teaching vocation have been developed. For a little more than three decades, CEPE has contributed to the language industry, since in publishing terms it has a value chain that includes the design, production, and commercial distribution of four books series: Pido la palabra (an Spanish expression that could be translated as “I’d Like to Speak”, 1988), Estoy listo (“I’m Ready”, 1994), Así hablamos. Español como lengua extranjera (“This I show We Speak. Spanish as a Foreign Language”, 2007) and Dicho y hecho. Español como lengua extranjera (“Said and Done. Spanish as a Foreign Language”, 2014).

The Dicho y hecho series, which is the one currently used at CEPE, promotes language tourism by referring to museums, archaeological and historical sites, as well as customs, traditions, and places where these customs take place, thus inviting students to get to know Mexico.

It should be noted that, as part of the support services for students, CEPE offers personalized orientation to help them locate and move around not only within the vast university campus but also in the complex metropolitan area of Mexico City. Guidance is also provided on lodging alternatives in places close to CEPE, through a catalog of options that includes photographs, prizes, services, and e-mail addresses for contacting the service providers.

The intention of CEPE’s Spanish and Mexican culture courses for non-Spanish speaking foreigners (and their support services) is to ensure that students, in addition to benefiting from a century of experience in teaching Spanish in a linguistic immersion environment, become honorary promoters of Mexico’s vast and varied culture, and return to their countries enriched with the intercultural experience of having coexisted and lived with students from more than 90 countries.

Finally, it can be said that, based on the WTO definition of language tourism and in response to the services described above, UNAM, through CEPE, has been a key player in the construction of language tourism in Mexico, since it offers a variety of activities and options so that its foreign students can experience true linguistic immersion in Spanish.
Luis Miguel Samperio Sánchez studied Psychology at UNAM and a master on Education at Universidad Iberoamericana. He has published articles in books and magazines on educational planning and evaluation, and the development of instruments for learning evaluation. He has taught Educational Psychology at UNAM for 35 years. He is CEPE’s former Secretary General and currently leads that Center’s Academic Secretary, and also teaches evaluation in the Spanish as a Foreign Language Specialty program.

Asociación de Industrias de la lengua en el País Vasco (n. d.). Industrias de la lengua (http://www.langune.com/presentacion/industrias-de-la-lengua)

Crovi, Delia (2013). “Industrias culturales en México. Estrategias y políticas gubernamentales”. En Crovi, Delia (coord.) Industrias culturales. Reflexiones para actualizar el debate. Mexico: UNAM/Productora de contenidos culturales Sagahón Repoll.

Piédrola Ortiz, Inmaculada, & Artacho Ruiz, Carlos (noviembre de 2011). “El turismo idiomático: una oportunidad de desarrollo local para Córdoba). Málaga: XVI Congreso AECIT (https://www.aecit.org/uploads/public/congresos/16/Comunicaciones/Sesion%204/5.%20Turismo%20idiomatico.%20Una%20oportunidad%20de%20desarrollo%20cultural%20para%20Cordoba.pdf)

Toussaint, Florence (2103). “Evolución de las industrias de la cultura (1980-2010)”. En Crovi, Delia (coord.) Industrias culturales. Reflexiones para actualizar el debate. México: UNAM/Productora de contenidos culturales Sagahón Repoll.
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