Immerse yourself in Spanish—intensive classes at SMU in Taos

Maria Dolores Gonzales

Maria Dolores Gonzales, Ph. D.

Originally published in Taos news

If you want to learn Spanish, but can’t commit to a regular eight or sixteen week class schedule, there is another option available: an intensive, six-day retreat at the SMU at Taos campus.

María Dolores Gonzales holds a Ph.D.  in Spanish Linguistics from the University of New Mexico. She has twenty-five years of experience teaching language. Gonzales has coordinated several Spanish language instruction programs and developed and implemented cultural competency training programs for public, private, and corporate settings.

Dr. Gonzales is also the executive director and founder of Bilingual Strategies, a language institute that currently offers Spanish-language immersion sessions, English/Spanish translation, and bilingual mediation.

“Bilingual Strategies Language Immersion Program gives the participants an opportunity to immerse themselves, for several days, in a relaxed environment,” she said. “They will interact with other participants to amplify their knowledge and language proficiency.”

SMU Campus Taos, New Mexico

Spanish in New Mexico

Many people go to Mexico, Costa Rica or Spain to take immersion courses in Spanish.

“So, why not have a program in New Mexico?” Gonzales asked. “It is more accessible and much less expensive than traveling abroad. Plus Spanish has a rich history in this area. New Mexico’s Spanish-speaking population dates back to 1598, when the first colonizers and settlers arrived with Juan de Oñate. It has survived for many generations, even after statehood in 1912, when the policy of ‘English Only’ was mandatory in the schools.”

And let’s not forget that the first newspaper in New Mexico was El Crepúsculo de la Libertad, a Spanish-language paper founded in 1834 here in Taos.

Meeting the needs of adult learners

Many years ago, while completing her graduate studies in Spanish Linguistics, Gonzales realized that there was a need to offer Spanish courses to adults who were eager to learn the language or to polish the skills they already had.

“However, for many adults enrolling in university classes was not an option,” she said.  “After participating as a faculty member of student-abroad trips to Spain, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries, it became clear to me that a Spanish immersion program in New Mexico would meet the needs of our adult population.”

Upon retiring from the University of New Mexico, she contacted former colleagues who had similar interests and experience teaching Spanish and began to work on the program.

“We developed a curriculum using an immersion methodology,” she said. “We do not use the traditional classroom approach or textbooks, but rather ‘immersion’ in everyday activities. The students are immersed in Spanish just like we were when we learned our first language.”

The methodology

To have a successful immersion experience, participants need to be in an environment that exposes them to Spanish all day long.

“They need to live in the language 24/7,” Gonzales said. “They need to have breakfast, lunch and dinner conversations in Spanish.  Cook in Spanish. Practice yoga in Spanish.  Dance and sing in Spanish. Take walks in Spanish. Have fun learning Spanish!”

To accomplish all this, Gonzales said, a good immersion program must provide an ambience in which participants can dedicate themselves to complete their goals.

“Northern New Mexico, and specifically the beautiful SMU campus here in Taos, has all the elements to enhance their learning process,” she said.

Upcoming sessions

The next two sessions, which consist of six-day retreats, will run from September 20th to September 26th and from October 4th to October 10th.

For the September session, registration is still open until August 6th and for the October session, until August 20th.

“After all participants have registered, their names will be included in a drawing for one of two $50 Visa gift certificates,” Gonzales said.

Lodging and meals are available at the SMU campus for out-of-town participants.

“The program is open to both on-site participants and commuters,” said Gonzales. “On-site participants will be housed on the SMU campus and commuters will spend the day there, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. participating in all activities. They will return to their homes after the day’s session.”

How the program works

A question many people may have is, “Do I need to know Spanish, even if it’s just “un poquito,” to benefit from the classes?

Not necessarily. This program is designed to work with students who have different levels of Spanish.

“Some participants may have experience with Spanish and others may not,” said Gonzales. “Bilingual Strategies Language Institute is useful for those who wish to revitalize the Spanish they grew up hearing but might not necessarily feel confident speaking as well as for those who have a desire to realize their dream of learning a second language. The fact that our classes are small will allow the instructors to give individualized attention to each student, whatever their level of Spanish.”

The classes will be focused on the participants’ needs and personal language experience.

“All the instructors have extensive experience working in an immersion environment,” Gonzales said.

Some topics to be discussed are the variations of Spanish spoken in different countries and regions, similarities in cultural core values and traditions, differences in vocabulary, and cultural nuances and stereotypes.

Getting results

“Upon completion of the language immersion program, participants will take with them a better understanding of the diversity of the language and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world,” said Gonzales. “They will also have more confidence in speaking Spanish and a sense of accomplishment.”

To register or find out more about the program visit, contact Dr. Gonzales at 505-238-2466 or email her,

SMU in Taos campus at Fort Burgwin is located at 6580 Highway 518, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico.