Spanish without Tears; A Language Course Needn't Be a Bore - All You Need Is Sun, Wine and Spectacular Scenery

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Byline: MARIA HARDING

I HAVE always considered myself a duffer at languages, but have picked up a few useful snippets along the way. I can order drink in most languages, call a Russian "comrade" in his mother tongue, and even manage "hello sailor" in Greek, but when it comes to joined-up conversation, like many Britons I find myself floundering in a sea of dimly remembered future imperfects and past participles. Now, after just five days in Spain, it's not hard to see why.

Instead of drearily declining verbs, wannabe polyglots should be playing charades, games of snap and describing the pictures in a Baby's First Words book. And ideally, they should be doing this overlooking magnificent mountains. It worked for me; signing up for a language-learning holiday I expected to be the class dunce - though a stay in the mountain village of Capiliera would perhaps compensate for any embarrassment.

I wasn't wrong. Capiliera, 5,000ft up in the Sierra Nevada, 90 minutes' drive and a world away from Malaga's tower blocks, is a magical place. Red and purple bougainvillea tumbles over whitewashed walls that border its crooked, cobbled streets. And its main road is lined with pavement cafes; shops pungent with serrano hams, cheeses and olives; and craft stores displaying exquisite pottery, tapestries and shaggy jarapas rugs made by local artists.

Over dinner in a cosy local restaurant, I got to know my host, The Spanish Experience owner Patsy Pilkington, and fellow linguists, comprising four couples and two single women. Flowing wine swept away our British reticence.

Patsy, a former fitness consultant, had set up her company after a life-changing stay in the Spanish mountains.

Gillian and Les were retired - or, as the Spanish so charmingly put it, jubilado - and had a home in Spain, as had Marion who, sadly, lost her husband shortly after the purchase.

Joan, once married to a Spaniard, had come to fill the gaps in her grammar and brought second husband Paul along for the ride, while Hubert, a keen hiker, was drawn by the prospect of mountain walks.

After dinner, Patsy sorted us into three groups according to ability, with Hubert, Les and me in the beginners-class. Next morning, we discovered-that as learners we definitely had the best of the bargain. While the others headed for lessons in a local apartment, our teacher - artist Jaime Autles Campos - took us off to play in his spectacular mountainside gallery-cum-teashop.

We had our first class on the terrace, drinking in spectacular scenery with the occasional sherry. And Jaime's approach to teaching Spanish proved more refreshing than his herbal teas. …