If you’re driving around in Spain, you probably won’t be surprised to hear Spanish-speaking radio programs. In some areas, you might also come across a station where regional dialects are spoken. But there’s one big exception: Vaughan Radio. It’s the only bilingual radio program in the country and it’s dedicated exclusively to teaching English.
Vaughan Radio was created by native Texan Richard Vaughan. And it’s just a part of what he calls his “small empire” of teaching English. Vaughan Systems is the largest English-teaching private company in Spain. It offers classes for adults, kids and corporations in eight different cities, including Madrid and Barcelona. Along with the radio, Vaughan has a 24-hour TV channel dedicated to teaching English, weeklong language-intensive immersion programs and summer camps for children.
Vaughan says it all sort of happened by chance. When he first came to Spain, he needed to make ends meet, so he taught English classes. And he quickly discovered how valuable high-quality English classes were to Spaniards.
“We approach the teaching of English on many platforms in many different ways, always based on one single principle,” he says. “And that is the absolute quality of the teacher.”
Vaughan Systems started in 1977 with eight teachers and several corporate clients. But it wasn’t until 2004 that his company quadrupled in size with the introduction of his radio program, bringing his teaching method to the general public – and for free. The “Vaughan Method” of teaching English is 100 percent oral. Teachers simply speak the language, as opposed to the “traditional” grammar-based approach.
Roger Gilbert, associate professor of Modern Languages at the University of Barcelona, says it’s a method that’s being embraced by many foreign language institutions.
“Knowing grammar is very healthy and very nice, but it doesn’t necessarily transfer to the use of the language,” he says. “And we know that grammar-based approaches do not provide the conditions. They present part of the picture.”
Sprinkled within those English lessons are bits of Texas education as well. While Vaughan doesn’t teach slang words, he does expose students to informal sayings, such as “y’all.” He also sometimes tells stories of his Texas ancestors – going back six generations – on his radio program.
“But I will fall into the Texas accent sometimes to compare,” says Vaughan. “And so I’ll talk about the British accent, and then go into the Texas, the way we talk in Texas, and talk like this.”
Fellow Texan Lucia Fraile McCord is a volunteer recruiter at Vaughan Systems. She says that in the classroom, teachers are encouraged to speak the way they naturally speak, no matter where they’re from, as long as they stick to standard grammatical rules.
“I’m always making an effort to try and get Texan expressions and American expressions into the material that we would put out as much as I could,” she says.
Vaughan has plans to make his “micro empire” grow even more. He’s looking to open up schools in several more countries, including France and Germany. And if this talk of going big sounds oddly familiar, it may be due to a motto he picked up as a boy.
“I always say, ‘We Texans say that everything is bigger in Texas,” says Vaughan, as he takes a pause. The adds, with a laugh: “And by the way, it’s true.”