For many travelers, the main reason for being in Cuenca is to learn Spanish. Noted by many as one of the better areas to learn Spanish – in part because of the locals slower pace of speaking (especially when compared to other Latin American countries) Cuenca is a hub for foreigners studying Spanish.
How to Learn Spanish in Ecuador
In this post, we’ll discuss three ways to learn Spanish in Ecuador: classes, books, and immersion.
1. Learning Spanish in Language Classes
The city of Cuenca has dozens of great schools, including:
We studied at Simon Bolivar Spanish School, and found that one teacher to 2 students was a great format for learning. The classes moved along at our pace, with the teacher able to spend more time on things we needed and skipped over other parts we knew, which is something that’s impossible in a larger class format.
Costs were surprisingly low – just $180 for the week for two adult, at 4 hrs per afternoon (our daughter sat in on the classes for no charge). This works out to just $4.50 per hour, per person. This is fairly typical, although the costs will be significantly higher if your teacher travels to your home. Located just off Parque Calderon, you can skip out to one of the many cafes/bakeries on one of the afternoon breaks, or simply take a quick stroll through the Parque.
2. Learning Spanish with Books
We brought a few books with us – but not enough – it’s nearly impossible to get English books here in Ecuador. Well, truth be told, there are a few bookstores – here in Cuenca, and a few both in Guayaquil and Quito, but the selection certainly isn’t what I’m used to.
Also we were using Rosetta Stone before moving to Ecuador, and continue to use the course. Although much of the vocabulary didn’t stick (like we hoped) it really helped us to get a “feel” for the language – its flow and general sounds.
This really helped us on our arrival and in the Spanish classes. That being said, it might have helped us more, if we weren’t so busy with preparing to move abroad – selling everything we owned including our home, business, and all of our stuff, with the exception of 6 bags of checked luggage and our carry-on electronics. Given more time, I think we could have come with much more Spanish – the Rosetta Stone format is very good. It works on the premise of complete immersion. There is no English in the course – you learn everything in Spanish. And although it sounds overwhelming and quite possibly impossible – it really isn’t. The one point of note – be sure to order Latin American Spanish – otherwise you’ll arrive talking like you’re from the “old country” (Spain) and although you might be understood, you’ll also raise a few eyebrows.
Here is the complete list of books and courses we used to learn Spanish.
After we arrived, an Ecuadorian friend recommended Madrigals Magic Key to Spanish and loaned us a copy. Since then, everyone (every gringo at least) tells us how much that book has helped them. So its been ordered from Amazon.com and is coming with Canadian friends in February. There really is nothing like a personal copy that can be truly studied.
3. Spanish Immersion is the Best Teacher
Along with all these different ways of learning, immersion has been our best teacher. We have been involved in a significant amount of volunteer work and this has improved our Spanish more than anything else. After just over 4 months, we are really surprised with our level of comprehension and ability to communicate. Still a long way to go, but we aren’t nearly as mute as when we first arrived.
How We Learnt Spanish in Ecuador: A Work in Progress
But with such a huge learning curve, the biggest question is, where to start?
How We Are Learning Spanish
We have tried all kinds of different lessons, Rosetta Stone, audio lessons, podcasts, books, and real live teacher student face to face lessons, but by far the best thing we’ve found is an audio course by Pimsleur.
When we moved here friends told us to wait at least a year before taking lessons from a teacher, but we were anxious so we signed up about five months after we arrived. Well turns out our friends were right. The teacher was excellent, she even spoke English really well, but it was too much too fast. Our heads were spinning, and we really didn’t retain much.
The Problem with Rosetta Stone Spanish
The problem with Rosetta Stone, and the other courses was that they only teach words or phrases consisting of a few words each. We were trying to learn but were unable to speak in intelligent polite sentences, we have found that this ability is essential to communication (sarcastic smile inserted here).
With Rosetta Stone in particular, one of their selling points is about total immersion, which works well in real life. But Rosetta Stone uses pictures, and does not use any English to explain them. The absence of English is not help, it’s a hindrance, for example when the program was trying to teach me the word for “I have” I thought they were teaching “I touch,” the absence of English makes the course confusing, and they only teach present tense.
Why Pimsleurs Helped Us Learn Spanish
It was only after we started the Pimsleur course that we began to get a handle on the normal flow of polite conversation. I found it very frustrating that the other courses were teaching me to say things that I would never use at this stage in the learning process. Things like: “Do you drive to the library everyday?” Am I really going to walk up to a stranger and say that?
With Pimsleur (check out our review) I started off learning how to say “Pardon me Sir, good afternoon, I speak English, do you speak English? I speak a little Spanish, and I only understand a little, thank you, good bye.”
This I could begin to work with. Each lesson builds on the one before and they are only 30 minutes each, you are recommended to only do one a day. We have found that this really is the best way to learn because it sinks in, and it’s not overwhelming.
The school we took our classes at is called Simon Bolivar, it’s right here in Cuenca and I would recommend them, after about a year of immersion, and Pimsleur.
Fast and Easy Spanish For Busy Expats
Many people that move abroad are retired and don’t need to work.
This works out well when it comes to language learning because they have more time on their hands than people that need to work and take care of their children.
We are hearing from more and more families planning to move abroad. It can be a little more difficult to learn the language when you have lots of responsibilities.
Don’t fool yourself (like we did) thinking that you will have sooo much more time to learn the language once you relocate.
It’s true that you will need to work less because the cost of living is lower, but you will probably want to fill that extra time by doing things with your family. After all that’s probably part of the reason you are moving.
So start now, whether you’ve moved or not.
Language learning is a family activity, but the path of least resistance is pretty attractive, especially when you are adjusting to life in a new country. Your family will want time to give their brains a rest, so look for ways to learn that don’t seem so much like work.
We have had a bit of a struggle finding sufficient time to learn Spanish. It seems something always comes up which throws off our schedule. There is always something to do: clean the house, help Drew with her schooling, shop, cook, work, volunteer, family time…
How We Learn Despite Being Busy
We pick up a lot on the fly because most of our friends are Ecuadorian and only speak Spanish, so we are always learning through conversation. Our friends correct our mistakes and help us to understand what new words mean.
(Do you feel too shy to talk in Spanish because you don’t feel you can speak the language very well? Speak From Day 1 may help you get over that feeling.
I also try to set aside a little time every day to study verb conjugation. This part of the language has seemed overwhelming to me and I’m constantly making mistakes, but I’m beginning to see improvement.
I have recently started studying one type of verb at a time, for example regular “er” verbs. I write the verb out in the past – Preterito, present – Presente de indicativo and the future – futuro tenses. I also add the Perfecto de indicativo which is another past tense, because it’s easy and used a lot.
There are so many different verb tenses that trying to study and remember them all at once is too much for me. Choosing 4 tenses to work on has made it a little easier and once I master (here’s hoping) them I’ll work on some more.
This seems to be helping me grasp the conjugation better because I can see the pattern in what I’m learning. I pay special attention to the Yo (me/I) and Nosotros (us/our) conjugation because that makes up a large part of what I need to say when making conversation. The book 501 Spanish Verbs is what I’m using, it’s a really good book. I do wish there were more examples showing how to use the conjugated verbs in sentences, but I guess I would not be able to lug the book around if that was the case.
Here are some of the other books and courses we used to learn Spanish.
Mobile Tools For Easy Spanish
- Pimsleurs (via Audible) has really helped because I can listen to it on my iPod while I’m doing house work. I really like the way Pimsleurs teaches Spanish. It is presented in conversation style and the repetition is good. As the program goes along they bring up past words and phrases making them easier to retain.
- SpanishDict.com is an excellent free resource. They send out a free newsletter, so every day I learn a new Spanish word. They give the word, the definition and some examples of how it would be used in conversation. I usually write the word and examples down in a note book. This helps me remember them better and work on writing the language at the same time. The videos are exceptional – and free as well.
Learning Through Osmosis… Kind Of
It also helps to watch movies, listen to the radio and read in Spanish. It will help a lot if you can incorporate Spanish into the things you regularly do. Even if you just pick up a word here and there each time, you will be capturing the sounds of the words and the flow of the language. Kind of like absorbing the language through osmosis 🙂
If you can watch a sitcom or movie in English and then again in Spanish, it’s even better. The same goes for reading, if you can download books in both languages and flip back and forth (from English to Spanish) as you read through the paragraphs, you will grasp the language much faster.
Which Language Was That In?
Drew and I went to a movie a couple of weeks ago and when it was over we both said that during it we kind of forgot which language it was in. It was in Spanish but we didn’t notice because we understood it so well. That felt good! The same thing happens to us when we remember conversations that flowed especially well.
How about you? How do you find ways to learn the language?
How are you learning Spanish? What tools or courses are you using? What has been most effective for you? Let us know in the comments.