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3 Ways to Learn Spanish in Ecuador (What Worked for Us)

Posted in: Ecuador Travel, Language Learning, Living in Ecuador

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

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.

Many of our readers are using Rocket Spanish to learn Spanish online.

How We Learnt Spanish in Ecuador: A Work in Progress

View of QuitoIt has often been said that total immersion in a foreign language is the best way to learn, and while this is definitely true, lessons certainly help.

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.

Check out: 8 Travelers Share the 12 Best Books to Learn Spanish


Fast and Easy Spanish For Busy Expats

easy-spanishMany 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 – Preteritopresent – 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.

spanish-busy-expats

Mobile Tools For Easy Spanish

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Many of our readers are using Rocket Spanish to learn Spanish online.

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?

Your Turn

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.

Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

29 comments… add one
  • Harry Moreno May 27, 2019, 11:36 am

    Great article! Even though Cuenca is a good place to learn Spanish, there are other options available as well, such as Guayaquil, the place I’m at right now. I teach Spanish here so believe me it’s also a great place to learn a new language and the sight seeing here is awesome. If anyone is interested, contact me: harrymoreno853@gmail.com

  • Atahualpa Spanish School Mar 23, 2019, 8:02 am

    Thanks for the information

  • Pol Jul 7, 2018, 3:51 am

    I am quite surprised to read that they speak slowly in Cuenca, since all the people from Ecuador that I met here in Italy (and there are quite a few) speak so fast I have a hard time understanding them, and I am from Uruguay! Well, maybe they are not from Cuenca…

  • Sky Jan 13, 2015, 12:08 am

    Hi Bryan, thanks for the great info. My wife and I are thinking of living in Cuenca with our 6 year old just for the summer, say 4-8 weeks. My wife and I both speak intermediate Spanish. Do you think we might be able to find a summer camp or other fun activity for our daughter that would be immersion so we could all immerse ourselves in the language while we are there?

    • Bryan Haines Jan 13, 2015, 5:49 am

      Good question. I don’t really know what activities are available for young children. I heard that there is a Facebook group for families with young kids, but I don’t know much about it. Our daughter is a teenager now…

  • kathleen bell Jul 19, 2014, 4:13 pm

    This is a great blog. Have enjoyed reading it very much. What is the best area in Cuenca to live for two single older women.

  • Kym Sep 18, 2013, 9:39 am

    Bryan-

    What is the cost for the Spanish lessons? I don’t see that posted and would love to know.

    Thank you

    Kym

    • Julieta Sep 29, 2013, 2:41 pm

      Hi Kym, I am Spanish teacher and I give private lessons. If you are interested you can write me to me e mail sand.juli@yahoo.com

  • gabriela Jun 12, 2013, 11:15 am

    Dear Brian..

    Thanks for the great information about CUenca and Ecuador,, Im a CUENCANA!! owner of a Tourist Operator and Spanish School Cazhumaspanishschool,,, we are locate only 1 block from Calderon Park in a beutifull Colonial House, our programs are mixed! with Travel Tours to differents areas of Cuenca, while you are learning! spanish,, please i like to invite you !! to visit us..

    • Bryan Haines Jun 14, 2013, 5:03 pm

      Great to meet you Gabriela. We’ll drop in one of these days.

      Thanks!

      Bryan

  • Carol Saenz May 28, 2013, 11:16 am

    Learn Spanish in Ecuador is very easy. The fact of being in a Spanish-speaking country will allow you to live a true immersion experience, because only few people speak English – therefore, you only hear people speaking Spanish!
    In addition Spanish pronunciation, primarily in the Ecuadorian highlands (la Sierra), is very clear and quite slow. This helps in the learning process.
    Also there is wide range of fun and interesting activities (some of them free and some at low cost) that you can enjoy while you know the culture and learn the language.
    Another great advantage of learning Spanish in Ecuador is that there are very good schools that will help you to learn Spanish in very short time. We invite you to know our Spanish School: http://www.andeslingua.com
    You can also follow us on Facebook and enjoy some free resources: https://www.facebook.com/AndesLingua
    You are always welcome to our community!

  • Carol Saenz May 21, 2013, 3:05 pm

    Hi Bryan & Dena,
    We request include our Spanish School in the current list. We invite you to visit us!
    http://www.andeslingua.com
    Greetings!

  • Anna May 17, 2013, 10:43 pm

    Hola!

    Puede Usted poner un link a la pagina http://spanish.ec en la hoja https://gringosabroad.com/ecuador/how-to-learn-spanish-in-ecuador/

    Gracias!

  • Gloria May 17, 2013, 6:41 pm

    Hi I am Gloria. I`m spanish teacher for 20 years. I can teach in private classes( it`s includes my book). my email is: llactaecuador@gmail.com.

  • Juan F. Mejillones Apr 1, 2013, 7:40 pm

    Saludos Bryan, realmente es grato saber que ayudas a otras personas para que puedan conocer un poco más sobre Ecuador, en este caso de Cuenca..

  • Maura Mar 22, 2013, 7:21 pm

    Hi I am Spanish Teacher for 10 years, and tourist guide as well I can teach in privater classes, Write me If you want learn good English morenapink81@yahoo.com

  • Michelle Birch Mar 9, 2012, 12:21 am

    Just to let you know your blog appears a little bit different on my galaxy tab.

  • Edward Cyr Jul 31, 2011, 4:05 pm

    Thank you so much for the wealth of information you provide on you site. My wife and I have our house for sale and are headed down as soon as it sells. I have a sister who has lived in the cotacatchi area for nearly 3 years and loves it. Although we havent visited, we decided all or nothing, and are making plans to be there before it snows here. We expect the culture shock, but hope to locate near other english speaking families. My retirement just isnt cuttimg it in the US any more, and my wife who works fulltime would like to retire with me and ecuador seemed like a good choice given the mild weather and cost of living. Hope to see you soon. The Cyr family, usa

  • carol Jun 17, 2011, 2:04 pm

    Hi:
    I have about 500 English books I want to sell, as I am moving back to Canada.
    I miss my family too much.
    I live in Manta If interested or someone else you know please let me know. Thanks Carol

    • Bryan Haines Jun 19, 2011, 6:39 pm

      Hi Carol,

      What type of books do you have? I’ll certainly pass it on. You know, there is a bookstore in Cuenca that sells used English books. Its called Carolina Bookstore. Might be worth a call – maybe they’ll buy the whole lot.

      Bryan

  • Rance Mar 8, 2011, 11:13 am

    With the inability to find english books in Cuenca, have you considered buying a Kindle from amazon.com? We were always concerned with the strain on your eyes, but my wife just bought one with the new E Ink Pearl technology. It doesn't put any more strain on your eyes than a newspaper would. They have the Kindle now equipped with global 3g (which the map shows Cuenca would give you EDGE, which is 2g) so that you can dowload any book anywhere you may be, even in Cuenca. The best part is that you don't have to pay a monthly subscription fee, or any fee at all, for the wireless service. Or, you could always use the good ol' wifi.

    Just thought you might like to know.

    P.S. Thanks for the blog. My wife and I are looking at moving to Cuenca and your blog has been an IMMENSE help in our research!

    • Bryan Haines Mar 15, 2011, 5:23 pm

      Hi Rance,We have used Kindle from Amazon. They have a PC app so we can just read it on screen – not a nice as a read book (or even a kindle) but gets the job done. When friends visit, they come loaded with our orders from Amazon – print copies. Thanks for the feedback – really appreciate it!Bryan

  • Ken Jan 8, 2011, 11:00 am

    What a great blog. Thanks for the time and information.

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