We came to Cuenca ten months ago knowing no more Spanish than the few words learned by accident in the US. Neither of us had taken Spanish as a language requirement in high school or known any Spanish speaking people back in the states. We figured we would learn when we got here. So, we arrived with no more than a few rudimentary Spanish words, some good sign language, and our ears tuned to try to “hear” what people were saying. At this stage, we were surprised at the consideration most Ecuadorians gave when they tried to decipher our attempts to speak their language. We were often greeted with smiles and even occasional laughter at our atrocious pronunciation. Even though it is ten months later, we have still not taken any formal lessons though we get along quite well. A friend gave us a tape that we have used irregularly but we haven’t taken the “one on one” lessons we promised we would do as soon as things quieted down. One on one lessons run about $8 an hour or more depending on whether you employ an independent teacher or go to a language school. Cuenca has a reputation for having excellent Spanish language schools and there are many. It is also said that the Spanish form taught in Cuenca and elsewhere in Ecuador is purer and is spoken slower than in other Spanish speaking countries. We have also heard that there are more than 1000 English words that are almost identical to the word in Spanish. This gives you a head start when you understand that you already know over 1000 words and didn’t realize it. Our lives have been such a whirlwind since we arrived that we have probably postponed the most important thing we should do, learn Spanish. Life would be measurably improved if we were able to have meaningful conversations with Ecuadorians. Jonny, who is five and goes to a school with all Spanish speaking classmates and teacher, is picking the language up rapidly. All Ecuadorian students take English at school but there are very few who speak it well. That said, it is often the grade school child who does the translating for a family. Grade school students are very proud of their English and seem to want to use it whenever they can. Every day, upper class students at school seek out our Jonny just to speak English with him. But, other than eager students, you will rarely find Ecuadorians who speak English well, if at all. We have learned a huge number of words just by exposure, watching TV and listening closely. But we say them poorly. Yesterday, I asked someone for salsa and they could not understand the way I pronounced it. When we are in a situation like this where there is an impasse, the proprietor of a store or office will often find someone who can interpret. Our experience has been that, even though we don’t know the correct grammar, we give it a try. Our pronunciation is terrible and often, though we use the right words, we are often not understood. Sign language and making sounds that imitate what we are trying to say helps. Loretta caused hysterical laughter when she didn’t know the word for dog and said, “woof. Woof.” Many of the letters of the alphabet are pronounced differently in Spanish which is the root of our problem. We are not the ones to ask advice on this subject as we are only at the beginning stage of learning but we seem to get along amazingly well. We shop at the markets and stores. We get what we think we ordered at restaurants. We talk with neighbors. We conduct our daily life with hardly any language problems. We struggle when someone talks rapidly in Spanish but we ask them to slow down and the meaning seeps in. Our conversations with Ecuadorians must be hysterical but they are generally understanding and try hard to help. The only advice we could give is that your life will be dramatically better in Ecuador if you speak the language but, with a little patience and a lot of practice, the words will seep in and, before you know it, you will be speaking decent Spanish and sharing your life more intimately with Ecuadorians.
A New Kind of Blog
There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.