Monday, April 7, 2014

Sketches of Cuenca #6 Bill and Learning Spanish

A great deal of the apprehension and mystery potential expats face is that of a new language. There is no single point as important as speaking the language. 

No, I did NOT say you must speak Spanish to live here. An Ecuadorian doesn't need to speak English to live in the USA, but think about their isolation if they don't. They can't communicate with 99% of the people around them. They can't 
easily deal with the various bureaucracies, everything from immigration to the cable company. They live in barrios, large or small, for economic and cultural (language) reasons. Some move out, some never do. As I see it, this analogy is unbalanced because the gringo here in Ecuador has money. The Ecuadorian in NJ is working and sleeping and not much more.  He is sending money home. 

The money advantage gringos have when they move south only goes so far.  Money doesn't buy the ability to communicate with the people around you.  IT DOES!, you say, you pay for lessons and learn Spanish. Not quite that simple. 

The teacher teaches and the student learns but the linkage between those two things is tenuous. I know many people who have been in classes here for years.  Often the cost benefit ratio is not very good. The key is surprisingly simple....have conversations in Spanish. Buying onions in the market is not enough 
conversation, but it is a start. Buying veggies takes a few seconds. 

Sitting at the kitchen table with your Cuencana neighbor talking about your kids you might pass an hour every day. Being a regular at a Cuenca cafe or bar will get you hours of practice. From my own experience, the topics can range from history to pop music to motorcycles, anything and everything. But as you are learning about your new friends, and they about you, you are learning verb forms, vocabulary and slang. 

Have one rule, NEVER give up, never hang up the towel.  If you learn one word a day, only that, in three years you've learned nearly a thousand. 

So who is this Bill? He is a gringo and my new teacher. Everyone has their own best way of learning and "one on one" is best for me. A native of California, Bill has lived in LA for many years and taught both English and Spanish. At my ability level we do the class 85% in Spanish, only dropping into English to fix a fine distinction in Spanish grammar. It is up to me to hit the books and exercise the new knowledge. The hour with Bill needs many hours of reinforcement...that's learning - that's my part of the process. If you are in 
Cuenca and want to try receiving instruction this way, email me. I'll put you in touch with Bill.

Glen Birbeck -