A little bit of Spanish goes a very long way in South America – where in most countries almost no one speaks English, even in hotels and at tourist attractions. Fortunately, classes in South America tend to be much cheaper and more immersive than in the UK, so I’ve started this series all about Learning Spanish in South America to give you an idea of what it’s like.
There are nine Spanish speaking countries in South America, but where to learn depends on a number of factors: where you’re starting, what your budget is, and – crucially – what the accent is like. So keep reading to see if learning in Ecuador would work for you. If you’ve learnt in any South American country, please get in touch as I’d love to use your experiences in an upcoming post.
Best Cities for Learning: Quito, Cuenca, Montañita, Baños
Although most experts tend to agree that Colombia has the purest Spanish accent, Ecuador is a close second for many thanks to it’s clear, slow Spanish. Combine that with very low priced classes and schools, and an abundance of schools, and you have a country that is generally considered one of the best places to study Spanish.
“Residents of tiny Ecuador have a clear northern Andean accent and the pretty capital city of Quito alone contains nearly 100 Spanish schools” GoOverseas.com
I haven’t been to Ecuador, so I’m relying on reports from other travellers, but everyone is in agreement that the clear accent and slow, precise way of speaking in Ecuador makes speaking, practising and learning Spanish there much easier than in other South American countries. If your goal is to learn Spanish quickly and well, this sounds like the place place to study. Today’s guest student, Justin (read more about his experiences below), told us that Ecuadorian Spanish was far easier to learn, and that locals speak “slower and with a nicer accent”. If you’re travelling all over South America, or you want to learn the language to fluency, it’s best to learn in a place with a neutral accent which will be applicable all over the world.
“The accent was much easier to understand then places like Argentina and Chile. In areas with higher proportions of indigenous residents, the accents are always easier because often Spanish itself is a second language.” Jules from Don’t Forget to Move.
“Ecuador is one of the best places to study Spanish in South America. Ecuadorian Spanish is clear and precise, and similar to Mexican and Central American Spanish, and rates are cheap.” Lonely Planet.
As well as having a brilliantly clear accent to make learning easy, Ecuador is also really appealing to backpackers learning Spanish because of the incredibly low cost of living, which means that Spanish classes there are not only affordable but downright cheap. The Lonely Planet says that lessons will cost between $5 – $10 USD (toughly £3 – 6 GBP); that really is cheap!
This winning combination of easy-to-learn Spanish and cheap lessons has made Ecuador an extremely popular place to study the language, and this means that there are a lot of Spanish schools and private tutors available. With so many schools around, you have a huge choice not only in which school/teacher you learn with but also where you study. There are Spanish Schools in almost every popular traveller destination, so you can decide to learn almost anywhere.
Lonely Planet say that Quito, the capital, and Cuenca are the two best cities to study in; both are relatively central so have a very neutral accent, and both offer a plethora of schools to choose from. These are big, vibrant cities with lots of culture, modern areas and a great nightlife. Being a little higher, at altitudes of 2,800m and 2,560m above sea level respectively, these two cities also have a milder climate than cities on the coast, where the Equatorial weather can be very hot and humid. Quito is also home to the Universidad San Francisco and the Catholic University, both of which stand out for being exceedingly welcome to foreign students.
“The Spanish spoken [in Quito] is very clear and is spoken slowly compared to coastal areas. There are many excellent Spanish schools to choose from, many of which will also arrange homestay accommodation. This is a convenient, inexpensive, and wonderful way to immerse yourself in the culture and practice your Spanish!” GoOverseas.com
If you prefer to balance your Spanish lessons with lots of fun outdoor activities, you might want to consider the popular backpacker towns of Montañita or Baños. Both are very popular towns for learning Spanish and have a good selection of decent Spanish schools which tend to be cheaper than those in the larger cities. Baños is surrounded by stunning mountainous, lush forests and waterfalls – making it a great place for hiking and outdoor adventures, while the big draws of coastal Montañita are it’s pretty beaches and excellent year-round surf.
“Baños was a really fun place to learn Spanish, because it has a mixture of local culture, but also a fun tourist town. There’s heaps of activities to do like renting motorbikes, go-karts and jumping off dodgy looking bridges with nothing but a rope around your waist.” Jules from Don’t Forget to Move.
Ecuador is also a great country to supplement your Spanish classes with a homestay, where you’ll stay with a local family in order to practice your new language and get to know more about the local culture. Jules, from Don’t Forget to Move, arranged a homestay with the Mayras Spanish School in Baños, staying with his tutor Eduardo and his elderly grandfather, which he says was pretty awesome. The simple accent in Ecuador, coupled with the total immersion of taking classes and staying with locals, means that he learnt very quickly:
“It was my first time learning Spanish and I was very basic, but I caught on quickly and could have very basic conversation with the grandfather at least. That didn’t stop us from hanging out though, we used to go for walks around town and not even talk. Every now and then he’d just point and things and start talking Spanish, it was pretty funny.”
Jules learnt in Baños a few years ago, so things like prices may have changed, but I also spoke to Justin, another travel blogger who took classes in Montañita this year all, about his experiences learning Spanish in Ecuador…
The Student: Justin Sharkey, a 26 year old from Sydney, Australia who runs the blog sharkouttawater.com.
The School: Montañita Spanish School, Ecuador
The Prices: $165 USD + $20 startup fee for one week of four hour classes.
Beginner student Justin took some classes in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the start of his trip (you can read more about that in Learning Spanish in Argentina), but later found that he wanted again to improve his Spanish. As he had friends who’d learnt in Ecuador he signed up for some classes at the Montañita Spanish School. His choice seemed to be based on the location of the school, in the small coastal town of Montañita.
“Montañita is a beach town with a good party culture so this makes for a good balance.”
The year-round choice surf, steady stream of travellers, and laid-back ethos of this small town have created something of a rasta vibe, with a prevalence of hair-braids and hand-woven wristbands. In short, it’s your typical backpacker town, a fun and friendly place to spend a longer period of time, and make the most of some cheap Spanish lessons.
Plus, this ideal location means that schools can provide a good many social activities for students. Montañita Spanish School offer courses like surfing, kite surfing, Latino Dance and Yoga alongside their Spanish lessons, and make having fun one of their top priorities (after learning, of course).
On top of that, they seem to be a really good school. They’ve been named one of the top five language schools in the world by the STAR Awards for the excellent performance by its professors, and Justin reports a very good, thorough teaching structure.
“We followed the A1, B1,2 through C structure, which I believe is some sort of standard worldwide, with two hours of grammar and two hours of conversation daily.”
Since taking classes at Montañita, Justin says his Spanish has definitely improved. Although his vocabulary needs some improvement, he says he’s moved up to an intermediate level – which is a vast improvement from just two weeks of schooling.
Being in a Spanish speaking country means you’ll practice all the time, which in turn provides total language immersion. In a country like Ecuador, where the accent is really clear, practising with locals becomes so much easier – meaning that the language is more likely to sink in.
Overall, this looks like a small, fun town which would provide a great mixture of social activities and education – as long as you’re not the sort to get easily distracted by the stunning beach views through the classroom window! Of his two learning experiences, it seems Justin preferred his lessons in Ecuador far more.
“I’d absolutely recommend Montañita, based on the location and the school, especially because it provides many social activities for the students.”
Have you learnt Spanish in Ecuador? Let us know your experiences in the comments! And if you’ve learnt Spanish in any other South American country please get in touch to help out with the upcoming posts.