I didn’t learn Spanish overnight, but once it clicked I forgot how much energy I originally put into the process.
The hours of classes, the frustration, the dedication, the memories seemed to fade once I stopped thinking and simply started speaking- Spanish flowing almost as easily as English.
Obviously I kept at it though, despite the difficulty, because I couldn’t imagine not speaking the language. My love for Latin America was obvious from a young age and my desire to travel to both Central and South America palpable. It was never a question of whether or not I would visit and even live in countries where Spanish was the official language, the question was would I be able to communicate with the people I met along the way.
And when you stop and think about it is that really a question? Can you really call yourself a traveler if you can’t ask questions of the people who actually understand the culture you are in, if you can’t have a chat at a bar, if you can’t read literature and signs that add depth and understanding to the lands you are in? Trust me I tried, I tried to convince myself that learning the language didn’t matter. I traveled without it, and in the end realized that I was never going to connect without the ability to talk to people outside the backpacker circle.
Don’t get me wrong, backpackers are well and good, I mean that’s part of why we travel to get to know like minded souls, and sitting in a hostel can provide lots of inspiring moments and conversations. However, we don’t only travel for these sorts of meetings, we also travel to get to know a place intimately, and sometimes sat at an entertaining backpacker bar I think travelers can loose sight of this.
Now, back in South America for my third visit, after two years in Asia, it’s immediately clear that my Spanish is not as sharp as it used to be. Conversations still flow but asking those trickier questions that require finesse and tact are not so easy to pull off. I came here to understand South America better and I quickly realize that without my Spanish up to par that task would be much more difficult. My travel buddy is on the same page, learning Spanish is at the top of her to do list. We both decided it was time to enroll in classes.
With dictionaries in hand and a whole lot of determination we headed to Montañita Spanish school in Montañita, Ecuador for four hours of classes a day and two hours of surf (a girl’s got to play as well)! I enrolled in private classes to brush up on the specific skills that were failing me, while my friend jumped into group classes.
Mornings and afternoons were each devoted to three hours of classes. Let me assure you this was not your stuffy classroom experience, each class was catered to the individual just as a good learning experiences should be. Some classes were held at the school in open air classrooms where ocean views promised you would never forget that you were far far from home. Other classes took place in town- at the fruit shake stands and on the sandy beach- where the inspiration of the surroundings meant that we were that much more determined to nail the subjunctive this time around, once and for all! Between classes we took to the waves, honing our surf skills, and giving our brains a welcomed break from verb conjugation.
One week of classes didn’t seem like much, but we left inspired and much more likely to toss around complicated opinions and engage in conversations that we previously may have shied away from. As the days went on not only did we own the waves but we also found ourselves connecting more to the Ecuadorian culture, language being the key that opened the door to a wealth of new information.
Montanita Spanish school is also part of an incredible collection of schools which have teamed up to create “The Traveling Classroom.” An entire month of travel all around the country as well as four hours of Spanish class a day. The program starts in the capital city of Quito, and then carries on to the charming colonial city of Cuenca, the mind blowing Amazon Jungle, the coastal fishing town on Manta, and of course the surf and party hotspot of Montañita! In addition to Spanish you’ll also take in the culture by living with a host family, partaking in cooking classes, salsa lessons, daily adventures to the volcanic Cotopaxi National Park, trek the ‘poor mans Galapagos’ Isla de La Plata, try paragliding, oh yeah and test your skills on a surf board. Not only that you’ll make friends for life during this amazing group adventure! An absolutely incredible way to take in the country and add a whole new language to your list of skills!
Written by: Tyler Protano-Goodwin