OMG! Everything is in Spanish!! What do I do now? - Learning Spanish in Loja, Ecuador

Many people who would like to relocate to Loja, Ecuador, worry that living in a Spanish-speaking country will be too difficult, if not impossible. Life in Loja would like to reassure you that this could not be further from the case. Indeed, there is a lot of good news on this front. First off, there has never been a better time in history to live in a foreign language environment. No-cost and low-cost mobile translation programs for your phone make it simple for you to deal with most circumstances that crop up while traveling or in your day-to-day life. There are also an incredible number of digital language learning Apps and software programs, free or in any price range, right at your fingertips ready to be downloaded in minutes to your favorite device. At least in this regard, better living through technology has arrived!

Settling in Loja will also give you the opportunity to take advantage of what is universally understood to be the best and fastest way to acquire a new language: immersing yourself. In the past, immersion was a learning method reserved for the well-to-do enjoying a relaxed months-long ‘season’ abroad every year, or for people with families in or from foreign countries. Loja is both an affordable and comfortable place to begin learning a new language for people of any age. In fact, probably the biggest hurdle to acquiring a new language as an adult is anxiety. Children are not afraid to fumble their attempts at speaking a new tongue, but this fear inhibits many adults. The people of Loja on the whole are kind and patient with anyone of any age attempting even the most rudimentary Spanish communication. Interacting with them will be some of the best teachers you will find. Immersion works actively because the people and environment require you to respond. This type of language acquisition also works passively because of constant exposure to spoken Spanish in the city and in local broadcast media like television or radio, and to written Spanish on street signs, product labels, and every sort of print or digital media.

Loja is a small, well developed urban area. English is part of many school curricula here, so you will often encounter people with much exposure to it. Many Lojanos have lived abroad and have a strong understanding of English. Loja also has a very large professional community and a number of universities. Many academic and professional disciplines in medicine, science, and technology also require an extensive knowledge of English. If you were to live in a more rural part of Loja province, you would probably meet fewer people with some grounding in English, but here in the city meeting an English speaker is a more frequent occurrence than you might expect.

If you have decided to make the leap to Loja and are ready to begin learning Spanish, there is more good news for you. Because both English and Spanish have Latin roots, they share the same alphabet. Unlike traveling or living in Asia or many Slavic countries, you can already read street signs, the names of businesses, and address people by their names and appropriate titles. What’s more, Spanish shares thousands of cognates and close cognates (identical and nearly identical words) with English because of their common origins. Further, English is the lingua franca of the tech world and global consumer culture, and Spanish has absorbed much of this terminology in day-to-day communication as well. Spanish phonetics are also more uniform than in English, which will make it simpler to pronounce new vocabulary once you have learned how the letters are sounded-out. It's more good news for the beginner. English speakers have a greater head start on learning Spanish than they may have ever realized.

Aside from all of the learning opportunities available to you just by being here in Loja, many new Spanish speakers will also want to choose instructional tools to enhance the learning process. For those who are intrinsically motivated, or self-starters, there is an overwhelming number of software programs to choose from that allow you to work individually at your own pace. There are many online reviews and comparison articles that rate them to help you decide which one is for you. Many of the most popular programs online have extensive free trials. Duolingo and Babbel Spanish are two that offer to get you started at no cost. Software programs will go up in price according to their technical sophistication. For example, Rosetta Stone, one of the pricier options, is able to hear you respond and evaluate your pronunciation. It is also a heuristic program, which means it will continually adapt to your correct and incorrect answers and give you more of what you need to practice. Many excellent Spanish learning programs, with both written and recorded listening components, are completely free for the user on websites like Open Culture, Internet Archive, or Youtube.

For those Spanish learners who require extrinsic or external motivation, there are online language platforms and forums that let you exchange your English conversation in return for Spanish conversation with a learning partner. In the past, there have been live language exchange meetups in Loja which were as much about socializing and drinking late into the evening as they were about Spanish and English conversation. Perhaps an in-person language exchange will restart in the future. italki is a well-reviewed online platform that will connect you, the Spanish learner, with an English learner. italki and other platforms such as Livelingua will also help you find an online Spanish tutor or certified teacher if you would like a more structured curriculum and expert help with learning.

The big question for many planning a move to Loja is if there are conventional in-person Spanish classes available? The answer is yes, however, what there is to choose from is constantly changing. For young people, there are primary and secondary schools, private colleges, and national universities that teach Spanish as a first language. There are dozens of private language academies in Loja devoted to teaching English as a second language to both adults and children, which means they have a bilingual faculty. Life in Loja’s last survey of the private academies found that Spanish as a second language was not being offered, but this does not mean it was not available in the past, or could not open up in the future. The Spanish as a second language class being offered in person as of this writing is a review course for incoming foreign students at a local private college. Life in Loja will be able to help you connect with private Spanish tutors for individual or small group instruction online or in person here in the city.

Although life in Loja does not offer Spanish instruction at this time, one of our primary missions is to help visitors and new residents with English and Spanish bilingual interpreting and translating. Most of our requests for assistance come from those who need a deeper understanding of Spanish during legal and visa issues, large sales negotiations and transactions, finance and banking, routine medical appointments, treatment, or in medical emergencies. We hope you will feel confident about your ability to operate in a foreign language environment here in Loja, and even enjoy the experience! If you have any questions about our language services or Spanish instruction in Loja, please contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.

Photo credits:  "Conversation" photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels; Youtube screen shot from "Learn Spanish" search.


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