Getting Educated En Espa?
Sitting in a private classroom on the lower slope of the Pichincha volcano, more than 9,000 feet above sea level in the Ecuadorian Andes, I am unaffected by the thin air. But the conjugation is driving me insane. Zayra Ibujes, one of several language instructors at the Amazonas Ecuador Spanish School, has just asked me to conjugate the verb aullar (to howl).“Yo aullo. Tu aullas. El aulla ...“After correctly rattling off, “1 howl, you howl, he howls,” I mispronounce the “we howl” conjugation.“No, no, no, se?or,” says, Se?orita Ibujes, correcting me in Spanish for the l5th time this morning. “Nosotros aullamos.” 1 stifle the urge to lean back in my chair and aullo!Amazonas is one of more than 60 Spanish-language schools in Quito, Ecuador. A mild year-round climate, relatively safe surroundings, a clearly spoken Spanish dialect and low prices make Ecuador’s capital the place to be for Spanish-language learning. Depending on which school you choose, you’ll pay from $6 to $10 per hour for private, one-on-one spanish classes with an instructor certified by the Ministry of Education. Most students remain in class four hours per day, but schools are willing to cater to all schedules. As is the case with mi profesora, Senorita Ibujes, most teachers speak little or no English. This worried me initially. But after one week of Spanish language immersion, 1 began understanding at an accelerated rate. Since opening its doors in 1989, the Amazonas Ecuador Spanish School averages approximately 500 foreign students per year. Most come from Europe (England, Germany and Holland are prime markets), although Spanish-speaking wannabes pop in regularly from the United States, Canada, and as far away as South Africa, South Korea and the Czech Republic. According to general manager Gustavo Guzman, the average student is about 24 years old. “But we’ve had students as young as 8,” he says. “And as old as 76.”The school provides three language learning options. The “Super Dynamic” curriculum is recommended for those with only one Rosetta Stone Language or two weeks to spare. Classes generally run four to five hours per day. Lessons deal with real-life situations like ordering food at a restaurant or checking into a hotel. Eighty percent of the class involves conversation. The remaining time is devoted to reading, writing, grammar and punctuation. The “Dynamic” program is best suited for those with three to four weeks in which to study. Again, classes run four to five hours, five days per week. With more days in which to learn, however, students receive a more comprehensive approach Education begins with the Spanish alphabet and moves on to numbers, colors, days of the week, and one of the most important (and sometimes most difficult) aspects of language learning: verb conjugation. Travelers with a few months on their hands will no doubt benefit from the “Regular” program, which allows for a thoroughly detailed approach to language learning. “We have great success,” says Senior Guzman. “Our students know we are here to help them.” Help is available at all levels, from beginner to advanced. The school prides itself on having taught American Airlines pilots and flight attendants, as well as corporate executives like the general manager of Heineken in Ecuador. To enhance the language-learning experience, many schools offer a “Home Stay” program. This allows students to live with a carefully screened, middle-class Ecuadorian family in a comfortable environment. The families speak no English. Students are thus provided with the impetus to reinforce Lessons learned in class. Seventy-five percent of students at the Amazonas Ecuador Spanish School, myself included, take advantage of the Home Stay program. I live in the sprawling three-story home of Dr. Jaime Yepez Castro and his wife, Ines Maria Darquea de Yepez. During their six-year affiliation with Amazonas Ecuador Spanish School, the retired couple has hosted 98 students from ah over the world. After I signed their dog-eared guest register, Senora Yepez wrote “99” below my name. My stay includes three scrumptious home-cooked meals per day, laundry service, a large private bedroom with a color TV, and a private bathroom. At a cost of $20 per day, it’s cheaper and more carefree than living at home. Which brings me to a bilingual revelation. I pay $8 per hour for private Spanish classes that would cost $20 or more in the United States. If you’re serious about learning Spanish, it may be cheaper and far more interesting to fly to Quito, enroll in a Spanish language course and live with an Ecuadorian family.Check airline prices. Do the math. You might find yourself saying caramba! By Elliott Hester, aka the Continental Drifter, is undertaking his second around- the-world adventure.
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