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Profile photo of Mary Teresa FowlerDuring the last semester of 2015, students at Southeast Missouri State University and the University of the Americas (UDLA) in Quito, Ecuador, communicated through Skype with the hopes of improving language skills and developing friendships.

For a two-month period, the students talked once a week, outside of class, for 30 minutes. They split the session in half – talking in Spanish for one part and English for the rest. First, the conversation was focused on light topics such as food, music, movies, etc. As the relationships developed further, everyone became more confident and comfortable with the language. Eventually, the sessions became longer and covered more serious subjects such as health care, family, and current events.

The students felt relaxed with their new friends. They realized that it was normal to make mistakes, and that their partner would help them find the right words. They even learned slang expressions. By the end of the program, the students’ mastery of the other language had seen marked improvement. As well, they could converse easily with students from another country.

Of course, this example is about a student program. The goal behind this initiative, however, is similar to the desired outcome for people of any age who want to learn a new language for an upcoming move. Such interactions bring a language to life, and better communication skills mean more confidence about travel.

No doubt, there are online opportunities to connect with reputable sources for working on speech and comprehension. You can even find websites which will send you daily emails with Spanish vocabulary.

Even having minimal knowledge of Spanish before traveling to Ecuador will serve you well. Actually, taking the time beforehand to learn even a few basic expressions is a sign of respect for your new home. You cannot expect a culture to change for you, and often locals will not be familiar with a strange language.

Yet there are places in Ecuador in which the locals are fluent in English. For example, Cuenca has English-language bookstores and store owners who can assist non-Spanish-speaking travelers and new residents. As well, the city has several English-speaking dentists and doctors.

Learning to speak Spanish, however, allows you to blend more easily into this new culture. You will feel like less of an outsider if you can communicate with the locals in their own language. Certain cities (including Cuenca and Quito) have Spanish schools or offer university courses in Spanish for expats.

Obviously — just like the students in the program — be prepared to make mistakes. Most likely, though, a friendly Ecuadorian will be able to help you out with the faux-pas and steer you in the right direction. And an English/Spanish phrase book can be a valuable tool, especially during your first days in Ecuador.

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