Sing-along Learning

Lyrics Below the fold:
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Learning Spanish with Pimsleur

I have just finished Level I of Pimsleur’s Comprehensive Course and feel like I’ve done enough of the course to provide a meaningful review as well as a short explanation of how the program works and how it’s packaged.

Take a good look at the chart on the from the Pimsleur website.  If you have looked around at all of the various products available from their many vendors you are likely confused.  What are the differences among them?  How does the Basic Course differ from the Conversational Course?  Is there a progression?  Do I need to buy them all?

The simple answer is, No.  You do not need to buy them all.  All of the courses except the Comprehensive Course, are just samples of various lengths to allow you to test drive the course without buying the entire program.  And to give you a rough idea, each level of the Comprehensive Course will run you around $150, although if you buy all three levels at once it’ll only cost you about $400.  Shop around and you might get the Plus Course thrown into the deal for little or no extra.

Another source of confusion, especially if you are shopping in a real brick and mortar store, or browsing in the library, older versions of the Comprehensive Course program were called “The Complete Course.” I mention that because I found a discounted copy of Levels 1, 2 & 3 of The Complete Course at a Books-a-Million store for under $200.  But even before you lay out the cash for that kind of bargain I do recommend you check your local library.

Before spending even $15 on the Express Program, a visit to your library could give you the chance to take the same sort of test drive.  Our library system has a fairly extensive inventory of Pimsleur products to check out, use, and evaluate to see if the method works for you, as it is a specific method of learning relying solely on the spoken word.  Although there are short “reading exercise” booklets for each Level, they aren’t necessary for successful completion of the course.   So, at the library you might be able to check out one of the intro courses and try it on for size.

Dr. Pimsleur’s courses are based on two principals that he identified as being particularly useful in learning to speak a different language.  Course exercises are constructed to use the Principal of Anticipation and Graduated Interval Recall.   In their words:

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House Hunters International

Tomorrow is the night… 10:30pm EDT, Sept. 21… House Hunters International is finally airing the episode I’ve been looking forward to for a couple of months.  Hector and Kimberly Quintana, formerly of Chicago, have relocated to Salinas and are the featured stars of tomorrow evening’s episode as they search for their Salinas home.  The video is not online yet, but I’ll post the link as soon as it’s available.

Two other HHI episodes have shown folks looking for second homes in Ecuador.  Here is online video of Juan, an Ecuadorian Native Returning to his Cuenca birthplace after living in Orlando for 25 years.  There is also an episode covering a couple’s search in Cotacachi. As of now, there’s no video posted for the Cotacachi show, though it will air again on October 3.

But it is the Salinas show that I’m looking forward to, especially as they targeted the same type and value of property that I’m imagining.  It should be interesting.

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A Bit of Longing

I only wish there were more photos

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10 Interesting ways to Learn Spanish

I saw it first through David at, but wanted to save and share the link to the article here:    10 Interesting Ways to Learn Spanish.

A couple of my favorites:

2.  Add facebook friends who post in Spanish, and
4.  Listen to Music

From my perspective here in the States, I’d add: 11.  Watch a little Spanish language TV programming every day. I try to watch  20-30 minutes a day, with my favorites being the variety of cooking shows.  The combination of action and description with ingredients and dishes that are understandable is a great way for me to increase my vocabulary and more importantly to get a feel for the rhythm of daily speech.  I’m lucky enough to have a selection of 5 different Spanish language networks to choose from with cooking, nature, history, children’s, and entertainment programming available.  If nothing else it continues to show me how much I don’t know and how much more I need to practice and learn.

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Take a look around the world and you can find American expats in an almost limitless variety of situations.  I’ve experienced expat living in Weymouth, England; in Gaeta, Italy; and in Manama, Bahrain.  I’ve spent time with expats I know in their homes in Abu Dhabi; in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; in Mombassa, Kenya; in Marbella, Spain; in Monte Carlo; and on the Island of Mahe in the Seychelles…  But as different and varied that these places are, there are a few commonalities in the expat experience that I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate… even long for.

Maybe my favorite feeling when living in a foreign place, is the warmth and joy one gets during a serendipitous discovery of something culturally familiar to you that is out of place in the host culture.  Again the variety of these experiences is practically infinite, but finding a little bit of home, a bit of familiarity in a foreign place is one of many reasons I look forward to an expat retirement.

For instance, my favorite day of the week while living in Bahrain was Monday.  Now, for those that don’t know, Monday is midweek in the Arab work week.  [Monday is Wednesday, Friday is Sunday, Wednesday is Friday…. it gets confusing]  But anyway, to celebrate Monday as hump day, the Bahrain chapter of the Hash House Harriers held its weekly run/happy hour/barbecue/tailgate party.  OK, for anyone who knows anything about them, the Hash House Harriers are a British invention, but still, it was the semi-underground party that was alien to Bahraini culture, but so familiar to the English speakers that gave us all a small taste of home.  It’s a small way to celebrate and share a good time from “home.”

Sometimes the host culture can become frustrating, even overwhelming, with it’s stark contrasts with what we grew up with, but just a touch of Serendipity can make those differences seem small.  Maybe it’s the baseball gloves and ball that a friend unexpectedly pulls out of the closet, enabling a game of catch on the beach in Mombassa.  Or maybe it’s the “secret signal” that an American host in Monte Carlo sent at a black tie dinner for 20… serving after dinner liqueur in those old Welch’s Flintstone jelly glasses.  Or maybe it’s just finding a beachfront bar in Spain that is throwing a barbecue party to celebrate the opening of the College Football season.  Whatever the experience, in whatever foreign culture it happens, I just love the feeling I get when stumbling on those small bits of serendipity.

Whether it’s in a posh Monte Carlo home, or in the streets of a Third World country, it’s nice to feel like you have some friendly unknown company.  Of course if one chooses to live in a compound, or only among other Americans, then the foreign culture stays foreign and distant, and you will never find the serendipitous experiences.  If you find yourself frustrated that your hosts don’t understand more English… if you are mistrustful and/or fearful whenever you are among the natives and out of your home, or building, or community… if you think the local food is bad/scary/dirty… if you look for the negative… then the expat lifestyle probably isn’t for you.

But…   if you are adventurous, have a positive outlook, and are flexible; if you are seeking to experience and know a foreign culture by immersing yourself into it; then you surely appreciate those brief and seemingly insignificant serendipitous moments.  At the same time they remind you of home and and also remind you that the wonders of your adopted culture have become (or are becoming) natural and routine to you.

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Gringo Population Boom – Real or imagined?

During the past week or two… and certainly not coincidentally occurring at the same time as the recent IL Blitz about luxury living in an Ecuadorian Paradise… I’ve read quite a few message board threads and blog posts about concerns of the growing North American expat population, especially in Cuenca.  Since I have my own curiosity over the actual number of Yanks living permanently in Ecuador, I set off looking for some statistics.  They are impossible to find online.   Lots of opinions but no real data.   However, during my search I did come across some interesting bits of information that when looked at todos juntos, show a situation I wasn’t expecting to find.

First, I ran across this post from looloo, about a ride on the #8 bus.  Her photo, at the bottom of her post of the Andean Mansion, made me think of the countless Hispanic laborers I see around town every day and who are standing in line at my local Publix Supermarket on Thursdays and Fridays at the Western Union Office.  I’d love to have the statistics of how much money is wired to Latin America just from this one store every week.  But seeing looloo’s photo and imagining one of those men saving enough to buy a house like that is no stretch at all.  That being said, the post or photo tells me nothing about the veracity of reports of “a few thousand” Gringos living in Cuenca driving the cost of Real Estate up.

The American Embassy doesn’t have figures.  IL has opinion surveys that aren’t useful data, and I haven’t found any fact based articles in any media publication.  I did, however come across a post from the Cuenca based group blog, Cuenca High Life.

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Posted in Cost of Living, Cuenca, Research, Thoughts | 1 Comment

Cost of Living

One common theme I’ve run across in the various blogs and message boards I’ve been reading is the skepticism of the published and advertised costs of living in Ecuador.  IL may tout the ability to live on as little as $600 per month, but most opinions I have read, and the experiences of those who have shared, is that $600 is really low.  Granted, that may be plenty for a select few, but it provides a standard of living below what most retirees are expecting.  So what is a realistic number?

Well, here are a couple of different reports of monthly expenses that have been shared by some Cuenca bloggers.

Jason and Donna at Expats Again kept track of their August expenses:  Total, $865.42.  They have no expense line for rent, and in their words:

“I would say we are on the low end, meaning what you read about living on $500 a month is hogwash. It is very affordable but most of what you read on some of those sites promoting Cuenca and monthly expenses are certainly not current.”

Bill and Loretta, at Our Ecuador, have posted two different budgets covering the costs of living in two different sized apartments.  They include rent in their report, but for comparison sake, here are the two totals, minus rent.  First an example of what they think is reasonable with a minimalist approach:  $1060.  Secondly, their actual expenses for their family of three: $2070 which also includes $250 private school tuition that most retirees won’t be spending.

So in these 3 separate scenarios, the monthly costs for a couple would run between $850 and $1850 PLUS rent, if you don’t buy.  Still affordable but a far cry from the $600 that IL has been reporting.

Each of us will decide for ourselves what it means, but from my perspective, a healthy dose of skepticism in International Living’s reporting is a prudent thing to have.  While I don’t blame the magazine for the rapid growth and inflation in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and now Ecuador, I do think they are taking advantage of the situation, and even fanning the fire a little.

The fact is, there is an increasing number of people looking for a place to retire in relative comfort, that the USA is increasingly unable to provide.  Meanwhile the world keeps getting smaller, and the undeveloped countries are developing, providing us with a lot of new and different options.  IL has nothing to do with that.

So, from my perspective… a guy who is looking to settle in Latin America but is still a couple of years away from retirement, I’m a bit jealous of those folks already there.  I worry that when the time comes, my dream will be nothing but fantasy.  Although I look forward to having other expat friends, I would also like to be able to go a week or more without running across any other Norteamericanos.  But, I’m not sure that’s even possible today in Cuenca, let alone in 3 years when I hope to be moving.  Is Salinas heading for the same situation?  I hope not.

I imagine that for quite some time we’ll be able to find a place at the coast that hasn’t been over-run with Americans, but we’ll have to look harder and a little further than those before us did.

At any rate, thank you Jason & Donna and Bill & Loretta for giving us a snapshot of actual expenses, it’s much appreciated.

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Learning Spanish – FSI Courses

I can’t believe the variety and volume of language resources available on the web.  With way too much extra time on my hands, I’ve been wading through some of the resources and playing with some.  Some are great, some are commercial and some are scams.  I’m going to try to sort through  to find the best and most helpful places.

I am building a page of links to various websites and plan on posting a short review of each one, both to help me keep the places organized and hopefully to help others.  You can find the page in the header menu above.

The first resource I’ll look at is a complete language course with the added benefit of it being completely free.  It’s the Foreign Service Institute’s Program for Spanish.  I actually have experience with their Italian Course, as I took it while living in Italy 25 years ago.  It is a government course that has now passed into the public domain so that We the People, can take advantage of the work put into designing and building the training.

Of course the course materials are not particularly convenient to download and use, but if you do have the time and motivation, it is a proven way of learning Spanish in fairly short order.  Some folks will be put off my the poor quality of the printed course material as they were put together by government workers in 1961 and in 1982.  Yes, that means double spaced type written pages in the old courier font with hand drawn illustrations.  Still, despite the dated material, it works.  For at least a couple of decades, this is the same course material used by the Defense Language Institute.  If you want to speak, and understand spoken Spanish, this course works, even if getting all the course materials is a challenge.  I’m using it and I recommend it.

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Banner Symbolism

I’ve put a new header up today.  The photo is the Bridge of Lions, Florida’s Route A1A crossing Matanzas Bay into St. Augustine.  My symbolic bridge between La Florida and Ecuador… between A1A and La Ruta del Sol.

For anyone interested, here’s a short history lesson involved in the name of Matanzas Bay.

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