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I'm english, 33yo, remote worker with an intermediate level of spanish. I've spent some months living in spain but really struggled to find what I really want - language immersion. I find that spaniards my age often have pretty good english and the places I stay are often pretty international - so lots of english and often minimal spanish from the people around. Sometimes I feel a little frustrated at what seems like my slow language progression and I really feel like if I had something close to full immersion for just a few months I could achieve some good progress.

I'm planning to visit and live in south america, doing the visa-free thing eg. 90/180 days per country. I'm particularly interested in Colombia, Peru, Mexico - probably staying in hostel/coworking spaces but I'm really open-minded - just need reasonable wifi and somewhere to work during the day.

I wanted to ask the community for suggestions/recommendations on how I can improve my chances of immersion - eg. countries, cities or even specific projects/locations to stay at. What kind of thing/place can I do in the evening to meet locals and get some level of immersion? I like staying at places with a community feel eg. with communal cooking, hanging out in the evenings etc. - are there places that are largely spanish speaking where I might be able to find that?

I hear a lot of nice things about Medellín, but given it's international popularity, maybe it's going to have quite a lot of english?

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  • Earlier this year I was in Buenos Aires. Nice country and nice people but almost no one spoke English, not even a little bit.
    – Hilmar
    Sep 15, 2022 at 12:06
  • When I have visited various countries in South America nobody spoke English to me except when I was with another English speaker. My initial level may have been different from yours I suppose. If you are going to be remote working (presumably in English?) you are going to find it difficult to become totally immersed as your work will interfere.
    – mdewey
    Sep 15, 2022 at 13:48
  • As long as you stay away from Brazil and France, I suspect you'll find Spanish speakers.
    – A. R.
    Sep 15, 2022 at 19:02
  • If you want to lose the ability to use English as a crutch, leave the cities and the "tourist trail". I wasn't looking for immersion but that's how I found it especially in less developed countries where folks outside of those areas weren't likely to have learned English in school. Sep 16, 2022 at 2:09

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Immersion is not just about being surrounded by the language but having to practice it constantly. Even in Spain, where I've spend most summers for over a decade, you should have had plenty of opportunity to be immersed. In a professional setting, many would have sufficiently good English to switch over when you struggled but the are so many more people who would not be able to switch to English. You mostly have to make an effort to talk to such people.

South America certainly has a higher percentage of people who don't understand English but you could easily fall into the same pattern of surrounding yourself and interacting by people who do. Generally, the more remote the area the less English is spoken, so by heading to smaller communities, you will get more forced immersion.

Peru and central Ecuador speak a clearer Spanish then most other South American countries. It is easier to learn here and you would have to practice when interacting with people in smaller towns. I was just in Cuenca and Loja a few weeks ago and did not hear any English at all other than a few tourists going through a town plaza. Cuenca used to have many more English-speakers before the pandemic because it is such an easy to access city and is safer than most other major cities in Ecuador. Peru has a huge tourism industry and so if you stay around the main corridor, it will be too easy for people to switch to English. You would have to further off the beaten path there. English is even more rare in Bolivia but I don't know how it compares for co-working spaces. Same goes for Paraguay. Argentina speaks a quite different Spanish and so I would not try to complete learning Spanish there. If you are willing to extend your search to Central America, Guatemala is a wonderful opportunity for immersion. English is rarely spoken and Spanish is very clear.

The main strategy is to go where people cannot communicate in English and ensure that you must interact with them. This became clear to me when I tried to learn Portuguese by going to Brazil. I spend a month watching shows on Netflix with Portuguese audio. Then I flew to Rio and started exploring Brazil. Each time when I had to talk to someone, I started in Portuguese. Within 2-3 sentences they switched to English, this happened from Rio to Salvador but once I reached further north, there was virtually no more English, some people switched actually Spanish, but with most the conversation went on in broken Portuguese. People encouraged me commenting that I spoke a little Portuguese, week 3 arrived and they said I almost spoke Portuguese, by week 7, I learned a new word when someone said that my Portuguese was ótimo (great)! To get there I had spend hours talking with people on the bus, plane, restaurants, hotels and even sitting on top of their buggy while they gave me a ride in Fernando de Norohna.

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  • Might also want to point out that many people in Peru and Bolivia have Aymara or Quecha as their first language so are even less likely to be fluent in English as Spanish is their second language.
    – mdewey
    Sep 17, 2022 at 15:24

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