IWTYAL 206: How I designed my new Spanish course

In this solo episode I discuss the design and creation of my new Spanish course for beginners.

Episode Summary:

  • Why I created a Spanish Beginner course
  • The main aims of the course
  • The concept I landed on
  • How it all came together through story

Resources Mentioned In Today’s Episode:

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 Full Transcript:

Good morning everybody, welcome back to the I will Teach You a Language podcast. I hope you’re having a fantastic day. I’m using a new microphone today, in fact I’m testing out the microphones that we’re using for the recordings for the conversations product that we’re doing this month. In fact, we’re about to start the recording for the German conversations in just about an hour or so, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to record a quick podcast episode using the mics that we’ve got. So how does it sound, is it better than normal? Does it make a difference? Do you even care? Sometimes I wonder whether microphone quality really matters. Let me know, tweet me @olly_IWTYAL, that’s a terrible twitter handle or you can search Olly Richards on Twitter and you’ll find me there. Let me know whether you like the microphone, if you do, maybe I’ll use this one on a more permanent basis.

Anyway, I’d like to thank the sponsors of the show, these are the people that make this show possible and it’s the place that I get all of my language lessons typically. I tend to divide my language practice into two parts, language partners that I meet locally here in London and then speaking sessions I have online because it’s just so much more convenient. And if you’d like to get a free lesson, you can get $10 worth of free credit in fact by going to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/free lesson. Go and do it, it’s well worth it.

Alright, so in this episode I thought I would take… here’s what’s going on. As you know, I’ve been working on a beginner’s Spanish course for a while and it’s the first time I’ve actually created a language course for beginners, like to teach a language from scratch. And as it happens, there’s a beta version that is released this week and if you’ve been following me on the email list, if you’ve been receiving my emails and actually opening and reading them, you may have decided to join the beta group. So that’s that but I thought that it would be interesting to talk a bit about the creation process of a course. I know lots of you guys are language teachers, many of you would like to be language teachers and many of you actually take language courses and so you will have had the experience of going through a language course in some form. Definitely as a learner but also maybe as a teacher.

So I thought it might be interesting to talk about the process that I’ve been through to create this beginner’s course in Spanish because I’m really, really proud of it and I really like it. I’m not just saying that because it’s my course but a lot of time and thought and energy has gone into this and so those of you who are interested in course creation, I thought you might like to hear my process. So here’s the thing, when I first started to conceive of this course, I guess that everyone does this. When you make a language course everyone sits down and thinks, “Well how can I make the best course ever?”

So I’m not going to sit here and claim that this course is a revolutionary course and it’s the best course ever and it’s a new way to learn a language blah, blah, blah because everybody says that. So there’s no point in me saying that but I will tell you, the main considerations that have gone into it because at least then that kind of gives you an idea, at least then you kind of know, “Okay, well that sounds like something I’d like to do,” or not. So there are a few main considerations, the first of which actually comes from my experience running the fluent Spanish Academy, which until now has always been for intermediate level learners and up. So I get to meet and speak to a lot of people who are struggling at that intermediate level in Spanish.

And I have observed a few things that happen to people and there are two big things that happen. The first thing is that people complain, “Oh man, I can’t understand Spanish speakers when they’re speaking because it’s all so fast and I panic when I don’t understand a word,” et cetera et cetera et cetera. So listening comprehension is a big deal and it has the effect that if you don’t understand something, you then start to avoid conversations with people because it gets a bit scary. The second thing is speaking and people say things to the effect of, “When it comes time to speak I kind of freeze up because I can’t put sentences together as quickly as I can, when I’m just studying by myself and it takes me too long to remember words and put together sentences in the right order.”

So there’s this kind of double whammy if you like of not being able to understand Spanish speakers and then not being able to actually talk and you can imagine if you struggle with those two things you’re in trouble, right. It doesn’t make language very easy. So from the beginning I wanted to create a course that really sets you up for those two things, so that whatever else happens in the course you learn to develop the ability to understand spoken Spanish and you also develop the ability to speak Spanish yourself. Now none of this happens overnight, it takes months and months and months but as long as you’re doing things that are likely to help you get good at those two things, as long as you’re studying in a way that is likely to help you develop the ability to understand and speak; then over time you will get there.

The problem is, so often people just get stuck in their textbooks and they avoid speaking and they never listen to much Spanish. That they can study for months or even years and not get any further. So one of the things that my kind of approach is for this, is to say, “Look, I’m not going to give you a shortcut here. It’s not going to be a ‘Learn Spanish in a Month’ kind of course because that’s silly.” But what I do want to do, is give you the materials and get you to study in such a way that you develop into a competent, confident and agile user of Spanish by the time you get to the end of the program. So the question was, how do I do that? What is the best way to actually set you off learning Spanish so that you do develop those abilities? Time and time again, the reason I didn’t create this course earlier was because I wasn’t really sure exactly how to do that. I wasn’t the best way to do it but the more I thought about the course and the more I thought about what I wanted to create, the more I kept coming back over and over again to the idea of story.

Now as I’m sure you know, if you’re a regular listener, I have a series of short story books in lots of different languages that you can get on Amazon. These are mostly- there are short stories for beginners or short stories for intermediate learners and they’ve been wildly popular. They’ve been at the top of- I was super grateful, they’ve been at the top of the listings on Amazon, the Amazon foreign language section, for years now and people write to me on a daily basis say how much they enjoyed the books and this thing of story just comes up over and over again. So I realise that if people enjoyed story this much then why not base everything on I do now- I started off thinking, why not base this course on story?

And it’s becoming more and more like how I want to pitch my whole brand really. It’s about creating language learning materials that are founded on story. So really this Spanish beginner’s course is my playground for experimenting with this idea. So what I did is I went out and I created a story that is in 20 chapters. 20 chapters because I think a good length for a course is about 20 modules, bearing in mind it’s a substantial course that takes you all the way to intermediate level. So 20 modules, just like most textbooks have 15, 20 units. So the course is in 20 parts and so the story is over 20 parts and what I did was I created this story in simple Spanish, so that even as a beginner you can start to read and understand it.

Now obviously in your first few lessons, if you’ve never learnt Spanish before its difficult to understand but that’s all part of the approach because alright, in the first couple of lessons you struggle to understand but the point is that you start listening to real Spanish from the beginning. Okay, so the story is written- it’s a very cool story about three friends who find this kind of dusty old book about Spain, in a library and they actually go off to Spain and they travel around Spain looking for all the clues they find in this book and discovering Spain and Spanish and Spanish culture along the way. So in every module of the course what you do, is basically you read a chapter of the book and you listen to it because we have like- I got the audio professionally recorded as well.

So you get to read the chapter, you get to listen to the chapter and then you read the English translation of the chapter of the story later and you basically just immerse yourself in that. Even if you don’t understand or even if you struggle, it doesn’t matter. You read a bunch of times, you listen a bunch of times, and then after that we get into the teaching part of the modules. So I break it down and I have these video lessons where I can teach you the stuff from the story. So the main grammar and the main vocabulary from the story, I teach you in these video lessons and worksheets and things like that. But the main point here is that every module of the course revolves around this chapter from the book.

Now think about it, if you spend all your time- if when you’re studying and learning a new language, if you spend all of your time reading and listening by the time you get to the end of the course, you’ve spent dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of hours actually reading and listening to real Spanish. Now you compare that to what most people do, which is you kind of get a textbook and maybe listen to a bit of audio here and there and watch a few TV programs that are far too difficult and then struggle through the occasional conversation. Like you spend very little time actually listening but the way I’ve kind of thought about this, is to give you Spanish that is at a very easy and accessible level, while still being challenging and then to say, “Right, you’re going to spend all of your time listening and reading to this and then anything you don’t understand, we explain all that in the lessons themselves.”

So by doing that, by spending all this time listening and reading along at the same time, you develop your listening skills so that you get used to listen to Spanish. Then after going through the whole course and completing the whole book, having read this entire book in Spanish you are going to have really good strong listening skills, not to say you’re going to understand everything; that wouldn’t be realistic but you’re used to the sounds of Spanish. You’re used to listening to the language, to picking out words, to listening to the sound of a native speaker’s voice. I think that level of listening is something that people really don’t get enough of and yet still wonder why it is they don’t understand native speakers. So anyway, this is the kind of concept I ended up landing on with when creating this course. Is I want to really give the best possible material and the amount of exposure; so that’s what became the engine of the course.

Now the second thing I mentioned earlier was the problem with speaking and it’s the fact that if you don’t… well how can I say it? Irrespective of how you actually study, everyone gets to a point where they want to go and speak Spanish with somebody but they freeze up when they do and there’s only one reason that happens, right; its nerves and pressure that come from talking to somebody you don’t know, in real time. So it’s pretty straightforward to solve that. What it means is you have to get regular practice speaking, throughout your journey of learning a language and again, this is something many people avoid. People say to themselves, “Right, I’m going to study until I’m at intermediate level, then I’ll start speaking,” but of course you’ve just wasted the last year or two not taking advantage of the time and opportunity to actually speak.

So what I needed to do, I knew that with this course what I had to do, was build in this opportunity to speak and to talk. Now obviously being an online course and not being a face-to-face class, I’m limited in what I can do to actually get people- to get students to actually speak but for me there are two parts to this. The first part is the speaking practice you can do on your own, this is how you try; you just practice speaking at home. Going through exercises, creating little monologues that you read, practising the words you say, externalising, and verbalising stuff. All these little things you can do by yourself that really get you used to just speaking and pronouncing.

Then the second thing is actually speaking with real people and trying out the stuff that you’ve learned. So what I decided to do on the course to facilitate this, was to have a speaking section at the end of every module. So imagine you begin module one and then you spend all that time listening and reading to the story, so your comprehension is strengthening. Then you study all of the words and the grammar and the phrases that I’ve chosen from that chapter and you spend a lot of time actually kind of studying in a more traditional sense. Then we have a pronunciation lesson where you work on your pronunciation and then finally, you get to the speaking section. So what I do, is I have you do two things.

First of all there’s a set of exercises that take the words and phrases from the chapter of the book and give you these exercises to practice by yourself at home but then there’s a series of expansion tasks which you can take to your friend or your teacher or your language partner or whoever it may be and it’s actually written in Spanish. So you literally just hand it to them and what it says, what it tells them is, “Look, the student has been- this is what they’ve just learned,” and it lists the words and the phrases and the grammar. “Here’s what they’ve learned and here is how you can help them practice it. So here are the exact exercises; here’s what to ask them.” So all you’ve got to do is then hand it to somebody who can then help you practice those specific things that you’ve been learning from the unit.

So what that creates is this kind of cycle whereby you start by doing a lot of listening, a lot of input; you learn, you listen to the sounds of Spanish. You learn these new words and phrases, you study this grammar, and then you practice that exact same stuff. You practice speaking it by yourself and then with somebody so you’ve got this complete cycle of learning something and practising it. Learning it and practising it, using it around and round and round. So imagine then if you kind of keep that up over the entire course, how used to Spanish you’re going to be by the end of it, and you go through that with 20 complete modules. All the time that you’re spending listening, all the time that you’re spending then practising and speaking.

For me this is- it took me a while to land on this as a concept but it really strikes me as a very efficient, very targeted, very deliberate way of going about learning a language. And again, I’m not going to say it’s easy but for me, with language learning it’s not so much about, “Is this easy? Is this quick and easy?” it’s much more about, “Does this work?” because I know that you know that learning a language takes time and you don’t get overnight results. I think you would be happy and you can tell me if I’m wrong about this but for the most part, you understand you have to work at it, right? The only thing that you really want is to know that after you spend a certain amount of time studying and learning, you are actually going to be able to speak that language at the end. So all that really matters is the way that you set about studying actually works.

So for me, it’s that combination of things. It’s giving you a lot of listening and reading material at the beginning and then at the end it’s giving you a lot of different opportunities to practice speaking that stuff. And the thing that ties it all together is this story and it’s the fact that you follow these characters through their journey and you read and listen to an entire book during the course. And for me the fact that the story is there gives it that element of fascination and intrigue. It pushes you, it makes you want to learn. So there we go, like that’s basically how I’ve gone about putting together this course. There’s a lot that I haven’t mentioned here, like obviously there’s a lot of written exercises, there’s a whole bunch of pronunciation videos and things like that as well.

And we do things like for example, one of the things that we focus on after reading the chapter of the book, is we look at the cognates. So we look at the words in Spanish which you kind of get for free from English because they’re very similar, like the word nación, which means nation or región which means region, nativo which means native. Like these words that you can learn very, very quickly because they’re almost the same as English. So we kind of go through this process of that as well, of teaching those cognates before moving on to the more difficult stuff. So there’s a lot of stuff there that I haven’t really been through but in terms of the concept of the course; that is how I’ve gone about conceptualising it and putting it all together.

So there you go. What do you think? Does that sound like an appealing course? Is it the kind of course that you would like to study yourself? Do you think it would work for you? It’s very different from all these modern app based courses where you just kind of press buttons and have these kind of really quick win type approaches to learning it. I really much prefer the more in-depth approach and that’s what I’m going for. Let me know if it’s something that you like or whether you would question or challenge any of the things I’ve said in its efficacy. You can come and leave a comment on the show notes, iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode206.

Likewise, if you’d like to ask me a question for the podcast, please do. You can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask to do that and at the end of every episode I like to leave you with a resource of some kind on the topic of the show and you might have guessed what’s coming. As I mentioned earlier, I am releasing this new course and it’s actually Fluent Spanish Academy Beginners, this is what the course is called and it’s a complete Spanish course to take you from the complete beginner stage all the way up to intermediate level. The idea being that you start with this course and then at the end that leads perfectly onto the Fluent Spanish Academy, which is the main Spanish training program that I have.

And I am asking for beta members, now these are people who will basically kind of test run the course and will give me feedback on it basically. So you go through the course, it’s the complete course, it’s totally finished; you go through it and you give me feedback on it to let me know which bits you like, which bits you don’t. Anything that’s missing, anything you want me to add, all of that stuff. Now over email I’ve been asking people for expressions of interest and I’ve been very deliberately making people jump through hoops if you like because I don’t want just anybody going through this because I’m looking for good quality feedback but because you are a podcast listener and you are so cool, I wanted to mention this on the podcast as well. Just to make sure that if this is something that you’re interested in, you do get the opportunity because part of the deal with beta membership is that you get 50% off the price of the course.

So it’s kind of worth it if it’s something that you’re interested in. It’s not a cheap course because it’s so comprehensive, it is a full Spanish program, but if you are interested in joining us at beta member I will give you half price enrolment. And if you would like to find out more about that then head over to the show notes, iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode206, and I’ll put a link there where you can find the page, the information page for the course and if you’d like to join up, you can. There’s a very short time window for this, the date that this book course goes out will, I think be the 31st of July if I’m not mistaken and the enrolment period for this will be open for a week. So you’ve probably got up until around the 7th or 8th of August at the latest. So yes, a bit of a time constraint there but if you are interested please hop over to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode206 and you can find some more information there.

Alright then, hope you enjoyed that. A bit of insight into the crazy workings of my brain, thanks for listening and I’ll see you in the next episode of the podcast.

Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode, I really hope you enjoyed it. You know, one of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don’t forget them later in conversation when you really need them. So what I decided to do was to put together a short email course, it’s a three part email course over three days that teaches you my favourite techniques for memorising vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary into your long-term memory. It’s a short course, three days, it’s completely free, and if you’d like to sign up for it please go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememorycourse.

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  • David Brown

    I love the new mic, nice clean high frequency and smooth low end, and the room you are recording in sound nice an neutral, keep up the great work.

    • Thanks for the feedback David! I was actually just borrowing it from a friend, but it looks like I might have to get me one of them.

      Sounds like you know a thing or two about audio!