Welcome to the Big Baselang Review – a review with a twist!
What's the twist?
Let me explain…
Baselang is a service that offers unlimited Spanish tutoring for $149/month. But as a Spanish speaker myself, I thought it would be difficult for me to do a fair review from a learner's perspective.
So I decided to remove myself from the review process completely.
Instead, I anonymously bought two Baselang memberships, and handed them over to two I Will Teach You A Language community members to review the service.
The review you're about to read has been written entirely by Iona and Fiona – the two volunteers.
Their instructions were simple:
Use Baselang for a month. Then, faithfully and honestly report your experience – for better or for worse!
And that's what they did.
I hope this review will help you make an informed decision about signing up to Baselang yourself.
Here's Baselang's offering in a nutshell:
When I told my Facebook community I was creating a Baselang review, they chimed in with a useful suggestion: Do it from both a beginner and intermediate perspective.
I asked for volunteers from the group, and chose Iona – a complete beginner in Spanish, and Fiona – an intermediate Spanish learner.
Iona: I was a complete Spanish beginner, but have studied other languages at University. Having studied from just about every well known brand of language textbook, app and private tutoring website, I was keen to see how the Baselang curriculum and teachers compared with my past learning experiences.
Fiona: I’m at intermediate level Spanish – that dreadful place where you don’t feel you’re moving forwards for ages and you believe that it’ll never improve! I didn’t previously have formal Spanish tuition, I have picked it all up from travelling and necessity, so I was quite nervous about going for real lessons!
I haven't edited anything myself past this point, so you're reading the words of the reviewers themselves.
So, without any further ado, let's get started…
Iona: At first I was a little overwhelmed by how much information is thrown at you during your first visit to Baselang.com, but it’s definitely worth taking your time to read through.
Clearly written by people passionate about language learning, these initial pages and video clips detail how to navigate the site and other apps and free materials which will support your learning.
The ‘Sounds of Spanish’ section is a must, this really kick started my learning and had me reading more or less accurately from the get go.
After completing my profile I was eager to find out more about their teachers, so headed to the teacher bio page.
Most teachers upload a short video introducing themselves and their teaching methods.
This is a great way to get a feel for who you’re going to gel with, and also gauge how good their sound quality is likely to be.
It was great to see teachers of a whole range of ages and personalities, and with a variety of backgrounds from musicians to medical students.
[Editorial note from Olly: While many also have other professions, all tutors are trained, professional teachers.]
I took the time to go through the entire list and came up with a shortlist of ten teachers I thought would match my learning style best.
Fiona: I took a different approach by choosing my tutor at random from the list of available people at that time and getting stuck straight in.
The Sounds Of Spanish course is great and gives really useful tips for how to achieve those difficult pronunciations (yes, the dreaded ‘rr’).
If you experience any difficulties with it you can ask your tutor in the next lesson and they will patiently talk you through it – it’s an invaluable resource.
If you’re thinking of learning Spanish for Spain it is useful to note that all teachers are from Venezuela and therefore teach South American Spanish, and yes, there are differences!
If you know the differences then you can respond using either translation, or just keep mentioning you’re learning for Spain and every teacher will point out the variations, no problem!
Iona: Here is when the panic set in!
I spoke no Spanish apart from the common words like hola and adios that I’ve picked up from films, so booking a lesson right away felt somewhat terrifying!
I’m something of a perfectionist and had planned to dedicate a few days to studying from a book before approaching a teacher, but the site was encouraging me to pick a time slot right away.
So I booked my first lesson that same evening with the top teacher on my shortlist, Yrela.
In her intro video she came across as outgoing and passionate about teaching Spanish, the kind of person who makes you want to learn a language just to have a conversation with them.
In the back of my mind I thought… “well she’s unlikely to get a notification of the lesson I booked with just a few hours to spare,” secretly hoping that I would get a reprieve!
[Editorial note from Olly: I asked for clarification on this, and BaseLang teachers don’t have to “accept” the class – once you book it, it’s booked. They can’t turn it down.]
My lesson time rolled around, and feeling very apprehensive I opened up Skype to find she had already added me and was online waiting to begin our lesson exactly on time.
All insecurities faded away as we launched into lively conversation.
First greetings in Spanish, then a short conversation in English getting to know each other a little.
She asked some questions set by Baselang to determine how best to go forward, including the areas I want to focus on, what kind of materials would I find most interesting, my language learning goals, and was I up for a challenge?
We then launched into the set Baselang curriculum with their Survival Spanish lessons. I learned a great deal in just that first hour, enough to be able to introduce myself to the next hapless Spanish speaker I should find!
Yrela gave great feedback and encouragement, something vital at such an early stage, and I left that first lesson fired up to learn as much as I could before the next.
Later that evening I watched the documentary Connor of Baselang had made about his Spanish learning journey.
As well as being an inspiring insight into rapid language acquisition, it also explains the origins of Baselang, and why they encourage you to take the plunge and get speaking ASAP!
Fiona: The vast majority of the first lesson experience is covered so well by Iona so I won’t repeat that here.
I had my first lesson within 30 minutes of my first log on, so that I didn't have time to worry, and it was absolutely perfect.
My tutor assessed me, my level, my confidence and asked how best to help me then set about doing so.
She knew it was my first lesson and was very encouraging, made it fun by having me practice tongue twisters such as “tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal,” and gave me specific tips for learners that struggle with poor memory.
I finished feeling really positive and eager for the next lesson.
Iona: I found the website design intuitive and easy to navigate from both my laptop and mobile devices.
Only two minor issues were my log-in timing out too fast and that the teachers weren’t listed in alphabetical order, which made choosing my favourite ones a fraction more time consuming than it needed to be. [Olly: I've been told the alphabetical issue has now been fixed.]
Customer service was excellent, any queries were responded to within a few hours, or even minutes, by staff who were helpful and genuinely keen for me to get the most out of the Baselang experience.
Fiona: The website is very simply presented and Baselang offer exquisite customer service giving timely, thorough responses.
I messaged to ask how to locate my progress chart to see how I was getting on but apparently that feature is only for the teachers.
It would be great for students to have access to this as well to take on board comments, but the tutor does give you a review at the end of each lesson anyway – it’s then up to you to remember it!
Iona: My timezone during this Baselang review month was GMT+2 and I was at first disappointed not to find many teachers available earlier in the day.
However there are plenty of great teachers scheduled from the early afternoon onwards.
Baselang gives its teachers different schedules to ensure there are always teachers available between 5am and midnight EST (GMT-5).
Teachers are ready and waiting during these times so you can book classes at the last minute depending on who is available, but I would recommend booking ahead of time if there are teachers you prefer.
You can schedule classes up to four days in advance.
Fiona: My timezone varied between GMT +1 and GMT during the month (I move location a lot)!
As I’m pretty busy I wanted to have my lessons in the morning when I could then sit and concentrate before the pressures of the day, but the earliest available was either 10.30am or 11.30am.
I definitely missed out on learning opportunities because of this and was my greatest issue with the system.
However, if you want to book last minute (again – hectic lifestyle!) there was always someone available within half an hour which is fantastic!
Iona: I was completely amazed at the high quality of teachers on Baselang, in fact better than any teachers I’ve ever had before, including at university.
Each teacher I took lessons with (and I tried dozens!) had their own strengths and vibrant personalities.
I only experienced two that I just didn’t get along with, and the beauty of Baselang is that with over a hundred teachers available, you can simply choose someone else next time, unlike being stuck with the same teacher for an entire semester.
I ended up taking the bulk of my later lessons from my four favourite teachers, each focusing on different aspects of language learning from conversations that had me shedding tears of laughter to picking apart tricky grammar structures, translating song lyrics or learning about Venezuelan folklore such as ‘Florentino y el diablo’ and ‘La sayona.’
I loved how eager each teacher was to share information about the culture, and history of Venezuela, colloquial speech and all those things you can never learn about a country and its language from textbooks alone.
My iTunes playlist was soon full of Latin American artists, I was cooking Venezuelan dishes, hunting down movies recommended by my teachers and surreptitiously checking the price of one way flights to Caracas.
Fiona: The teachers make Baselang the absolutely incredible teaching tool it is. Each teacher has their own way of approaching the lesson which makes it easy to find a tutor (or several!) that you really click with and therefore learn the most with.
They really thought outside the box and adjusted every lesson to what I wanted at the time, always asking if I wanted to follow the curriculum or have a conversation, with some offering listening practice or an activity.
Everybody was really engaging, I spent a lot of time laughing and having conversations about things you would struggle to learn about from a standard textbook or course.
The diversity is matched by encouragement and an eagerness to teach you their language and they genuinely appear pleased to see you and talk with you.
Iona: I’ll admit that I went a little crazy, mostly inspired by Connor’s documentary ‘Spanish in a Month.’
His inspiration plus the infectious personalities of the teachers led to me taking on average three hours of lessons a day and making it through all nine levels of their core curriculum within a month.
However I wouldn’t necessarily encourage this level of insanity as it can quickly lead to burning out.
Taking regular lessons, at least an hour every couple of days will have you well on the way to fluency in no time.
From a beginners point of view the curriculum really was superb and well thought out.
As soon as I got to a stage when I felt I wanted to try and use a certain kind of grammar, more often than not, that was the next lesson in the series.
There are over 150 PDF files which the teachers share with you, or which you can access from the Baselang site to look over before or after a lesson.
Each lesson has a different focus which ranges from new vocabulary, commonly used verbs, verb tenses and other grammar points.
The flow of lessons was also very well thought out.
After any demanding lessons (imperfect subjunctive, yes I mean you!) there would be a few easier lessons to bring confidence levels back up.
Each lesson built upon and incorporated material from the previous ones, allowing constant reinforcement, and links to lesson specific Memrise lists let you revise any new vocabulary between classes.
As well as short exercises and readings, there was also plenty of room to express myself in Spanish, making creative sentences about my own interests and experiences, learning Spanish phrases from my teachers specific to my own life to supplement the set lessons.
The grammar instructions on the PDFs begin in English, but in later levels switch to Spanish which isn’t a bad thing, but can make things confusing if your teacher can’t properly explain it to you in English.
Also if you aren’t familiar with grammatical terms in English, such as past progressive, this could be off-putting.
I’d recommend a quick Google search to familiarise yourself with the tense in English before beginning to study it in Spanish.
At the end of each level you have the choice of taking an end of level test.
At first I found these enjoyable, but after taking a couple that had been numbered wrongly (leading to a stressful session struggling through questions about topics we hadn’t yet covered), I decided to ditch them.
To Baselang’s credit when I emailed them about the problem they responded almost immediately saying they had rectified the mistake.
At the start of each lesson my teachers would ask if I wanted to take a set lesson or have a conversation.
So if you ever feel bogged down in grammar, need a lively conversation to brighten your day, or just feel the need to talk about your cats for two hours solid in Spanish, then the choice is yours!
Fiona: Coming into lessons as an unspecified level (intermediate can range widely) means that I wasn’t sure if I’d already know the material or not, or how to decide where to begin.
So I started from the beginning to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
The vast majority we flew through, covering many lessons each hour, only slowing for the occasional thing that had escaped my disorganised prior learning methods.
Although some exercises could have been repetitive the tutors encouraged me to be creative and expand on my answer, often leading to a conversation so I never got bored (my main issue when learning anything).
Everything appeared to be pitched at the correct level and I didn’t start slowing my progress until I was in their intermediate classes which shows it was a good estimation of level even for informal learners which is very impressive.
Iona: In general I had very few problems with internet connectivity, there was only one lesson where the connection was so bad that it became an issue and another which was actually due to a problem with Skype itself.
It’s a good idea to have a backup application installed such as Google Hangouts or Zoom so you can quickly switch without missing too much of your lesson.
On days where the internet seemed a little sluggish we would switch off our webcams which nine times out of ten let things run more smoothly.
Fiona: Internet connectivity could be an issue in my lessons, but usually only when we both tried to share video and then screen as well.
Once video was turned off the vast majority of issues were solved, and if not a quick call back often resolved the issue. No lessons were cancelled or delayed.
Iona: At first I was anxious about abusing Baselang’s promise of unlimited lessons, would this mean each teacher only got paid a tiny amount per class?
Speaking with a few of my teachers they assured me they are paid a full salary no matter how many lessons they teach, and that this is above average for teachers in Venezuela.
As well as the convenience of working from home, they also enthused about the training and support they receive from their coordinators.
Baselang also invests 1% of their revenue into educating people of all ages from poor communities in South America, it’s a win-win situation all round.
Iona: My month on Baselang was without a doubt the best language learning experience I have ever had.
One quote from Forbes says that Baselang is “the closest thing to immersion you can get without moving to a Spanish-speaking country,” but for me it was even better than immersion.
I’ve been immersed in languages before and never had such a high level of contact with native speakers who are trained to teach their own language.
In fact, this experience has completely transformed my views on language learning.
Speaking from day one really is the key to owning a language, especially with teachers who make you feel comfortable enough to make mistakes and have fun at the same time.
The turning point was two weeks in and realising I’d just had a 90 minute conversation almost entirely in Spanish with one of my teachers.
I was in complete shock!
That had been a struggle for languages I had studied at university for an entire semester in the past.
By the end of the month I was discussing the differences between various Asian languages and their origins, entirely in Spanish (with many mistakes I’m sure) but this still astounds me and is testament in itself to the success of the Baselang system.
My lessons with Baselang became the highlight of my day, not only absorbing the language like a sponge but thoroughly enjoying every minute, going from knowing next to nothing about Venezuela to planning my next vacation there.
I have studied at multiple universities, language learning institutes and with private tutors around the world and have never encountered such a brilliant and dedicated group of teachers full of warmth and vitality.
They are the gems of Baselang, and will leave you not only sharing their passion for the language, but with a yearning to eat arepas under Venezuelan skies and greeting the locals with “¿Como esta la vaina?”!*
*Use this to greet your first teacher on Baselang, it will get you off to a great start!
Fiona: If I was nervous about starting I’m now nervous about not having Baselang in my life!
The teachers have boosted my confidence a huge amount, picked me up on mistakes, taught me new things and made me look forward to every lesson.
As someone who struggles with language learning mainly owing to memory problems I’m blown away by the ability of the teachers and the curriculum to enable learning, it is so close to perfect it’s almost touching the line!
I happily had two hour conversations with teachers, chatting about all sorts of relevant subjects, whist learning a lot of grammar and vocabulary, all whilst not being stressed!
I’m incredibly impressed with this service and think it is fantastic value for money, particularly when the hourly rate is calculated.
I would love to sign up to Baselang again and continue with them as I don’t think I could possibly find a better learning platform.
Thanks for all your work on this Baselang review, Iona and Fiona!
In light of such a positive review, I asked Baselang founder Connor if he would give IWTYAL readers a little incentive for signing up, so he agreed to give you:
Can't say fairer than that!
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