The "do something" attitude
As I was settling into what I thought would be another wonderful year in Colombia, 2020 had other plans.
Like much of the world, everything began to close, cutting off social life and all the rest of your regularly scheduled programming. Besides some contract work, which was quickly drying up, I really didn’t have much else going on.
But having spent the last couple years in Colombia, I had picked up quite a bit of the language and felt confident in my ability. So to pass the time and actually produce something, I decided to give a Spanish-learning website a go.
The details of what’s on the site, as well as some background on how I built it are what follows.
I wanted to force myself to take it seriously, so I purchased a domain name and web hosting along with it.
It wasn’t too much coin, but I plunked down enough that I’d feel lousy not delivering something that at least resembled a learning program.
A few clicks and adjustments later and it was official; speakspanishpronto.com was born.
Set you straight
Some of the inspiration for the lessons came from years of frustration and a lack of results when trying to learn Spanish.
I decided to develop the lessons with simplicity in mind. More importantly, I wanted to start the course off with something I though was missing from a lot of courses–the sounds!
Any beginner’s accent is going to sound rough. That’s just how it goes. But skipping these crucial building blocks severely slows progress and often results in a complete break from ever wanting to practice again.
So the lessons start with the sounds. Then they build slowly into important phrases. And finally they tackle the basic grammar rules which give Spanish its structure.
Throughout the lessons I included audio clips, which often take the form of a short interaction between two people.
Audio is critical to developing your ear for the language, so it’s featured in nearly every lesson.
Why should I listen to a 'gringo' speak Spanish?
First of all, I feel 12% Colombian, so easy with the name-calling.
Secondly, as far as sounds are concerned, I enlisted the help of my girlfriend at the time, a Colombian native. Fortunately for the learner, I tasked her with the bulk of the audio recording.
99% of the time, she was up for it.
So her voice is the main source of audio, giving the tracks their authenticity.
Struggle to success
In terms of actually learning Spanish from a native English speaker, I believe there are some overlooked benefits. The main one is perspective.
I have experience struggling in Spanish. Most natives can’t say that. It’s the same with most native English speakers. In terms of basic communication, most never struggle within their own language.
My approach is different because I too started from zero.
Some of my lessons are meant to minimize study time while maximizing results. Natives of any language don’t think like that because they don’t have to be efficient with their time. They have all their life to learn the language as they progress from childhood into adult life.
A non-native learner at age 20 or 40 doesn’t have the “luxury of absorbing it” as he goes along.
Life after sounds
After the sounds and alphabet, the lessons follow what a typical person studying the language might want to do–use the language to interact on an international trip.
Therefore the beginning 12 or so lesson focus on scenarios that would happen when you arrive in Mexico or Peru.
You study greetings, introductions and go through travel-related examples.
Once the language begins to sound familiar, I spend a few lessons going through basic grammar, so that you can sharpen your approach and begin to build small sentences on your own.
From there, the material begins to deviate from a traditional course. I wanted to include what learners of many other languages have discovered–there are cheat codes to breaking through in a language.
What I mean is that there are ways to drastically reduce the content you study by focusing on only the most important and most frequently used bits.
I outline this in the Beginner’s Conversational Guide to Spanish.
In a few of the lessons, we go through the background of how these frequency lists were created and how it can shorten the time it takes you to feel comfortable in Spanish.
So that’s the jist of the website and what you can expect to find.
Technical side behind the website
The website design and implementation of lessons were a learning experience for me. I needed a lot more functionality than I’ve previously needed on this site.
Speak Spanish Pronto is built with a simple template I adapted from the WordPress world of design.
Since I previously tweaked a few things here and there on this site, I was familiar enough with the basic setup, namely, the domain purchase and the website hosting.
I forget where I read that keeping the domain registration and hosting with separate companies was the way to go, but I did indeed go this route.
I’ve used the customer service at SiteGround a handful of times and they’re truly spectacular.
Never used the CS at Namecheap, but i like the prices and their service and will continue to use them.
OK. Sales pitch over.
New Stuff Under the Hood
I originally made the lessons available exculsively offline because they were designed in Word and convereted to PDFs. At the time this was the only way I was able to fit them in a readable way.
I then took painstaking long time to slowly convert all of them into a new format I discovered along the way.
It’s called Elementor and it’s excellent. Elementor is a WordPress plugin and is easy as heck to setup and get started with.
One goodie (for me) of using Elementor was that I was able to structure my lessons a bit like the PDFs I had originally set up, but with the distinct ability of using audio files inside.
Originally I had the audio separate but really loathed the idea of the reader having to pause and find her way through the lesson while simultaneously navigating the long recordings.
Plus, Elementor has a few other cool features, like mobile and tablet preview, enabling you to design while putting a bit more focus on the end-user.
You can download the Elementor plugin here. I use the free version, but may have to take a look at the paid version once I squeeze the last drops of functionality out of the current one.
It might be awhile though–there’s a lot you can do here without spending a dime.