My Story – Why I Created The Let’s Start Talking! Conversational Spanish Program
If you are reading this, chances are you are really interested in the “Let’s Start Talking” Spanish program that I created.
But for now, I want you to stop and ask yourself these three questions:
- What is my student retention rate and could it be better?
- Can I be doing something better for my students?
- Can I make it easier for my students to learn Spanish?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, keep reading…
Before I tell you too much about my books, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you my story and why I am doing the work that I am doing for our community.
My life mission is dedicated to helping people unlock their full potential through education, communication, and spiritual growth, which will have a positive impact on our world and strengthen our local communities.
I have 15+ years of experience teaching Spanish and English to adults. Since 2007, I have been the Director of The Language School, a Denver based school that teaches adults conversational Spanish and English (ESL) so students can finally speak the new language. Their new bilingual Spanish/English conversation skills enable them to speak easily at work, in their communities, and during their travels. Because of this, our students are able to get high-quality jobs and employers can better retain their skilled workers in culturally diverse settings.
I will be honest – this is an incredibly hard job that requires so much work. I didn’t imagine doing this work when I was younger, but it is very rewarding when you can see the positive impact you have on someone’s life and your community. I don’t think there is anything as powerful as learning how to speak a new language. It enabled me to travel the world and make so many friends, as well as learn to think about things from other viewpoints.
Learning how to speak a new language was not easy for me. People usually don’t believe this because I have mastered my second language, Spanish, and have become a Spanish professor. But it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was a long journey of years of living in doubt and uncertainty. But I really, really wanted to learn how to speak it, so I kept going. I tried everything. I did full immersion in other countries and university programs here. Name the software program and I have tried it. In all, I have studied Spanish in almost ten different schools and in five different countries. I had a lot of fun along the way, but there were so many times when I asked myself – “why I am doing this?”
What I learned from this experience is that there are many different ways to study a language. About four years into my Spanish studies I found a school in Argentina that had a fantastic, conversation-based program that made it fun. Over the next six months, I finally understood the language and I mastered it. They removed the grammar from the classroom and made it all about the conversation. Interestingly enough, this is how I mastered the grammar. You see, when the focus is on grammar and rules, it can be very confusing. On the other hand, when you concentrate on speaking, the magic happens.
Think about it this way – you learned how to speak your first language from your parents. Did they give you a grammar book? Could they even explain grammar rules to you now? Probably not. It’s not natural to learn grammar before speaking.
In 2012, an economist named Bryan Caplan did a study on students that were learning a new language in the United States, and found that only 1% of language students develop fluency in the language they are studying. This means that 99% of language students never learn how to speak the language they are learning.
You can see the study here:
The reason why most students never learn how to speak the language is that most language programs aim to teach academic language skills as opposed to conversational language skills. It is a much more complex and impractical approach that simply doesn’t work. In academic circles, this methodology is known as Language as a Subject Matter. This is what Americans do with their own language in high school and college to perfect their communication skills and to be able to write professionally or academically. However, as you probably know, the way we really speak English has very little to do with the way an academic paper is written
In contrast, most Europeans start studying a new language at a much younger age and from a conversational practice. This methodology makes it much easier and more fun for the students, so they really learn how to speak the new language. In academic circles, this is known as Language Acquisition.
Language as a Subject Matter is the dominant form of teaching languages in the United States, and the reason why people don’t learn how to speak the language. The focus is on grammar and rules, reading and writing, and almost zero emphasis on speaking the language.
The dominant model of teaching languages in Europe is Language Acquisition, and is geared towards developing listening comprehension and speaking skills. So, the point is, your ability to learn how to speak a new language has almost nothing to do with you, but rather with the type of language program you are in. If you study Spanish in a traditional program in the United States, you are studying Spanish as a Subject Matter, and you have a 1% chance of becoming fluent.
I realized that we needed to change the way that we do things in the United States, so I created the “Let’s Start Talking” Spanish program to help my students really start speaking Spanish from day 1, and this has made such a big difference!
Don’t get me wrong. I love grammar. I’m a real nerd when it comes to it and my friends just love how I constantly insist on speaking correctly. But really, we study grammar when we are in high school and college, after speaking the language for years. So why do so many second language programs focus on grammar?
When I got back from that semester abroad in Argentina in 2005, my college professors invited me to start tutoring Spanish and helping students that were struggling. Later I kept tutoring on the side after moving to Boulder, Colorado. Increasingly, I was getting more requests from adults that didn’t want to study in a traditional college program, and wanted to start talking from the beginning.
At the time, my full time job was doing sales and marketing for a start-up software company that was on the verge of disaster. It was not a fun part of my life. Teaching Spanish, however, gave me much joy, and I decided to quit my corporate software job and founded The Language School.
Around this point, I also moved to Denver, and my student base completely changed. I had been accustomed to teaching Spanish to very well educated and affluent working professionals in Boulder, people that just got it. They all learned it so easily. In Denver, however, I started teaching English to an immigrant community that came from much more humbler means. It is not uncommon for me to work with someone that never even made it past the third grade.
My first English classes were complete failures. I had essentially reverse-engineered my college textbooks to teach English, but they were too academic. Then I remembered how hard the grammar-based approach was for me, so I started experimenting with other books. I found that there were hundreds of books on the market. Books for writing, books for grammar, books for kids, books for adults. But none of them met my needs, and more importantly, they weren’t practical for teaching my students practical English for everyday conversations at work or in their communities.
Oddly enough, I couldn’t find very many books that focused on Spanish speakers, and the ones that were there weren’t very practical. I found a really good series of books for immigrants, but I ran into a huge challenge. They were written in pure English. So my students that were truly starting from zero didn’t benefit from them because they couldn’t understand them.
I could relate. My first experience studying Spanish was similar. I thought that pure immersion was the best way to learn Spanish, so I got on a plane and flew to Spain to enroll in an intensive Spanish program. Unfortunately, my Spanish teacher didn’t speak a lick of English, and I had no idea what she was saying. 4 hours a day, Monday through Friday, for a full month of bla bla bla bla David bla bla ¿entiendes? No, “I don’t understand” I wanted to scream!!! It was so incredibly frustrating. Humiliating. Humbling. Lonely. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Culture shock at its worst!
There is a very odd and troubling outlook on teaching English, in my opinion, and that is that it should be done pure immersion-style from the beginning. I simply don’t agree and think this does way more harm than good. It makes people feel bad. For an adult, there is nothing more humiliating than taking away his or her ability to communicate with someone. I know this because I lived it.
I think pure immersion has its place for intermediate and advanced students, but for true beginning, adult students, it is terrible. I couldn’t understand why this was the outlook for teaching English here and all over the world, so I started my own school and started publishing my own books.
The results have been phenomenal. So many of my students at The Language School not only started speaking English in three months or less, they continue to study with us for almost 2 years. Many decide they want to master the language and spend even longer with us! Because of the great success of this new methodology I had created, I decided to copy this style for teaching Spanish, and it is wildly successful too.
I have come to realize that teaching a new language like Spanish is all about creating a program for my students that combines the right amount of:
It’s like magic. My students start speaking Spanish conversationally in 3 months, or sooner. This is in only 15 hours of instruction!
I have to provide a full disclosure caveat here, because most people just don’t believe this. Not everyone will learn how to start speaking Spanish in 15 hour. Also, my claim is very much centered around the words START SPEAKING. This does not mean that students will be able to master the language, nor speak it fluently in this time. This really means that they will be able to start speaking Spanish with people at work, in their communities, or during their travels. They will be able to order food in Spanish, buy things, and introduce themselves to new friends. In this amount of time they should be prepared to make small talk with new acquaintances.
The 15 hours also only refers to the class time – students also have to commit to following the program, which also means doing homework, memorizing new vocab, and practicing every change they get. Students have to be willing to make mistakes, and put themselves out there. Really shy or reserved people, or students that aren’t willing to do their part on the homework, will not be so successful.
I hope that addresses your skepticism – learning how to speak a new language fluently will take much more time than this, and there is no shortcut to mastering the language. However, the program and the teacing style can make a huge difference. Teaching conversational Spanish enables students to start speaking quickly, and when they see the fast results from this program, it motivates them to keep learning.
Well, caveat aside, the ones that work the program really do start speaking Spanish in 3 months or less, and typically continue to study with us for the next 2 years!
These are students that tried other programs and thought it was impossible. It is a common story that one of my students has tried to learn Spanish in highschool, and then again in college. Most of my adults students have also tried Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. Many more think they can learn by just watching YouTube and attending meetups. I think most people at this point just give up, and think that it is impossible to learn.
But when they finally come to The Language School and use the Let’s Start Talking program, they fall in love with the language and start getting their confidence back.
Chances are you work for one of these more traditional schools and use a grammar based program. I’m not trying to insult your work by any means and I greatly admire the work that you do. If you are teaching at a highschool or college, the majority of your students don’t really want to be there, and there hasn’t been a conversational program available for you because this hasn’t existed in the past. The topic of Language Acquisition vs. Language as a Subject Matter is a fairly new idea, and most people in the United States haven’t been exposed to the conversational model. It’s totally natural to doubt it and be skeptical about it.
Over the years, I have taught both English and Spanish in a variety of situations. I started teaching English very informally in 2001 when I got serious about learning Spanish as a language exchange partner. Later, I began tutoring students at my college and for a few other organizations in the local area. After I graduated from college, I continued tutoring and ultimately started my own school. I always asked myself 3 important questions, and you should be asking yourself the same:
- Can I be doing something better?
- Can I make it easier for my students?
- Can I improve my student retention rate?
I started The Language School in 2007, and began writing books in 2012. The program that I have created for our school, with the help of dozens of Spanish and English professors that I work with, have helped over 9,000 students improve their communication skills in some way.
I believe that education should be open and accessible to all, so I’m sharing this story with you, other language instructors, in the hopes that you will use this spectacular program in your community.
If you have the same questions that I have had over the years about doing things better, this program may be for you. I’m really happy to be sharing this story with you and sincerely hope you will consider trying our books and presentations with your students. Things can always be done better and improved upon, and I am very confident that if you work with adults that want to learn how to speak Spanish, this series will improve your program’s reputation, your students’ comprehension, and more importantly, your entire community will benefit from improved communication.
In the next few days I will send you more specific information about each book and the accompanying presentations, but in the meantime, you can take a sneak-peak at my author page on Amazon for more information about my books, or my store on Teachers Pay Teachers for more about our presentations.
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