For the last 6 weeks, I have been learning Spanish online with Baselang.com. For a flat rate of $129 USD a month, I have had unlimited hours of very professional teaching – video calling Venezuela for lessons online! 37 hours to be exact, which seems like fantastic value for money. What’s it been like learning Spanish by Zoom? Conocer más…
I decided to start learning Spanish about two months ago. We are currently living in Barbados, but we are planning to move to Miami at some point. Last time I visited Miami, I realised that while most people speak English there, certainly not all do. And, I realised I’d enjoy living there more by fully embracing the Latino side of Miami. Plus, I want to be able to help my children who are learning Spanish at school.
I started hunting around for a Spanish course that I could got to once a week locally, but I didn’t readily find one. There’s nothing obvious advertised online anyway, though I think I could have rung The Spanish Academy or the Barbados Language Centre. There is a very active Alliance Francaise here in Barbados, running classes and a weekly conversation club, which I have been to and is great fun si vous voulez parlar Français!
My Dutch neighbour-friend told me that she had been taking classes with a Bajan Spanish tutor online via Skype. When I first heard the idea, I thought that sounded just plain weird. I couldn’t imagine it.
I thought I would find video calls with strangers unbearably awkward and strange. Talking to someone I’d never met with my babyish Spanish, particularly on Skype where you end up staring at yourself and even conversations in English get pretty odd…
But then, I came across this Baselang review written by a funny Danish polyglot, and watched the inspiring ‘Learn Spanish in one Month’ documentary featuring the Baselang founder Connor Grooms. I was intrigued. For me, the key was going to be practicing speaking Spanish, as I had learnt the basics years before and knew quite a lot of vocabulary. So, the promise of ‘unlimited hours’ of classes for $129 hooked me in! Also, you can try it out for the first week for just $1. There’s no contracts and you can cancel at any time.
My husband was away for a week and I felt like doing something more productive with my evenings, as it is all too easy to sink into the couch after getting the kids to bed! So, I decided to give it a whirl. I signed up and jumped straight into a class there and then, even though I was terrified! It felt like an internet date! As I saw the first Zoom call coming in, I let it ring a long time, dreading answering it. I had no idea what I would be able to say! I’d actually written down a paragraph to introduce myself using the online translating tool at www.spanishdict.com but I knew if they asked me anything I hadn’t written down and prepared, I’d immediately be stuck.
I needn’t have worried at all. Right from the first class, the teachers have been professional and friendly and made me feel completely at ease.
First of all, I chose Baselang’s ‘Dele Exam Prep’ route, as when I learnt Spanish in Dublin 10 years ago, I studied through the Instituto Cervantes and enjoyed the structured classes. But I quickly realised that my Spanish was too basic for this level, and that I needed to start from scratch again, so I switched to the ‘Real World’ programme, which is more conversation-based.
With the ‘Real World’ programme, it’s entirely up to you how you spend each class. The teacher will ask you at the beginning what you’d like to do today. I prefer the safety of just sticking to the class material, a slide show your teacher shares with you on screen; because my Spanish is still pretty limited for any freestyle conversation! Or sometimes I try and write something in Spanish as homework and we spend a class correcting it.
I find the classes fun but challenging and the teachers are very good at making you generate sentences and remember vocabulary stored in the dusty corners of your brain! I definitely get more out of the class, if I’ve taken some time to look at the slides before we start (you can access them all online) and have practiced the relevant vocabulary before the class.
Here’s what I like about Baselang’s Real World classes
- Class structure Language learning is split into 10 levels, and I’ve just passed the test for Level one!
- Well-crafted class material You are never left floundering about not knowing what to say. For example, one class might be practicing saying having to do things; ‘Tener que + infinitive’.
- Screen set up You have a video window open so you can always see the teacher, plus you can see their shared screen of the class material. And, there is a chat window where you can type questions, or they can write new words out for you.
- Competent teachers The teachers are all very professional, friendly and easy-going. And every single one so far has been from Venezuela!
- Class continuity The teachers can see where you’ve got to in the material and can pick straight up where the last class left off.
- Consecutive classes I like being able to book two classes together, so I get nearly one hour at a time with the same person. I find that if you just have a half an hour slot, somehow it takes 5 minutes to get into the material and the classes wrap up five minutes before the end, leaving you with just 20 minutes of really doing the class.
- Flash cards on Memrise.com These are sets of online flash cards labelled to correlate to the Baselang classes. They are really handy for practicing vocabulary before each lesson so you don’t waste time working out what the basic words you need for that class are. I like them because you have to type in the answer which helps you remember the spelling and accents!
- Online class booking You can book classes up to four days ahead or even see who is available in the next five minutes! You can book by time slot and then choose from which teacher is available for that time. Or you can book by teacher, check out their bios and videos etc and see which time slots have available.
I try and bag most of my classes with the same teacher, but he does get booked up pretty quickly! He’s a professional English teacher by day and you can tell, because he is brilliant at explaining everything, giving me confidence and helping me recall and use all the Spanish that I know. I’m not telling you his name, or you’ll be after him too!
The only negative thing has occasionally been dodgy internet connection, but I think that has been as much from my end as from theirs. Barbados is not famous for its broadband. Even a small time delay can make classes feel very strained and stilted, and it’s super hard to understand Spanish when it gets all choppy!
So how is my Spanish?
It’s still rusty but it’s improving gradually. I’m going to take as many classes as I can in the next few weeks and try and pass my level 2 test, then take a break when the kids are off school for the summer. I’ll come back to it with a vengeance in September.
Even with unlimited classes, I realise that the only way to progress, is to do some groundwork in between, and I must continue to make more time for that.
It’s all very well speaking and trying conjugations out etc face to face with these lovely Baselang teachers who are endlessly patient and positive, but sometimes – like RIGHT NOW – I have to just make myself sit down and master those verb tables and vocabulary lists.
Al fin y al cabo, trabajar duro es la única manera de mejorar su español! And being brave enough to try out some actual conversation with my Spanish-speaking friends!