After having learned some Spanish on my own and with my friends for three weeks, my plan was to take classes for the next month before my trip to Mexico. I had two weeks off work where I was to dedicate most of it to learning Spanish, after which I was to go back to work again for two weeks and have very little free time. THEN I WAS OFF TO MEXICO!
I had to make the most out of learning Spanish during those first two weeks at home. Here were my options:
- Group course (in person) – there wasn’t anyone or any company in my city offering an intensive two-week course during the time I was available. If there was any, it would have probably been expensive.
- Private tutor (in person) – around 15 to 30 CAD per hour, but I wanted to take a lot of lessons.
- Private tutor (Skype/WebEx) – around 5 to 10 USD per hour, at the cheapest.
After hours of searching online, I stumbled upon BaseLang.
BaseLang is a new unlimited Spanish tutoring service that provides grammar lessons and conversation practice over Skype with a roster of teachers from Venezuela. For a flat-fee of 129 USD per month, you can take as many hours of lessons as you want between 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. EST. A single lesson lasts 25-minutes, but you can book several time slots in a row for longer lessons (for example, you get two hours of classes if you book four time slots in a row). For that price, you’d break even in 13 hours of lessons per month (assuming the low-end cost of a Skype tutor at 10 USD per hour).
I was initially skeptical about the whole thing, mainly because classes were delivered on Skype. Since I’ve experienced both in-person and online tutoring when I was learning French, I knew that the former was obviously more effective yet costly. Given that I wanted to take so many lessons in a short period of time, I thought that 129 USD was reasonable. At the time (they still do!), BaseLang was offering a one-week trial for 1 USD… WHICH IS BASICALLY GIVING IT FOR FREE, RIGHT?!? At the very least, I could take a whole bunch of lessons and cancel it immediately after a week. Only if I saw the value in it, would I then subscribe for a month.
In the end, I used it for 36 hours over four weeks (3.58 USD per hour).
Expect serious gains if you:
- Have even very basic knowledge of Spanish
- WANT to learn Spanish in a short amount of time (before traveling, for work, for a love interest, etc.)
- Are motivated and dedicated (this is starting to sound like a job posting?)
- Have a lot of free time to learn, like if you are on a stay-cation, disability (me until a year ago), unemployment, or retirement
- Know what subjects or skills you need to improve
- Aren’t afraid to be taught entirely in Spanish and speak only in Spanish during the lessons (you need to request this to your teacher, otherwise you will be taught in English)
This isn’t a good idea if you:
- Know absolutely zero Spanish (In my previous blog post, I recommend more effective, alternative methods if you are starting from scratch. Once you can make simple sentences, use BaseLang to practice and improve 20x faster than you would on your own!)
- Can take lessons only once or twice a week
- Have little motivation to study Spanish in the first place
A preview of my progress
Background: On our way to a local market, my friend Rahul lost his wallet on the bus. He realized he lost it after we got off. I really didn’t know how these things could pan out in Mexico (except that the cash was certainly gone), so I had to ask around at the market. In a whirlwind adventure through the suburbs of Puerto Vallarta, we managed to get a taxi driver to find the very bus that we were on! This is me telling the bride Adhelly’s godfather Jona what happened after stopping the bus to find Rahul’s wallet. (I look pretty stressed out, and it wasn’t even my wallet…)
When I don’t know a Spanish word, I often Spanish-ize the Tagalog or French equivalents. It works most of the time, but this time it didn’t! Asuranso médico was my way of Spanish-izing the French assurance maladie (health insurance): it should have been seguro de salud!
The nitty gritty: BaseLang in-depth review
1/5: Sign up
Sign up was fast and easy, but I had problems activating my account. For some reason, the temporary password they gave me wouldn’t work and I had to send a message to their support team on Facebook as well as on their website to fix it. Because my activation email said that I could have my first lesson within the next half an hour of signing up, I was SO READY TO START but was left disappointed. (I spent the last three hours Googling Spanish tutoring services and just wanted to do this already!) Thankfully, BaseLang responded after 15 minutes and I was able to log in properly and schedule my welcome lesson. BaseLang has informed me that they have since fixed the bug that caused this very issue, so you shouldn’t have any problems now.
The introductory lesson was for 25 minutes with Gabriel and he explained how BaseLang worked. As he started speaking in English, I requested for us to speak only in Spanish (I tried to replicate the immersion environment of my French school, where we were forbidden to speak any other language but French). We unfortunately had a lot of connection problems: at one point, he had to turn off his webcam to hear and see me better and I was (silently) frustrated that I couldn’t see him. Gabriel, however, remained patient and attentive throughout. After almost half an hour of speaking Spanish 70% of the time, my brain was ready to rest. I could have scheduled more lessons that day but I was busy.
5/5: Scheduling and availability of teachers
These are the very best things BaseLang has got going for them. Think of Uber, but for Spanish lessons! Or think of your Spanish-speaking best friend whom you can call anytime! You have a few hours free tonight? Why not brush up on verb conjugation or practice your conversation skills?!
You can schedule as far as four days in advance, or as soon as five minutes. Scheduling a lesson is quick and straightforward: all you do is pick the time or block of time and choose an available teacher. I assure you that there is almost always a teacher available for any block of time for which you may be free. BaseLang employs around 100 teachers and continues to hire as the number of students grow.
Canceling is easy and stress-free with no penalties. Log into your account, view your schedule, and click cancel. DONE. You can cancel literally 2 minutes before your scheduled lesson, unlike most (if not all) tutoring services. I initially felt bad about canceling on such short notice a couple of times because I thought that the teachers weren’t getting paid for classes I scheduled. According to BaseLang’s co-founder and CEO Connor Grooms, teachers are paid a salary based on the availability and shift they choose, whether they have classes or not. Given the ease of scheduling and cancellation as well as the impressive availability of teachers, BaseLang gets an A+++ for convenience.
To make scheduling faster, I suggest that the schedule appears immediately on the homepage instead of your account details. That way, you can instantly view or cancel lessons upon logging in, instead of having to click another button. It seems very minor but I was always annoyed with seeing the useless account info page upon login when I wanted to check or cancel a lesson in a hurry.
5/5: The teachers
BaseLang has a team of nearly a hundred Spanish teachers from all over Venezuela. Though I was headed to Mexico, I didn’t mind that my teachers were from Venezuela. I did, however, got used to saying “ll” sound as a hard J, when in Mexico it is pronounced as a Y like ella, pollo, allà, etc. (It wasn’t the end of the world.) The same general accent did help with the fact that I had multiple teachers and hadn’t changed how I spoke or understood them. I learned so much about Venezuelan culture, history, politics, and food, too!
After signing up, you can try out different teachers to find a good fit. When I started, I went through a couple of two-minute introductory videos posted on their website to see with whom I’d like to take classes.
I met with seven teachers and it was honestly quite tiring to have to introduce myself over and over again. But I guess it’s like that in the real world, right? I used the same spiel when I introduced myself to my new acquaintances and friends in Mexico! Anyway, after the seventh teacher, I decided to stick to the ones I liked as much as possible.
My favourite teachers were Juderneth and Jesús C. Juderneth and I had so much fun together that it felt like I was talking to a good friend. I never wanted to stop talking to her. We had a lot of things in common as foodies and fitness enthusiasts!
Jesús C. is a little bit more serious as a teacher, but his methodical and motivating approach has helped me incredibly. I remember being so overwhelmed by learning all those irregular verbs, but poco a poco, he reassured me, it will come.
All my teachers typed out my mistakes when speaking, important words/expressions to remember, and links to additional materials of interest. Because I’m a highly visual person with a photographic memory, seeing how words are spelled and ordered in sentences is key to my learning. One tip I have is to review your Skype chat transcript the same day – an effective study habit I practiced with my university lectures! (I diligently studied the transcripts for the first week and a half, but then I slacked off after…)
Here is an example of how a BaseLang lesson can go:
All teachers speak English and use English as the mode of instruction. Although I preferred having a teacher who could teach me in French, it didn’t really matter as I tried to speak in Spanish the whole time!
-3/5: The streamlined lesson plan
That’s right, that’s a negative 3
Because it is very likely that you will have different teachers (considering your schedule and their availabilities), BaseLang has their own lesson plan which you can follow with your various teachers. They document which lessons you have completed so you can just pick up where you left off with your next teacher. The lesson plan is broken down into nine levels, with each level comprising of about 15 lessons/PowerPoints. You and your teacher go through the PowerPoint using Skype’s screen sharing function.
In the end, you decide what you want to do during the lessons: either practice conversation, read a paragraph together, do dictation exercises, or follow their suggested lesson plan.
The lesson plan is the one thing I despised about BaseLang and these are the reasons why:
- The PowerPoints are extremely long and redundant. I know learning a language is all about practice, but the slides could be reduced by at least 33% and I would benefit the same. I couldn’t believe that they had an entire 25-minute lesson dedicated to learning how to say “there is” and “there isn’t” (hay and no hay) using various examples. Many times did I ask to go through the slides more quickly or skip them altogether.
- There are too many individual lessons, making the learning process too long and possibly frustrating. This is why I don’t recommend BaseLang to absolute beginners.
- The sequence and progression of the lessons don’t make sense. Lessons on pasado simple and imperfecto (simple past and imperfect) verb tenses were placed in the intermediate and advanced levels, when we use these in almost every conversation in real life! I kept asking to go through specific lessons that I thought were important but were out of the sequence.
- Some PowerPoints contained typo errors that I would question and point out to my teachers.
- The lesson plan (at least until Level 3, which was the last full level I completed) focuses only on grammar, vocabulary, conjugation, and sentence-building without any other enjoyable activities built into it (e.g., stories, songs, videos, dictation). For example, in my previous experience with online French tutoring, I would read paragraphs applying the words and expressions learned during the lessons. Perhaps more activities are built into the advanced level, but there’s no reason why we can’t do them as beginners or intermediates! I specifically asked for more activities other than conversation. After all, speaking is only one aspect of learning language, right?
Perhaps I took so many lessons in such a short amount of time, but I advanced much more rapidly than the lesson plan that some lessons became too boring or too easy for me. During a few lessons, I felt like I didn’t learn a whole lot.
The only good thing about it was that most of the PowerPoints were actually just pictures. Using pictures to associate and remember words forces you to really think in that language, rather than translating from your own!
Nevertheless, please keep in mind that my thoughts on the lesson plan are based on how I like to learn and that others have had positive experiences with it (see this review, for example). In any case, I understand that it is tough to design a curriculum that accommodates everyone’s learning styles.
1/5: Using Skype
There’s always going to be connection problems which makes everything a little frustrating. Still, the teachers are very patient about it and it’s really not that bad. I would say that I had connection problems 20% of the entire time I used BaseLang. I also thought that I would have issues with sound quality (it’s hard enough to understand someone in another language!), but my teachers’ voices were surprisingly clear and distinct.
BaseLang also gives the option of using Zoom and Google Hangouts. Apparently, most people don’t have connection problems using Zoom. Although I used Skype exclusively, Zoom would definitely be worth trying.
My one month of BaseLang
Part 1: 10 days of my at-home Spanish immersion school
Seriously, folks, I took an average of three hours of lessons per day every day during my vacation from work. I was inspired by my experience with my French immersion school where I was taking three to four hours of group classes five days a week. Because private tutoring is much more mentally demanding, I definitely did not want to take more than four hours per day! At least I knew that I was able to survive up to four consecutive hours of speaking and interacting in another language.
Even with my half-day Spanish lessons, I did many of my everyday activities in Spanish like cooking new recipes, working out with exercise videos, and watching a TV show while washing the dishes (check out All Japanese All the Time for ideas and inspiration)!
Then I obliged myself to spend the other half of the day in French, speaking with my husband and making a point to do French activities outside the house. I got a little bit mixed up (saying si instead of oui; pero instead of mais; aprender instead of apprendre) and it took me more time to search for my French words. I thankfully don’t have this tendency anymore!
I barely spoke any English during this time, isn’t that crazy?
Part 2: 14 days of 25-minutes per day at work
Unfortunately, my vacation came to an end and I had to go back to work.
I scheduled a 25-minute class immediately after dinner five days a week for two weeks. This was the only amount of time I could muster myself to commit after working 12 1/2-hour days every day at the mine. When I felt extra motivated, I completed a lesson of Assimil or News in Slow Spanish too (though that only ever happened thrice).
I had to make sure that I was getting the most out of these very short lessons: for example, I asked for help with specific topics I hadn’t learned yet or requested to go through easy lessons quickly. Unfortunately, the lesson plan didn’t help with my progress during this time, as each PowerPoint was too easy or boring on its own.
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have been able to continue my Spanish tutoring after work if it wasn’t for BaseLang’s convenience and flexibility. Whenever I felt too tired or lazy to study Spanish, canceling was just a few clicks away, even five minutes before the lesson. Whenever I wanted to extend a session I was doing with my teacher, all I did was check if he/she was available for the next 25-minute block, book it, and carry on.
For conversation practice at work, I continued to speak to my Colombian friend Ingrid! Because both of us were now on day shift, together we exercised every day at 4:20 a.m., talked throughout the day at the office, and ate dinner while speaking almost entirely in Spanish.
Solo el comienzo
How did I do in Mexico?
At the end of my one month of BaseLang (total of seven weeks of learning Spanish before my trip), I:
- Completed all of the lesson plan’s beginner modules plus some intermediate and advanced ones
- Knew, applied, and recognized the main verb tenses (all except subjunctive mode – I didn’t have the time!) in oral and written communication
- Understood someone talking to me 60-100%
- Understood recordings or TV shows 50%
- Wrote simple messages to my friends (email and Facebook)
- Carried meaningful conversations and had fun communicating without any serious frustration and headaches… which is ALL THAT MATTERS!
In Mexico, DID IT ALL EVER PAY OFF. All my friends and the Mexican folks I met were astonished at my progress after only seven weeks! My trip was so much more enriching because I spoke and understood Spanish.
At the wedding, I felt so happy when I understood 95% of the bride’s speech that expressed her gratitude to her family and friends. I was incredibly moved and touched as she delivered her message in Spanish that the groom’s English translation did not do it justice.
That’s me congratulating the newlyweds, “¡Felicidades!”
There were a few times when I even acted as a translator between the bride’s and groom’s families… who would have thought? My friends who didn’t speak any Spanish often asked me to help them communicate with the locals, or just figure out what was going on around us.
When my husband and I stayed for a few days after our friends left for Canada, we explored in and around Puerto Vallarta and hung out with Adhelly’s family and close friends completely in Spanish. It was awesome to have the independence to do whatever we wanted because
we I wasn’t limited by not knowing the language.
With the help and generosity of Adhelly’s mom, we even managed to get tickets to a dolphin show where we swam and touched dolphins. Adhelly’s mom doesn’t speak English and I coordinated with her only in Spanish! (She’s such a sweet lady and I miss her already.)
My husband and I took public buses (camiones) the whole time and never got lost thanks to me. On our last day in Mexico, we got as far as crossing the Jalisco state border into Nayarit for some stand-up paddle boarding!
Even while in Mexico, I remembered all the practice I had with my teachers, the words and expressions they taught me, and the fulfillment from speaking and connecting with someone in their native language. Almost every time I spoke, I had mental snapshots of conjugation tables I made while doing my BaseLang lessons.
In the short ten days that I was in Mexico, my Spanish improved much more as I was immersed in the language all the time. My husband was even practicing his Spanish with me, too! Every time we left the hotel, he asked me, “¿Tienes las llaves?”
Continuing with BaseLang?
At the moment, I have canceled my account. I think that my current level is good enough for me to continue on my own using the many resources I have at my disposal. I will probably find a private tutor in the near future, either in-person or online (I won’t attempt studying the subjunctive mode by myself!), but I will need to see if I can spend at least 129 USD per month on that with my current schedule and availability. With my 2 and 2 work schedule, it may be impossible unless I go on crazy multi-hour lesson binges again.
Upon cancellation, I had the option of taking lessons à la carte. I could continue my subscription for 9 USD per month plus 15 USD per hour (with the monthly fee already covering one hour). I didn’t think that was worth it. I don’t think the 129 USD per month over a long period of time is worth it either – it’s expensive! In my opinion, the only times it would be worth it and effective would be:
- If you took a lot of lessons in a short amount of time, say one to three months before a vacation somewhere (like what I did).
- If you took one hour-long lesson every day in the “long-term,” up to six months.
Why you should sign up for BaseLang:
- Convenience: On-demand and instant scheduling and cancellation of lessons
- Incredible amount of practice you get: You improve so much in a short amount of time, even as a complete beginner
- Freedom to do whatever you’d like to learn and practice
- Enthusiastic and motivating teachers
- Access to review materials: The PowerPoints of the lessons are available in your account and teachers type your errors or any clarifications in the Skype chat window
Why you shouldn’t sign up for BaseLang:
- If you choose to follow the lesson plan: Individual lessons are spread out too much that learning becomes long and tiring. I don’t plan to take BaseLang for life, but it would take me forever to go through their PowerPoints.
- Skype connection problems can be frustrating (but you can try Zoom and see if you can get around this)
If BaseLang sounds right for you, sign up for your first week for only 1 USD and take your next Spanish lesson within the next half hour!
Mi nuevo club español
I am extremely pleased with my progress and would like to share learning Spanish with other people, so much so that I STARTED my own Meetup group here in Québec City.
I signed up for a six-month subscription with a limit of 50 members. Even before our first meetup, we already reached the maximum number of members!
Below is how this group started. I wrote this with the help of Juderneth, a favourite BaseLang teacher whom I mention above.
El Club Español de Québec / Club d’espagnol de Québec / Québec City Spanish Language and Culture Meetup
Este nuevo grupo de Meetup fue inspirado en esta historia.
Todo empezó un sábado en la mañana con una aventura entre dos extrañas, Danica y Charlotte. Habían quedado de encontrarse en un café para una reunión de Meetup pero temían que era un fraude porque ellas eran las únicas que terminaron yendo y ambas eran principiantes. A pesar de todo, ellas intentaron hablarse lo mejor que pudieron (con mucho Google Traductor). Alrededor de la hora del almuerzo, ninguna ellas tenia planes para la tarde así que Danica invitó a Charlotte a seguir practicado su español en Le Varadero, un restaurante cubano que estaba cerca de allí. En el cual, la chicas estaban completamente inmersas en la comida y cultura latina e intentaron hablar solamente en español con el chef y sus clientes (aunque era muy difícil!). Fue espectacular y aprendieron tanto español en solo pocas horas. Afuera de las puertas de Le Varadero, ellas estaban sorprendidas de encontrarse en la ciudad de Québec otra vez.
La meta de este grupo de Meetup es motivarlos a todos a que intenten hablar español de un 80 o 100% del tiempo en ambientes hispanos. ¡No importa lo difícil o embarazoso que pueda hacer, la inmersión total es la manera mas efectiva de aprender un idioma! ¡No mas reuniones aburridas o lecciones con un tutor, todos podemos pretender que estamos en Latino América o España ahora!
Language number five will be Mandarin… but maybe not for a little while!