Join almost 1 million
monthly
readers!

Contact Me

Coaching and Consultation

Language Hacking League!

Join over 50,000 people to get FREE weekly language hacking tips, cool links, site updates & two free chapters of the Language Hacking Guide!

No Spam. Not ever.

Current Mission:


On book tour to encourage people to learn languages better! Learn more!

Previous post:

Next post:

How Video Diaries Brought Me to Conversational Fluency in Spanish

| 9 comments | Category: guest post

Will on the left with some CouchSurfing pals getting ready for a video

Today’s guest post is from Will Peach, an Englishman journeying around Spain, keeping regular video diaries to make himself accountable for learning the language. Will found my blog shortly before beginning his adventure and continues to apply my tips in the hope that he will reach his defined level of fluency before September of this year.

Will has his own site My Spanish Adventure, where he continues to chronicle his progress learning Spanish and hopes to encourage others to do the same. His travels and language studies are sponsored by the gap year travel site GapDaemon.com, where he formerly worked as an editor.

September 2011 was when it all happened. When I finally made the decision to drag my carcass out of its monolingual mould and ram it, kicking and screaming, into the scary world of Spanish fluency. Severing my ties with London, my 9-5, my friends, even my girlfriend, I headed out to Spain with only one intention.

“Get fluent in Spanish or die trying”.

Easier said than done right? Well as an avid reader of Fluent In 3 Months, I can appreciate just as much as the next reader just how loose of a goal that is. Benny’s been telling us all from the very start just how crucial it is to carefully define our own language learning goals and our own definition of fluency. Telling myself to simply “get fluent”? I knew that wouldn’t cut it.

Accountability and Video Progress

Having picked up the Language Hacking Guide and poured over it in the month leading up to my grand arrival in the city of Cáceres, Extremadura, two suggestions screamed out as most important of all: the act of accountability and the process of recording videos in the target language.

Setting out on my travels to speak from day one, I knew I’d have to do something drastic to push myself out of my comfort zone and get the valuable conversation practice I knew I’d need.

Taking Benny’s advice of starting a language log and writing in the target language, I decided to go one step further. I started making video logs in the target language every two weeks; right from the very first moment I arrived in Spain right up until now. Head over to my progress page and you’ll see almost half a year’s work of video diaries that span travels and rope in locals from places like Cáceres, Madrid, Granada, Mérida, Huelva and a few more.

To start off with, rather than follow Benny’s advice of using scripts in videos as a memorization technique (undoubtedly useful in the early stages), I was very keen on keeping my videos as spontaneous as possible (just like Benny is starting to be in Mandarin) in order to give a real reflection of my level throughout the weeks and months of my journey.

What this also meant however is that I also had to find and persuade real locals to practice with as well as throw caution to the wind in terms of overcoming my fears of approaching people. That’s why in my videos you’ll see a glorious mix of people from CouchSurfing contacts, to housemates, to friends I made through simply introducing myself on the street and asking to practice the language. What you’ll also see is a mountain of mistakes, for which I make no apologies, having recognized, from the examples Benny has set, that in order to succeed one must first be prepared to fail.

(Will makes a video with a local or other learner every two weeks recording his progress in learning the language – this one was recorded at the one month mark)

An Easy Learning Tool

Perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of these progress videos (other than learning rapidly) is the ease in which I’ve found making them. The editing software I use is simple, cheap and included with my laptop (iMovie) and the videos I shoot either by the in-built camera on my laptop or my digital camera. The process of throwing in subtitles has benefited my comprehension no end, as I’ve had to listen carefully and multiple times in order to make sure I understand exactly what the local is saying. Yes, at times it is excruciating to hear yourself make such obvious errors, but it’s a necessary evil for progressing further in the target language and to ensure you eradicate those mistakes the next time around.

The videos themselves take a cue from the series Benny made in Amsterdam (with two native-Spanish speakers) by taking an interest in the locals themselves and asking them meaningful questions designed to invite them to speak. Delving into the lives of my interview subjects I present a glimpse into what life is like in their part of the world (or part of Spain), provide useful hints and tips on the destinations I live and travel to and allow the local to present their own idea of how best to learn a language with relative speed. So far in my series one common theme has stood out from among all the locals I have had the pleasure of talking with: the importance of speaking and mixing with locals as much as possible. Yes, it might seem obvious, but how many confirmations does one person need in order to understand that the single most important thing you can do to learn a language is to get out and speak it?

Another way this process of documenting my learning has advanced my studies is through the mechanics of the blog and the social sphere in which I present and post progress videos. Making yourself accountable on a blog, in outlining your learning goals and evaluating them at the end of a set time, not only gives you something concrete to aim for but also invites others to come along on the journey with you. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to feeling lonely and fed up during points of my travels. Putting myself out there publically and opening my blog and videos up to comments and suggestions has helped to give me an unbelievable amount of strength as I work towards fluency. What’s more is that can safely say I’ve never received a single ounce of criticism yet and that’s despite putting my videos on YouTube for all the trolls to go to town on!

Not For Everyone

I can appreciate that recording progress videos and starting a blog isn’t everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to learning languages. There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into maintaining a blog and the learning curve can be steep for some. Fortunately on my behalf I’ve been blogging since I was 13 or 14, so the platform is hardly new to me. But to older learners, or people who haven’t perhaps considered using these tools to advance their progress, I’d strongly recommend you to think seriously about it. Yet if you are technically inclined and lack the time to get up to speed, the language learning forums here are a great alternative and can also present you with a ready made audience right there (something a separate blog can take months to build).

Doing that alone however is simply not enough. As I have helped to show myself, consistency is the real key that applies both to language learning and blogging. Being diligent in your approach, setting time frames and promising to deliver something on time means you have to sit down and get the work done. Knowing that you have to get a progress video out because you’ve promised a blog audience you’ll do so is an incredible, if frightening, motivator.

Of course videos and blogs alone won’t help you to learn a language. I supplemented my studies by really focusing on the things that I’ve found help me most – learning vocabulary in Anki, switching up the languages on my phone, computer etc and reading as much as I can in the target language. The blog and the videos however? They’ve proved to be the most fun part. Not only have they helped me to form real and long-standing relationships with my subjects, they’ve also brought my Spanish to a level where I can comfortably talk among a group of locals about almost anything.

My fluency goal of being able to give a business-style presentation in Spanish and taking questions afterward? Surely only another few months – and a few more videos – away. Finger crossed that I meet my goal for September. I’ve got another language and travel adventure planned for after that.

(Will’s progress at the five month mark)

____________________________________________________________

As the process has been so successful for me I thought I’d share what I consider to be some of the most important points for making progress videos.

Let the Native Speak

If you’re just starting out in the language understand how to form basic questions and let the native speak to take the pressure of you. No doubt this is how you’d converse anyway, but it’ll also make you feel more at ease in front of a camera and will also help you to contextualize the target language in the future.

Talk Openly About the Project

It’s only normal that people are going to think you a bit strange for wanting to film a video of you and someone else chatting away – that’s just what most people are like. Explain your intentions honestly however and you’ll find that people are very receptive and will take pleasure in your attempts to learn their language. It is good to offer to buy them a drink or repay the favour for their help too.

Be Natural

It’s hard to remain natural when there is a camera pointing in your face so I find that the best way to compose yourself is to put your screensaver on your computer so that you can’t see the reflection of yourself being recorded. If you can get someone else to hold the camera – and not get the big face syndrome that I’ve suffered at times from holding it with my own hand – then that works wonders too!

Find People Online

If the thought of approaching people in the street armed only with a camera and a computer proves a bit intimidating try posting a notice on sites like CouchSurfing or local listing equivalents. There are often people searching for language exchanges on these sites very receptive to the idea of helping you out with a project like this.

Set a Consistent Schedule

Organisation is key when it comes to a project like this. Set aside a certain day to search for people to help and to film and another date to edit the video, insert subtitles and post online. Forming a habit like this is likely to embolden your studies in other areas of the language too as you see the results of steady progress.

Don’t Apologise or Try to Edit Out Your Mistakes

Perhaps the most important piece of advice of all is NOT to apologise or be ashamed of any mistakes you make in your videos. Readers of this site know that it takes work, time and patience to learn a language. Plus watching back over your videos and comparing it to the stage you’re at now will be nothing short of mind blowing!

Carefully consider all these things and your progress videos will surely shine a lot brighter than mine. Now it’s time to get out there and start making your own.

Good luck!

Make sure to follow Will on MySpanishAdventure to see how he does! Feel free to share your thoughts on his progress and on video diaries in the comments below!

***********************

Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!

If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.

This article was written by

Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.

———————————–

  • http://liferapture.com Benjamin Spall

    That’s some insane progress man! Keep it up, and whatever you do  stay away from that man  stood behind you and your friend in the screenshot for your five month progress report. He looks dangerous.

    • http://myspanishadventure.com/ Will – My Spanish Adventure

      Thanks Benjamin! Yep I’ll be sure to stay away from the crazy guy, thankfully he’s well-known around these parts. I was a little scared he was going to snatch my computer and run off at one point. Luckily I kept the faith!

  • http://www.manvsclock.com/ Anthony Middleton

    Awesome use of public accountability, to hone in on your language learning goals :) well in ,Will!

  • http://gplus.to/ronnieledesma Ronnie Ledesma

    Will, fantastic guest post. Thank you for sharing. I’m about to get started on a similar endeavor, however, the challenge I’m looking forward to, is finding native Japanese speakers with whom to converse in an English-speaking country. Thanks for the encouragement. Cheers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Muhammad-Enstein-Widodo/1427132394 Muhammad Enstein Widodo

    Great approach! I’ve been doing this kind of approach too but not in the target country, and lack of natives. Here’s the first episode of my learning videos http://youtu.be/JF5RxzVgLvs
    And also i turned my cellphone menu to the target lang. Would that effective for learning in a home country?

  • http://www.liveonpurposeblog.com/ Michael J. Sieler Jr.

    Great story and very helpful tips! 

    I’m definitely going to use video blogging as a way of documenting my progress with Spanish when I’m in Guatemala!

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    This is excellent advice and something I’ve thought about doing a few times before, making videos that is, though I wasn’t planning on posting them publicly, which I think is fine–the majority of the benefit you get from doing this comes from being able to watch and analyze yourself later, you’ll catch nearly all the mistakes you make,  you generally won’t need other people to do that for you.

    I agree with your points about making a schedule and holding yourself accountable, massively important.  Being consistently persistent, self-discipline, and doing what you know needs to be done even when you don’t feel like it are tantamount.  Also, have as much fun as possible–it’s not always possible, but the more fun you have the more likely you are to keep going.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • James

    That is an amazingly good idea!!! I am majoring in Spanish education in the U.S. and feel like I have reached a plateau in my skills. I am decent at the reading and writing portion, but I am nowhere close to where I want to be conversationally. I hope to study abroad next semester. I would love to Skype with you so that I could practice my spanish.

  • Guest

    That is an amazingly good idea!!! I am majoring in Spanish education in the U.S. and feel like I have reached a plateau in my skills. I am decent at the reading and writing portion, but I am nowhere close to where I want to be conversationally. I hope to study abroad next semester. I would love to Skype with you so that I could practice my spanish.