Learning Spanish opens up a brand new world and can carry numerous benefits, both personal and professional. But how would you rather learn it?
Incessantly poring over grammar points in a textbook? Memorizing long lists of vocabulary words? Or getting to meet other learners and native speakers in a Facebook-like online community designed just for language practice? If, like most of us, you answered the third one, you’d probably like to hear what August Flanagan’s been up to.
Flanagan is a self-described “science nerd at heart,” but while living in Colombia and studying Spanish, he and his wife Natalie came up with an idea that set him off on a very different path. The two thought there was potential for a website that could connect Spanish and English speakers with one another for conversation exchanges.
“We recognized how much speaking with native Spanish speakers had helped in our own learning process,” Flanagan explains. “Since we had our laptops with us and a lot of free time on our hands we thought ‘What the hell, let’s give it a try and see if we can build something useful.’
Several months later, the 10,000-plus members of Lenguajero.com seem to think they have done just that.
Lenguajero is a free language learning community where language learners meet to practice Spanish and English. The website offers three core features to help its members learn. It facilitates online conversations with an embedded voice, video and text chat app; offers a “Writing Club” where users write assignments that are corrected by other users; and features a flashcard program for teaching vocabulary that tracks a member’s progress and provides personalized study. Most recently, users can uploaded podcasts that can be voted on by the other members.
While this type of language learning community isn’t a completely new idea, Flanagan believes Lenguajero’s focus on Spanish and English gives it a distinct advantage over the alternatives:
One of the reasons we built the site was that we had both had really bad experiences trying to use some of the larger language learning community sites. I’m learning Spanish, so I want to interact with Spanish speakers. But if someone who speaks Korean or German keeps asking me to help them with their English I’m not getting any benefit out of it. But, if I can help a Spanish speaker with their English and they help me with my Spanish then everyone wins.
Since so many English speakers learn Spanish you can really balance the numbers in the community much better than with a site about English and Chinese conversation exchanges. There just aren’t enough English speakers learning Chinese to make that work.
In addition to being a fun way to connect with other learners online, Flanagan believes websites like Lenguajero mark a significant shift in the way languages are learned. While he doesn’t think that online methods will ever replace traditional classroom learning, they do provide another way for motivated individuals to learn new skills. “If you are an independent and motivated learner of any subject you’ll do what you need to do to learn that subject,” he says. “Online platforms are amazing for helping you do this.”
There can, however, be a huge difference between the language you learn from a textbook and the one that is actually spoken by natives, and Flanagan hopes that Lenguajero can help bridge that gap:
“Language learning in general is often taught and evaluated really poorly in the classroom. You are told you know Spanish because you can conjugate verbs on paper correctly, when really speaking a new language is all about understanding and communication.”
Lenguajero, you are tickle city!
–Lenguajero also currently offers two great ebooks, Spanish in Mexico and Spanish in Spain, which are the first two installments of a series titled Beyond the Basics. Both books break down the history of the regional language, teach useful colloquialisms you won’t find in any textbook and acquaint you with popular books, music, movies and food. —