Spanish in a Month – Interview with Connor Grooms

I met Connor Grooms on a reddit AMA he posted on Twitter and I thought it would be interesting to hear more about his project. He challenged himself to learn Spanish in Medellín (Colombia) in one month and documented everything in a short film.

Tell us more about your project? What tools did you use to make the video? Was it expensive to do?

This past June, I learned Spanish to a conversational level in a month, and shot the film, “Spanish in a Month: A Language Learning Documentary” about it. I spent about 5 hours a day – 3 of which were one-on-one classes, which is by far the most important thing.

I shot the film myself throughout the month, using a Sony Rx100 M3 – a high-end point-and-shoot that has DSLR quality. For a few of the shots, I borrowed my friend’s drone, and for the conversation scenes, I borrowed a different friend’s DSLR.

Aside from equipment cost, it was expensive mostly in time. I reckon it took 2-3 hours of editing per minute of video. Especially as my first time producing something of this length and quality, it was a monster of a project.

What’s it like living in Colombia?

Incredible.

I’ve lived in:
– many different cities in Florida, including Key West, Sarasota, St. Pete, and Gainesville
– Chiang Mai, Thailand
– Saigon, Vietnam
– Athens, Greece
– and now Medellin, Colombia

And I’ve traveled to 35 countries and lived for shorter periods of time in Prague, Cape Town, Bali, and Gold Coast Australia.

Medellin is easily my favorite. I’ve written about this before, but it’s the first place I didn’t have the “itch” to go to a new city after 2 months of being there.

More specifically:

– There are trees everywhere. It’s very green.
– Spanish is 100% necessary if you want any social life.
– Clean and safe. There are dangerous areas, but you know where they are and you don’t go there (just like any major US city). Those parts you wouldn’t want to visit anyway.
– Beautiful women are everywhere.
– Flawless weather. Sunny with a breeze during the day, low 80s (28-30C) during day and cool during the night – mid/high 60s (18C)
– Food is meh, but good ingredients (grass-fed steak, vegetables) are cheap so I cook.
– The music is awesome, and thus the nightlife.

It’s tough to describe exactly why I love this place so much, it’s something about the vibe – and I’m not the only one. Many expats go through the same thing of traveling for awhile and then not wanting to leave once they’ve been to Medellin.

Which resources do you normally use most?

One-on-one tutoring with a native speaker – ideally a professional teacher for the majority of the hours, as they are much better at explaining things, knowing how many mistakes (and which mistakes) to point out, how to keep conversations rolling, all of which are very important when learning a language. For finding these teachers, I’d recommend BaseLang.com for Spanish learners, and italki for every other language.

I also use Anki SRS for flashcards.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

One of the most enjoyable feelings is when you are good at something. So every time you can handle a “difficult” conversation or situation in a foreign language, that feels awesome.

And when you can’t handle it, well… you want to be able to.

If I wasn’t living in a Spanish-speaking country where I need it though, I imagine it would be harder to maintain motivation.

What languages do you speak?

English and Spanish.

Who do you think is the most accomplished polyglot you’ve met?

I’m glad to call Benny Lewis a friend, and he’s probably the most accomplished – but I’m probably most impressed by Idahosa Ness of the Mimic Method. He sounds straight-up native in all of his languages.

Do you travel more now since you’ve learned a lot of languages?

Ironically, I travel less. I went to Medellin to learn Spanish, fell in love with the city, and now spend most of my time there. Whereas before, I was changing cities every 2-3 months or more.

How much time do you spend learning languages per day or per week?

I operate in bursts. So, when I learned Spanish, I spent 4-6+ hours a day on it. After a one-month sprint, I had achieved the level I was hoping for, and stopped studying altogether, just keeping it on maintenance. When I want to improve, I’ll generally spend a lot of time per day for a few weeks as it’s the focus of my life, and then go back to maintaining that level.

What would you recommend a new language learner? How to get started?

Start by getting the very basics down. Like, “I, he, you, his apple, It is an apple”. Once you have that down – the super basics – get a one-on-one teacher and spend as much time as you can with them.

I’d also recommend vocab training with something like Anki, and phonetic sound training for your accent/listening, but the most important thing by far is the one-on-one speaking with a native (again, ideally a teacher).

Do you watch movies to practice your languages?

No. I barely consume any entertainment in English either, though.

When you learn a new language do you always follow the same strategy?

I’ve only learned one, but when I learn my next language, it will definitely be in the exact same way.

What do you think of constructed languages? Would you be interested to learn one?

For me, it’s about being able to communicate with people in their native language, when I’m in their country. I’d never be interested in learning something like Esperanto, for instance.

Its uses as an accelerator for learning other languages is intriguing, but I wouldn’t do it myself.

Tell us more about your company BaseLang.

BaseLang came about three weeks or so after the “month of Spanish”. My tutor, who actually ran a similar company teaching English to Spanish speakers and taught me as therapy to get away from the office, was starting it – and he wanted me to co-found it with him.

BaseLang offers unlimited one-on-one Spanish tutoring with professional teachers, for $99 a month.

We also have our own apps, which include livechat to ask smaller questions or translations to a teacher, and flashcards that align with our curriculum. Students can use the service in “sand-box mode”, and just use us for the tutoring, or they can follow our curriculum, which focuses on communication first, academic perfection second – so that people can actually have conversations quickly. We cut out the irrelevant things (like the weather) and focus on what you need every day (giving directions, foundational vocabulary and flexible grammar).

You can watch his documentary on YouTube. To learn more about Connor’s company Baselang which is launching in January 2015 please click here.

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