When the 33-year-old Spaniard Jesus Trapero Sandoval launched his YouTube channel in 2011 to teach colloquial Spanish, it was an experiment as well as a way to do something fun.
“I found this [a YouTube channel] can actually influence a large number of people and wanted to see if my students liked it,” he said. “It was an interesting experience. I like to make changes in the way I teach, like asking students different questions or doing practices they have never done before.”
After teaching Spanish in Taiwan for almost six years, both in a cram school and at a private university, Sandoval said the project was designed to solve the problems he faced when teaching Spanish in the classroom.
“Most people in Taiwan learn Spanish because they have already studied English and want to learn a different language. There is no definite purpose for studying it,” he said. “They hardly get to practice Spanish in their daily lives. Even if you give them some homework, they would not do it.”
Sandoval tried posting some supplementary learning materials on a blog he set up, but none of his students bothered to read them.
“I later found out that students are more interested in learning slang, especially phrases they can use among friends,” he said. “I also found that people like to do things together here, like: ‘Let’s all get on Facebook.’ They may not do their homework, but they will check their Facebook page every day.”
Prior to launching his Spanish-teaching channel, Sandoval checked out several YouTube channels aimed at learning languages such as English, Japanese or Chinese.
He decided that the content he would provide needed to be easy, fun and something people could use everyday.
He then shot the video, uploaded one episode at a time and shared them on his Facebook page.
“Whenever I think of phrases people in Spain and Latin America use or something I heard in Spanish-speaking movies, I would write it down immediately,” he said when asked about how he gathered his materials. “I only choose one or two words or phrases to teach each time, but they can convey different meanings in different contexts.”
He received more response than he usually did in class.
Sandoval said he could get up to 66 replies to just one video he posted online.
“Because the material is interesting, students are more motivated to do the homework I give them in the video. Taiwanese are stressed out by a lot of things. They would be stress-free if they could study in the comfort of their homes and have the freedom of choosing whether to do homework,” he said.
The materials Sandoval prepares vary greatly, from teaching people how to say: “I have so much work to do” (Tengo mogollon de curro) and “a crappy movie” (Una pelicula de mierda), to: “I have no luck picking up girls/boys” (No me como ni un rosco).
He also teaches people how to curse in Spanish, which he said “students studying Spanish have to learn.”
“That’s the way we speak. The point is not whether we should teach curse words; the point is how to teach them,” he said.
He would also entertain his audiences by putting on a skit that is not strictly relevant to learning Spanish, such as producing an alternative version of the popular Taiwanese TV drama In Time with You (我可能不會愛你).
Sandoval said he did not see any conflict between this project and the teaching jobs he has at the moment.