In this slogging AMA, we chat with Pablo Román of Dreaming Spanish. Dreaming Spanish is a video platform for Spanish learners where all the content is entirely in Spanish yet there are comprehensible videos for students of every level. Their method is based on Language Immersion and Dr. Stephen Krashen's hypothesis around Comprehensible Input.
This Slogging thread by Abeer, Pablo Román, Pamela Liang, Drone Warfare, Patrick Loritz, Mónica Freitas, Limarc Ambalina, Sara Pinto, Edward Pineda, Hung Le Ngoc, Giovanni Martorella, Chris Teague, Jack Boreham and Felix Changoo occurred in slogging's official #amas channel, and has been edited for readability.
Hey @channel, please join me in welcoming our next AMA guest, Pablo Román. Pablo is the creator of Dreaming Spanish and the co-founder of Dreaming Languages. They are set on revolutionizing the way people learn languages by allowing them to learn them the same way they learned their first language.
Please feel free to ask Pablo anything about:
Hey Pablo Román! Awesome to have you here! Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself, your background, and why you started Dreaming Spanish?
My background is in computer science. I started in academia, but when I was doing my PhD I wasn't really feeling motivated, and after watching too many TED talks, I realized that I didn't have a dream.
After a month or so of thinking about it, I realized that I had managed to learn Japanese to a very good level without ever taking classes or opening a textbook, so I decided to help people realize that there are better, more fun ways to learn languages.
Then I found a school that really matched my learning experience, so I went there for 1 year to try it out. This was the AUA school in Bangkok, where I learned Thai.
Since the method had worked so well, I decided to try to get more people to benefit from it.
Initially I tried to put together a course based on media that was available already on YouTube and other public platforms, but after a couple of failed attempts at doing this, I realized that the content just wasn't there, so I decided to start making my own content.
So it sounds like you learned Japanese pretty easily without any sort of formal method. How did you do that and what do you mean by finding a school that matched your learning experience?
I learned Japanese following the AJATT (All Japanese All The Time) method, which advocates for getting lots of input of media in the language. It also uses Anki extensively, but that part didn't work for me, so I did only the input part. After that, I learned about Comprehensible Input, and how it's better for the input that we receive to be understandable. The school did exactly that. It taught us Thai as if we were babies. The teachers would only speak Thai to each other and to us, and they would make the conversation more understandable by using pictures, gestures and drawing on the whiteboard.
Hi Pablo! I've been a subscriber to your youtube channel for 2 years. I had no clue you had a Computer Science background. Before language learning, did you have something else in mind for your future?
Before that I didn't have any clear plans for my future other than continuing to do research on Computer Science. There wasn't anything in particular that I wanted to research, but I knew that I wanted to do something that nobody else was doing. I've always wanted to do something new that wouldn't be happening if I wasn't there doing it.
Pablo Román That’s fascinating. So that’s how Dreaming Spanish came to be. How does Dreaming Spanish relate to Dreaming Languages?
When I started the channel Dreaming Spanish I was already thinking of doing more languages in the future. In fact, if I had had money to invest, I would probably have hired people to create a channel for Mandarin instead, since I've always wanted to learn it. Instead, since I didn't have money and had to do everything myself, I started making videos in Spanish, which is one of my native languages.
Naturally, when I met my business partner at around the end of 2020, we decided to name the company Dreaming Languages.
Pablo Román It’s interesting to think that if circumstances were different, there would be a Dreaming Mandarin right now instead. If you don’t mind me asking (feel free to ignore if it’s confidential at the moment), is Mandarin the first language that Dreaming Languages is going to tackle?
We haven't decided on that yet. I'd love to do it, but there are also strong reasons to do German, French, Japanese and English.
Hi Pablo Román. Do you think its a bad idea to learn 2 languages at the same time? Im learning Spanish and German at the same time. I know a handful of German phrases and words that I've heard from my grandmother, other than that it's fairly new to me.
It depends on how much time you have available, especially if it's the first time you are learning a foreign language to fluency. For the first language you learn as an adult it's common to feel insecure about your ability to learn a language well, since you've never done it before. Therefore it helps to get as much motivation as you can. One way you get motivation is by seeing the progress you are making, and that's harder to see if you are learning two languages at once, since you are spending less time with each language. For German or Spanish, I would recommend not learning them at the same time unless you can dedicate 1h a day to each on average.
Even now, I never start learning two languages at once. I only have one main language that I'm learning in which I'm at the beginner or intermediate level. Then, when I have some extra time in which I'm not sitting down but I can be listening to something, I'll be listening to podcasts or audiobooks to not forget and even improve the languages in which I'm at a higher level.
Pablo Román Thanks for the advice. That's probably the best way to go. I'll stick to learning German for now especially since I have family members I can talk to in German. Once I get good at it, I'll try learning Spanish again
Hi Pablo Román, great to have you here!
How can VR help in language learning?
Every attempt to teach a language in VR that I've seen until now has been a video game that could easily have been made for a flat screen and would be essentially the same. I think the medium allows for things that weren't possible until now.
I think there's potential in two different ideas.
The first one, that I hope to be able to try making myself in the future, is in recording a 3D 180 video of one or two teachers showing different objects and talking to you. Something like the videos that we have in the channel right now, but you would feel you're actually there with the teachers, and can get a much better view on what's going on around you.
The second one is live interaction with avatars. Right now, with VR you can be in a virtual room with other people and have a conversation with them. It allows some things that are not easy to do with a regular video call, like placing items, documents, and screens in a shared space and interact with them together. In the near future, better face and eye tracking will make avatars more life-like and allow us to better communicate feelings. I think that if this is implemented well, it could be a great way to do language exchange, and to teach private lessons or even small groups of students.
Hey Pablo Román I’m super big into VR right now and agree there are huge applications for VR in education. What work have you done in VR?
Until now the only work I've done is to record playthroughs of VR video games. The kind of hand interactions that you can do in VR allows for a more visual experience than is common in most video games. It's very easy to grab a game like Job Simulator or I Expect You To Die and make a video with plenty of different interactions with different objects, which lends itself very well for making comprehensible videos for language learning.
Hey Pablo Román, glad to have you with us. Since I'm a student in a degree where learning languages is crucial, I wonder: what do you think are the best methods to learn a language?
Sara Pinto Comprehensible input! We have a complete explanation of the method we advocate for here: https://dreamingspanish.com/method
This not only includes our own content, but also a way of doing language exchange called crosstalk in which you focus on receiving input in the language you are learning.
Hi Pablo. Can you tell us more about the Dreaming Spanish channel and how you grew it into a content production company?
Edward Pineda Right now we are in the process of growing into an actual company. The path to get here has been longer that I would have liked, since I started the project 5 years ago, but now it's looking really good. Until now the project has been bootstrapped. I would put part of the money that I received from YouTube ads and Patreon into paying other teachers to make more content for our channel and platform. After around 2 years of working on it I managed to start making enough money to be able to work on the project full time. Around 1 year ago I met a business partner and investor, and that is going to let us start hiring teachers full time to work on a complete solution for people who want to learn Spanish from zero to a high level. I met my partner because he was a learner who was watching our videos and believed in our vision. Really, I've got a lot of help from people who contacted me because they were learning Spanish with our videos. I think the fact that we focused on spreading our learning approach and our mission, including giving advise about ways to learn that don't involve giving us money, has made a lot of people advocates of our approach. Even to the point that a few people donated quite a lot of money to the project.
Thank you for doing this AMA Pablo Román. What are some benefits of learning a foreign language? What are things you can only do when you speak a certain language?
That's a very general question, and I think the answer is going to be different for each person. Besides the obvious benefits if you live or like to travel often in the country, some people have an interest in the literature, movies, or certain aspects of the culture of the language that can be enjoyed more if you actually know the language well.
Some of the things that I particularly enjoyed doing that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise were meeting geishas and being able to hear about their lives and their training, joining a class to learn how to play the Japanese taiko (drum), a local university juggling club, and in particular hitchhiking around the country for 4 months, which would have been a quite different experience if I couldn't speak to the people I met along the way.
As for things that you can do if you're not in the country, I do like to read novels, watch movies and TV, and to meet people from the country who live in the country where I'm at. You will often be surprised at the difference in values and the different point of view that other countries have on certain historical events.
If you don't know the language, everything that comes from that country will have been filtered by the interpretation of somebody else. Either by a translator or by a person directly writing about it in your language.
Hey Pablo Román. What are your plans for applying Natural Language Processing to help people learn languages?
Right now we are applying it to estimate how difficult a video may be to learners based on the difficulty of the vocabulary that appears in the video. We do that by first doing speech recognition and then looking at how common those words are in a frequency list.
In the future, we may try to extend this to identify which words a student hasn't been exposed to enough, and suggest content that will get them exposed to that vocabulary. That could also be used by the users directly to search for content that uses certain vocabulary that they want to get more comfortable with.
If we find a way to figure out the vocabulary that each student knows and doesn't know yet, then we'll also be able to use that to show content that contains a good balance of known VS new words to maximize the learning speed.
Recently, I've also seen a number of apps that have you speak into them and supposedly they give you feedback on your pronunciation. Based on the literature, this kind of feedback doesn't seem to be helpful at all even when done by a human teacher, so I think this application of speech recognition is misguided.
In the future, I can also imagine chatbots being a useful tool when students have reached a good enough level to hold a conversation, but still need a bit more confidence to engage in conversation with native speakers knowing that their level is good enough to have a positive experience.
Welcome Pablo! I've been using Dreaming in Spanish for a few months now, and I really enjoy the videos. It's very impressive how much content you and your collaborators are able to create and publish every week.
How did you find your collaborators and get them involved in making educational videos? I'm also curious if you have any other side jobs besides working on Dreaming Spanish, or is your work life 100% committed to the site?
Chris Teague I'm glad you're liking it! We found most of our collaborators on Facebook groups for actors and Spanish teachers. I also contacted a few ones that already had their YouTube channel, and we ended up hiring with Alma. We'll now also be trying out some people that my business partner has had as Spanish tutors.
I'm working on this full time and I have been for the last 3 years. I wanted to as soon as I started, and it took me around 1 and 1/2 years to get there, during which time I was working part time as a web developer.
Pablo Román, wow, this convo is fascinating. Thanks for joining us! How did you manage to amass your viewership on YouTube? It's a tough market to conquer, highly competitive!
Jack Boreham I think in our case we offer something that didn't exist before, so it has been relatively easy to capture an audience that was already waiting for this kind of thing, or at least who had lost hope in traditional language learning methods and were ready for something different. I think this is why so many of our students are advocates and tell about us to many people. At the same time, this has limited us if you compare us to more traditional creators that cater to what most of the people are already looking for. I've seen channels growing at a crazy pace that were making videos catering to what most people search for, like "how to say hello in Spanish", "the numbers in Spanish". Those kinds of videos get a crazy number of views and subscriptions, but I also think that those channels probably don't get that many views per user, and that we are growing a devoted audience that with time will keep growing at a steady pace as people realize that there's a better way of learning languages.
Hey Pablo. What would it take for automatic translation to work well?
Automatic translation is REALLY tough. Right now it's perfectly serviceable for understanding full paragraphs, and as a help to speed up the work of translators. But no matter what, you still need a person (ideally a person that already knows the original language) to process the output and to turn it into something that makes sense. This is without even talking about translating between two languages other than English, or even from Asian languages to English.
For creating proper good-quality translations, and for translating short sentences and the kind of context-dependent language used in daily life, I'm afraid computers are not going to be as good as a human for as long as they are not as intelligent as a human. There is just so much ambiguity in language that you can't translate things well unless you really understand the reality that the language is trying to express. For example, for a language that doesn't need to explicitly mention the subject of the sentence, the translator needs to know who is likely to have done the action based on previous knowledge, but also on knowledge about the world and the things that are possible. In some extreme cases, like when translating very short sentences, a "good" translation can't even be expected from a human translator if the translator doesn't have more information about the situation in which the sentence was said, the relationship between the speakers, etc.
Pablo Román Thank you so much for the fantastic answers! It was awesome having you here. Before we wrap up this AMA, do you have any final thoughts, closing remarks, or anything you’d like to promote to our readers?
I'm just hoping that we can get more and more people excited about learning languages once they realize how easy it can be. If you are learning a language other than Spanish, I still encourage you to go to YouTube and search for "comprehensible input <your language>", since recently many channels are popping up that use a similar approach to ours. In our case, we are planning an expansion of our project with more teachers, more content, and to eventually offer a full course that will get you from zero to being able to understand TV and movies and be able to have conversations in the language. And also we can't wait to start tackling our next language!
Thanks to everybody who joined the AMA these last 2 days, and to receive updates about our project, you can sign up on our website http://dreamingspanish.com and mark "Notify me about big website updates and new products". We only send out emails for big important changes.