CONCEPCIÓN – These are tough times. It’s easy to forget ordinary people are doing extraordinary things, so Chile Today comes to the rescue with this not-so-regular series about Chileans making a difference. Today we catch up with Marco Fierro, cofounder of LatinELE, Chile’s own podcast for English speakers who want to learn Spanish.
With a Silly Putty pandemic that squished down in one spot pops up in another, ever-changing restrictions that affect everything from the most minute mundanities (“Can I walk the dog?”) to its most profound needs (“How do I feed my family if I can’t work?”), and a historic vote to select those who will try to draft a new Constitution that might reshape the country, it’s easy to forget ordinary people are doing extraordinary things. It’s worth a pause to remember them, though, because of their lessons about passion, redirection, and perseverance.
One such person is Marco Fierro. He’s an entrepreneur, a Spanish teacher, and a translator. There are many like him in this regard, but what sets him apart is that he’s also the cofounder of LatinELE, an approachable and increasingly-successful podcast for English speakers who want to learn Spanish. (The “Ele” is a nod to the acronym “ELE,” which stands for “Español como lengua extranjera” (“Spanish as a foreign language”), a term teachers in the field use; and “Latin,” of course, is a reference to Latin American Spanish.)
✅¿Qué es Latin ELE? En este video te lo explicamos
✅What is Latin ELE? We explain it on this video 📽️👇#LearnSpanish with us. For more information, visit our website https://t.co/m5J2nHthAf#Aprenderespañol #onlinelessons #podcast #spanishtutor #Spanishlanguage #Español pic.twitter.com/dzxsKwkCaQ
— Latin ELE | Learn Spanish (@LatinEle) March 8, 2020
- We see from LatinELE’s website and from your own personal LinkedIn profile that you’re a professional translator with a master’s in applied linguistics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso and that you teach Spanish to foreigners online. So, it’s perhaps not such a great leap to doing a podcast, but, still, it requires a lot of work and a different skill set. What inspired you to go for it?
I have always had a passion for languages. When I was studying at university, I realized learning languages was more than just learning vocabulary, it was a window to a new culture and a new way to understand the world.
Considering this, creating a podcast to teach my own language is something I really enjoy. Besides, I’ve been a listener of podcasts since around 2010, when I had to download the files on my MP3 to listen to episodes in English and French, the languages I was studying at the time. So, it’s a format I’ve always felt comfortable with.
Many of my students before starting LatinELE also used to listen to podcasts, and some of them sometimes asked me for recommendations for podcasts from Latin America. As you can see, it was a set of things and conditions that inspired us to create LatinELE.
- Who else is a driving force behind LatinELE and what are their backgrounds?
Jessica Elejalde, from Colombia, and I, from Chile, hatched the idea of LatinELE. We were both crazy about podcasts and thought it would be fun to start our own. Jessica has a Ph.D. in linguistics and has taught Spanish as a foreign language at the University of Concepción, so when we decided to create a podcast, the choice of the content was obvious. Jessica is not recording episodes at the moment because of her current job, but we often discuss ideas for episodes.
- When you set out to create a podcast, did you do any particular “homework” or training?
When I started, I was clueless about all that is involved in creating a podcast. I bought the book Podcasting for Dummies, but a lot of the information in it was out of date. I therefore had to complement that book with other sources on the internet. It took me about three months to learn most of the basic stuff to be able to edit and submit a podcast to the listening apps.
Nowadays, of course, I know what is involved, but I had to study hard. This is something that’s not taught at universities.
After learning how to make a podcast, I participated in the creation of an online course for Spanish teachers who want to start their own podcast with two colleagues from Spain (for a project called Podcasts ELE). I have also given presentations where I explain the basics involved in creating a podcast. I think it’s important for language teachers to at least have a basic knowledge of this useful modern tool which students can access on their phone in virtually any part of the world.
Today, I continue educating myself about podcasting. It’s a field that is evolving fast, so you need to be constantly reading to keep updated. Thus, in a way, I’m still doing my homework to improve my content, currently focusing more on storytelling and how to effectively use sound effects.
- When was your inaugural podcast?
The first episode we launched was on Sept. 15, 2019, we initially started a podcast for intermediate level students. That’s how “Aprende español con LatinELE” was born. I then created an additional podcast called Speaking Spanish for Beginners in December 2019.
- Has your audience grown since then?
Yes, our audience has been growing steadily. That’s something I’m really grateful for. If you’re a listener reading this: thank you very much!
The podcast for intermediate level is listened to mainly in the United States, Brazil, and Germany, and the one for beginners, as it is a bilingual podcast, is listened to mostly in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Speaking Spanish for Beginners was recently in the top 10 of Apple Podcast in the category “language learning” in the United States. It was a big surprise to us and a great motivation to continue doing this.
From time to time, I also receive messages from different parts of the world saying they enjoy our content, and also proposing topics for future episodes, and we’re always glad to receive that feedback and be in touch.
- LatinELE is much more than just podcasts. What else do you offer?
We also have some videos on YouTube in which we complement some of the topics discussed in our episodes. However, our priority is the podcast.
I also teach one-on-one lessons by videocall to students from different parts of the world. Most of them are from the United States.
Additionally, we are currently working on creating online courses and ebooks which will be available on our website, with a special emphasis on Latin America.
- Are any of your offerings behind paywalls or is it all free?
The podcast and videos on YouTube are free and will remain that way. Actually, I use a lot of that material in my own lessons, because sometimes it’s hard to find contents created in Latin America that focus on the varieties of Spanish spoken in our region. That’s also why I saw the need to create LatinELE.
The free content has attracted new students and it also provided me with the chance to work with a company in Spain creating audio material for them. So, the podcast, with this free content, has also been a door to new opportunities.
We also have paid content, such as transcripts and exclusive episodes, for our subscribers on Patreon.
- What sets LatinELE apart from the other podcasts in this genre?
From the comments I have received, our listeners value the fact that our podcast focuses not only on language content, but also the culture of Spanish speaking countries, especially from Latin America.
Learning a language goes beyond learning grammar, you also have to pay attention to the conventions of the target culture. And that’s an element that can be found in LatinELE’s podcasts.
We make an extra effort to provide a meaningful context under which our contents can be better understood. We only have the audio to do it in the podcast, so we have to be intentional and carefully plan how to best represent the concepts so our audience can get a clear picture of what is being taught. And that’s also something that I think listeners value from our podcast.
- What are you planning for the future of LatinELE? Do you have any new projects or expansions in the works?
In the short term, we plan to create online courses and ebooks which will be available on our website. In my case, I enjoy reading and writing, so the idea of creating ebooks to teach Spanish is something I really want to do. Jessica enjoys drawing, so we are planning to combine that in the creation of new content.
In the long term, I would like LatinELE to expand. If possible, after the pandemic, I would like to open an academy that offers language immersion courses, where people could come to Chile and get to know more about our culture. I think Chile has a lot to offer to Spanish students.
- Has the pandemic affected LatinELE at all?
As we started as an online company, the pandemic luckily didn’t affect us very much. Actually, online language learning increased around the world during the pandemic, so it’s a field that in general has not suffered many of the consequences of other areas.
People started realizing they could study languages online and some students even prefer this method now as they don’t have to go to the academies in their home countries, which is time-consuming. Having been a face-to-face teacher myself in the past, I think you can do the same things online in language teaching.
- In your podcasts, you’ve mentioned that coffee keeps you going. Do you have a favorite these days?
Hahaha, that’s true, I’m a coffee addict. I love strong flavors in coffee, especially Colombian coffee. It’s a pity that in Chile most people drink instant coffee, that makes it hard to find good coffee in local supermarkets.
- If listeners want to support LatinELE, what’s the best way to do that?
A simple way of supporting us is rating our show on the listening apps, such as Apple Podcast, so more people can find our shows. Another way is by sharing our contents with others, that allows us to continue growing.
And if somebody can spare a buck, they can donate on PayPal or become a Patreon. That allows us to cover basic expenses to produce a podcast … and also buy good Colombian coffee, not instant!
Robert Travis grew up in San Francisco, California, and moved to Santiago, Chile, in July 2018. In addition to editing and writing for Chile Today, he practices law from afar with Travis & Travis. He’s thrilled to be living in the same hemisphere as “the world’s longest left,” Playa Chicama.