The Story Behind Jacob Learns
The story behind Jacob Learns and why I'm learning Spanish
Current day me looking happy
Hi there! Welcome to the first ever blog post of Jacob Learns! You may be wondering what the heck a pasty British guy who lives in the Czech Republic is doing learning Spanish. Well, let's get into it!
In this post I'd like to share a bit about myself and my journey so far that has led me to start this site, and hopefully give you a bit of insight into how I hope Jacob Learns will become an awesome place for anyone who wants to learn languages quickly, efficiently and BS free.
Moving To Prague
As an city-loving guy from a small town in south-west England, I decided about three days after finishing university to forego the cows-and-cider lifestyle, and hop on the first plane to Prague to try life as an English teacher.
The initial plan was to do a one-month teacher training program and then see what happened after that. Well, almost nine years and I'm still here and can't quite believe everything that has happened in the time I've been here.
My first month in Prague with my awesome teacher trainee classmates
After finishing my month-long teacher training program, I wangled my way into a job as a corporate English teacher in a local language school, and, despite having no idea what I was doing, I had a great time, managed to not get fired, and ended up falling in love with teaching and with languages themselves.
It soon became clear to me, however, that teaching English isn't as easy as it looks. In spite of having a pretty decent grasp of English myself, I had no idea how to get what was in my head into someone else's head, and ended up feeling like I was often doing my students more harm than good.
As a self-confessed perfectionist, this wasn't on! After around a year of this, I decided enough was enough, and decided to learn English inside-out and try to find the most efficient, organised and logical way to teach people a language.
This entailed much swearing and many wines, but after a while things started coming together, and lessons soon went from how the hell do I get through the next 60 minutes to I wonder how much I can teach these lucky guys in the next hour!
Starting A Language School
Let's fast-forward around 3 years to 2017. By this point I had been teaching for over three years and had a much better grasp on how English works, how grammar works, and how to teach in a way that actually gets results.
Around this time I also started my MBA and was getting increasingly interested with the idea of starting my own business. As English was what I knew and loved, it made perfect sense to try opening a language school.
So at 24 years old, I opened my little school - Speak Like Me - crossed my fingers, and prayed to the Old Gods and the New that I would be able to avoid bankruptcy for at least a month or so.
5 years later and we're still around, students are super happy with our course, and our team has grown to 12 fantastic teachers that I still find hard to believe I have the pleasure to work with every day.
Happy students and teachers at the Speak Like Me 5th birthday party!
Around the same time as starting Speak Like Me, I also started learning Czech. I had always loved the idea of learning a language, but had never had to reason to learn one. Well now I did have a reason, so I jumped right in, and five years later I'm happy to report I'm more or less conversationally fluent, can survive a Tinder date in Czech, and have also learnt a lot of valuable lessons about what not to do when trying to learn a language!
When starting to learn Czech, I did what a lot of you have likely done: started off with a lot of enthusiasm, dived into a bunch of grammar books, downloaded Duolingo, watched a bunch of TV with Czech subtitles, and got real familiar with Google Translate.
However, as I’m sure many of you have experienced, the initial excitement soon fades away once you realise that languages are hard and you have no freaking idea what you're doing. Depression sets in, apps get deleted, and soon enough you're sat on the couch, nursing a glass of wine at 2pm wondering where everything went wrong.
This is not a good situation, and I want to help you avoid it, which is the whole reason for starting Jacob Learns.
The Idea For Jacob Learns
As my Czech got better, I started realising that if I had learnt things in the right order, and focused on the language that is actually used all day every day, rather than wasting brain space on things like colours and vegetables, then I would have gotten to conversational fluency probably at least twice as fast, and then could have just filled in the missing vegetable-related vocabulary later on.
This is the plan for Jacob Learns: to break down a language to it’s constituent parts, and reorganise it into building blocks that build logically and progressively, focusing on the language that is most frequently used in real life, and basically giving a big F You to colours and vegetables.
I'll be starting with Spanish, and will add a new language every 2-3 years (or whenever I feel I’m ready to absorb another one without dissolving into a fugue state). For each new language I will take the lessons learned from the previous language to make the course for the next language even more efficient and effective.
The idea is that by teaching myself each language from scratch and using myself as a guinea pig, I will firstly prove that it works, and secondly anyone who wants to be the same level as me can simply do everything I've done and they will reach the same level. Nothing will be hidden. Everything I'm doing to learn the language will be clearly documented and laid out so that you can simply copy and paste and follow a system that has been shown to work!
So let’s finish off with looking specifically at the plan for Jacob Learns Spanish, and how you can follow along with me on my Spanish learning journey.
The Plan For Jacob Learns Spanish
In order to reach conversational fluency in Spanish in two years, the aim is to do the following every week:
Post a weekly grammar video on YouTube explaining one piece of Spanish grammar - going in order from the first thing you should know to the last, in the order that seems most logical to me, so that over two years we cover all the grammar and useful tips needed to speak fluent Spanish in an order that makes sense. Each video will be checked and vetted by Spanish natives on the Jacob Learns team.
Record a weekly podcast with myself and my Spanish speaking colleagues, in which I will attempt to put all the grammar and vocabulary I've learnt into practice by speaking Spanish to the fantastic Diego (Chile) and Lissette (Ecuador) each week . I'll also listen to them speaking Spanish and ask them all the dumb questions we all have but are too scared to ask.
Watch lots of TV with Spanish subtitles. This is such a crucial part of the learning process that I really can't emphasise enough. If you only watch the grammar videos and listen to the podcast then sure you'll make progress, but you'll make much faster progress if you're just passively absorbing as much Spanish as possible by having the subtitles on every time you watch something.
In order to help myself be able to speak on the podcast, I have also made myself a simple, grammar summary leaflet that contains a summary of all essential Spanish grammar, so I have a reference guide to look at when trying to speak. This really helps in the first few months of trying to speak a language, and I’m making this leaflet also available for free to any of you who think it could be useful for you too.
Let's Get On With It
I really hope some of you will find Jacob Learns useful in helping you on your own Spanish learning journey. And remember, the more you can do the better! There's a bunch of great Spanish YouTube channels, podcasts and courses out there, and I'll be linking to them often when I find something useful.
Learning a language is one of most rewarding things we can do, but also can be very easy to give up, so let's do it together, support each other when we can, and most importantly just have a good time while we do it.
See you guys on the other side.