Sandbox Mode: 9 Alternative Techniques BaseLang Students Use To Learn Spanish
Get our free email course, Shortcut to Conversational.
Have conversations faster, understand people when they speak fast, and other tested tips to learn faster.More info
It’s no secret that BaseLang’s DNA is conversation.
We named our core program “BaseLang Real World” because it emphasizes teaching students to become conversational, so that they can speak Spanish in real life situations – as opposed to most traditional methods which tend to overwhelm you with a bunch of theory and stuff that isn’t necessary until a more advanced stage.
The program can be split into three parts.
Part one is following our hacked curriculum, which we spent over a thousand hours building and optimizing so that BaseLang students learn only the most important stuff first in order to become conversational in Spanish.
Part two is where the magic happens: conversation classes.
As per the name, this part is where students practice and develop their speaking skills through open conversations with tutors, who will identify areas where the student needs to improve. Think of it as on-demand conversation practice.
And finally, part three, which is optional: sandbox mode.
Sandbox mode puts in the student in control, and allows them to bring their own materials to class and continue working with tutors in alternative ways that aren’t structured lessons, or conversation classes.
The open nature of sandbox mode has resulted in students using BaseLang in unique and creative ways that aren’t part of our standard offering. Likewise, sandbox mode also gives our tutors the opportunity to use their teaching experience and introduce alternative ways to learn Spanish.
Before continuing, we should mention that in our experience, following the core curriculum along with conversational classes is the most efficient way to become conversationally fluent.
Sandbox mode tends to be mostly used by more advanced students, who are already conversational and wish to implement alternative techniques to fine tune their Spanish.
Here are some of the different ways that BaseLang students are using sandbox mode.
1. Reading Articles
For most beginners, reading is not an effective way to study Spanish – at least not for now. In fact, we previously outlined ten principles for learning to speak Spanish, and reading is not mentioned at all.
The reason for this is because many beginners fall into the trap of focusing only on reading – ie. reading textbooks, memorizing vocab etc, but then can’t actually speak Spanish because they’ve never developed their listening or speaking skills.
Instead, we recommend implementing reading at a later stage, once you’re already at a conversational level, to build vocabulary.
Students who are at this level (or above) can use sandbox mode to incorporate reading into their classes by selecting a piece of text and studying it with their tutor. The text can be a news article on a topic that interests the student, a book excerpt, or something more academic.
A reading session normally entails the student reading a piece of text out loud, and clarifying anything that he or she doesn’t understand.
Not only does this exercise improve comprehension, vocabulary acquisition and pronunciation, but it also develops conversational skills by having the student discuss what they just read with their teacher afterwards.
Even when not in class, daily reading is an easy way to further immerse yourself in Spanish.
Just as we do when listening to music in our native language, when you repeatedly listen to the same song in Spanish, you will slowly start to recall most of the lyrics, even though you never consciously decided to learn them word for word.
If you talk to anyone who has successfully learned a second language, there’s a good chance they’ll say that listening to music has played a big part in that process.
However, listening to the same song on repeat for a 30-minute BaseLang class doesn’t sound like an effective way to learn Spanish.
Instead, some students use sandbox mode to dissect a song with their tutor, studying the lyrics line by line. By approaching it this way, the student and tutor can study sentence structure, new vocabulary, and of course, test pronunciation.
There are even some students who prefer to sing the songs back to the tutor, who will give feedback on their pronunciation.
(We maintain a strict no “Despacito” policy for the sanity of our tutors.)
Learning with music is a fun and engaging way to continue immersing yourself in the language – especially if you’re already a fan of a certain genre of Spanish music. If not, then out tutors will be happy to choose some music for you to practice with.
Note: If you’re going to use reggaeton (which can be great to get used to people mashing their words together), listen to artists with clearer pronunciation in general. J Balvin is a good choice, Bad Bunny not so much.
Just like music, using podcasts is a great way to further immerse yourself in Spanish on a daily basis.
In the last couple of years, the podcast scene has exploded to the point that whatever your interest is, be it football, tech, fashion, travel, politics, food, or other – there is likely to be a podcast (in Spanish) out there for you.
If you are a fan of English soccer, then you might like “La Media Inglesa”
If you want long-form storytelling, then Radio Ambulante is for you.
Podcasts provide the added benefit of being able to access audio of native speakers from various regions – which provides a new challenge to those who want to be exposed to different accents and continue developing their listening skills.
So how are podcasts used in sandbox mode?
In many cases, a student will suggest listening to a podcast that is related to topics that interest them. Together with the tutor, they’ll listen to segments of the podcast and follow it by having a discussion about what they have just heard.
If a student struggles to understand certain parts of the podcast,, then the tutor will work with them to improve comprehension, and clarify the use of idioms and vocabulary in certain context.
Although most of our tutors are from Venezuela, many of them are familiar with expressions from other Spanish speaking countries, and so they can explain regional slang or expressions, if need be.
4. TED Talks
While there is some added benefit to watching movies or TV shows in Spanish, it’s difficult to categorize this as “study”. We believe that focused study using shorter videos, is much more effective than binging on Netflix en español.
In sandbox mode, watching TED talks allows the student and tutor to quickly digest short-form video content (or even excerpts) and follow it with a discussion about the topic in question.
Just like podcasts, this method helps students reinforce listening skills, acquire new vocabulary, test comprehension and in general, improve conversational skills by discussing what they just watched with the tutor
Here is a list of TED Talks in Spanish is get you started.
5. Yesterday Game
Unlike other techniques on this list, this is one that many BaseLang tutors will suggest using (as opposed to suggestions from students).
It’s commonly used to stimulate conversation is asking a student to describe what they did yesterday.
Yep, very simple but extremely effective for learning how to create coherent sentences when speaking.
The student starts by describing what time he/she woke up at, and continues describing everything that happened until they went to bed that day. Using this technique not only reinforces fluency and pronunciation, but also tense composition and how to use vocabulary in different context (sometimes tricky in Spanish).
And best of all, it will help you become a better storyteller.
A common situation that beginners find themselves in is, after learning a ton of grammar and vocabulary, they still cannot speak Spanish. This is same as someone who memorizes a book on “how to drive a car”, without actually practicing driving a real car.
To learn to speak, you need to practice speaking. It’s that simple.
It’s also why BaseLang’s core principles emphasize listening and speaking, above everything else.
Throughout the core curriculum (Part 1), a BaseLang student will practice various role-play scenarios with their tutor:
- Reading and understanding a food recipe
- Job interview scenario
- Ordering food at a restaurant
- Small talk at a barbecue party
- Buying groceries at the supermarket
- Visiting a museum
These are just a few examples of common real-life scenarios that our students learn how to handle, through role play.
In addition to this, sandbox mode has enabled students to role play additional scenarios that are unique to them.
For example, one student, a professional lawyer, asked his tutor to role-play an interview scenario whereby the student played the lawyer (obviously) and the tutor played his client.
In this example, the student was able to practice this scenario in a fun and engaging way, in an environment that allowed him to make mistakes, and address those mistakes so that he eventually felt confident enough to work with a Spanish speaking client.
Some less common role-play scenarios requested in sandbox mode include: being on a 1st date (yep, we’re serious), giving a presentation, dealing with a medical appointment, presenting a complaint, and too many more to mention.
If you are already a BaseLang student, then feel free to ask your tutor to role play a situation that you want to be capable of handling with a Spanish speaker – be it something that relates to your career, speaking with family, friends or other.
7. Writing Sessions
Learning Spanish for professional reasons is a common motivation for many BaseLang students.
If you are one of those people and would like to work in Spanish speaking country, or simply add Spanish to your resume, then at some point it’s likely that you’ll need to prove your level of Spanish by completing a written assignment or exam.
For this reason, sandbox mode is sometimes used to transform a class into a writing session between the student and tutor.
While our core curriculum will give you more than enough to become conversational, certain job applications will require a level of Spanish that involves more complex and formal vocabulary that most native speakers don’t use in real life conversations, which means you probably won’t cover it in our core curriculum.
The idea of a writing session is not to provide a translation service – but to have tutors work with students to improve their writing skills.
The most common examples of this involve students bringing a cover letter, resume or job application to class, and with the tutor, reviewing vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure and in general, seeing how the text can be improved.
8. Vocabulary Games
As a kid, you can probably remember those days in school when your teacher put the textbooks down and told everyone in class that the afternoon would be spent playing games.
That wasn’t because your teacher was lazy and wanted to take that afternoon off work.
Most teachers recognize that value of complementing regular lessons, with fun and engaging ways to learn, and our tutors are no different. In fact, if you accumulate some lesson fatigue and want to mix things up, then you can use sandbox mode to learn using games.
Need to work on your pronunciation?
We have a couple of tongue twisters for you to try.
Want to learn new vocabulary?
Let’s play hangman, or online scrabble
There is a reason why these games have survived for so long in classrooms around the world – it’s because they’re still an effective way to improve your language skills, while hopefully having some fun.
This technique that has been around for years, and continues to be used for teaching languages in schools around the world.
Dictation normally involves a tutor reading a selection of text and asking the student to write down what they hear. If you studied a second language in high school or university, then perhaps you remember this exercise from an audio comprehension exercise whereby you had to answer multiple choice questions based on what you heard from an audio CD.
Why is dictation so useful?
According to 2003 study, more than forty percent of our daily communication is spent on listening, thirty-five percent on speaking, about sixteen percent on reading, and only nine percent on writing.
(this study is from before the “Whatsapp era”, but let’s ignore that for now.)
Dictation reinforces not only the listening comprehension and written composition, but also how fast our brain processes information in a different language. In fact, the findings of this study found that there is a positive difference when using teacher-lead dictation vs. tape-recorded dictation (speaking and listening with real people are the principles upon which BaseLang was built).
What does a dictation session with BaseLang look like?
When a student uses sandbox mode to request dictation practice, the tutor will find a text or article suitable for that students level (needs to be a text that the student hasn’t seen before).
The tutor will then read the text out loud, while the student types out what they hear, and at the end, both will review the typed text.
Although this method is simple rather than spectacular, we have found it to be worthwhile as an alternative method for those who want to simultaneously test their written composition and listening comprehension with a native speaker (ie. the tutor).
At BaseLang, you get unlimited one-on-one Spanish tutoring, over video chat, for just $149 a month.
Your first week is just $1. And we have a negative-risk guarantee: if at any point in the first 35 days, you don’t absolutely LOVE BaseLang, we’ll give you a full refund plus $20 extra for wasting your time. You can sign-up here