Learning Spanish via webcam a fair trade for all


By Lisa Monforton, Calgary HeraldFebruary 21, 2009

Hablas espanol? I can't count the number of times of I've gone to Mexico and vow the next time I return, I'll be able to converse with a cabbie or utter more than "Cerveza, por favor."
Night classes or Spanish for Dummies DVDs can be helpful but it doesn't compare to learning one on one with a tutor.

Clay Cooper, CEO and founder of discovered this in 1998 when he went to Antigua, Guatemala, and took private Spanish lessons from a tutor. "I never thought I'd learn a language, but I got pretty fluent." It was then that he formulated an idea that was not quite technologically ready for prime time. But by 2005, the technology was in place for him to create, a website that uses video-conferencing software enabling people to learn Spanish from the comfort of their home from live tutors in Guatemala or Nicaragua. What makes Cooper's service more remarkable, however, is its philanthropic edge. Students can choose from 15 to 20 tutors based out of two well-known language schools, which Cooper has partnered with: Probigua in Gautemala and Ave Nicaraguita in Nicaragua. Typically, these tutors might make $1 to $2 an hour, and their meagre incomes are susceptible to the ups and downs of the tourism trade. Teaching for Cooper's service has given them the chance to become tutor-entrepreneurs, where they can set their own rates and schedules, a fair trade arrangement that works for everyone and allows them to participate in the global economy.

The first time Calgary radio personality Robyn Adair met with her teacher online, she was given a webcam tour of the school where the tutor works and learned a bit more about the impoverished city where the literacy rate hovers around 50 per cent. Adair, of Calgary's Country 105's Odd Squad morning show, is just one of Speakshop's online students. Several weeks ago she signed up for five hour-long sessions, which cost around $20. "I did a trial lesson, and I liked it," says the DJ who couldn't find the time to take a Spanish class because she's in bed by 7 p. m. so she can be on air for the 5:30 a. m. show on Country 105.

"This is way more flexible. She's there and she's live and you get one-on-one attention," says Adair, who took some Spanish in university, but now wants to brush up on her skills for an upcoming trip to Nicaragua. Each week, Adair can request what she'd like to work on, whether it's past tenses or casual conversations. "She's been very flexible. It's a really cool idea."

Adair chose her instructor based on biographical information and her interests. Each tutor has a posted bio, like single mom Arlen from Granada, Nicaragua who took a two-year course to learn how to teach Spanish to foreigners. With the money she makes from tutoring, she hopes to one day become a lawyer. Cooper says he's looking at introducing Portuguese classes and maybe a few more in the future.

To learn more go to, where there are also opportunities to help the communities where the tutors live. here for the entire Calgary Herald article and more


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