Olly Richards, the creator of the popular blog I Will Teach You A Language has also created several language learning courses.
His philosophy for language learning utilizes stories as a means of teaching. This is prevalent throughout his site, and other products he has created, such as his short stories books and the grammar training course – Grammar Hero.
It should be no surprise then that his beginner course, Spanish Uncovered follows this same principle. The same can be said for German Uncovered and Italian Uncovered.
This methodology is much different than you’ll find in most other courses. Instead of first learning some vocabulary or grammar, you’re thrown right into a story.
For this review, I spent several hours working through various chapters of Spanish Uncovered. And although I only briefly looked at the German version, the course structure and lessons are nearly identical. So, this review will be just as relevant for people interested in the other languages available.
Spanish Uncovered is a beginner course, but would also be suitable for those who have already studied some before.
It’s much more challenging than most courses. I’ve found with many other language learning resources, they can be very easy to fly through and get everything correct. This course requires a much more focused and persistent effort. It’s much easier to feel overwhelmed compared with most other courses.
For the most part, I enjoyed trying out Spanish Uncovered. It does a lot of things very well but there were also some areas that I think could be improved.
This review will take a deep look at exactly what it’s like to use this course.
Spanish Uncovered, along with the German and Italian versions of the course is split up into 20 chapters. Each of these chapters is based around one chapter of the story, “The Man With The Hat”.
The story is identical for each language, with only a few minor differences, such as where it takes place.
Each chapter is structured in the same way and has the same components. These are…
- Read & Listen
- Review Quiz
Olly says that the story gets harder as you move through it. This may be the case, but honestly, I didn’t notice too much difference in the difficulty of the text as I tried out different lessons throughout the course. That said, the other sections definitely get more challenging and build upon each other.
As this is a beginner course, most students are going to find the first lessons to be very challenging. This is to be expected. After all, the structure of the course is much different than nearly every other course you’ll come across, with the exception of smarterGerman – another course I really liked.
If you start using Spanish Uncovered, chances are that you’ll feel overwhelmed at first, don’t worry! That’s completely normal. Things will get easier as you work with the story. It’s important that you don’t rush through the course and passively consume the material. To really benefit, you need to be willing to put in the time and effort.
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In order to give you a crystal clear picture of what’s included in this course, I want to walk you through what exactly a lesson entails. For this part, we’ll take a look at chapter 3 – El Plan.
First things first, you’ll get a brief introduction to the lesson and the things you’ll learn. From there, you’ll move on to the story.
The first thing you’ll do in each lesson is to listen to the chapter. If you haven’t already studied Spanish, there will be a lot that you don’t understand. You’re not expected to understand everything. Instead, just try to recognize words that you’ve learned before and get a rough idea of what’s happening in the story.
The audio clip is about the right length for a beginner. At around two minutes, it’s long enough to provide a lot of material to work with, but short enough that it’s manageable.
After listening to the text, you’ll want to go on and read it yourself. Reading it one time probably won’t be enough. Read and listen to it several times and see how much you can understand on your own. At this point, you still won’t look at the translations so there will be a good amount that you’re unsure about.
You can also download both the audio file and pdf transcript of the chapter. It’s best if you can print out the story here as you’ll want a physical copy for the next step.
Now, you’re going to want to search for cognates. Cognates are just words that look and mean the same thing in two or more languages, such as the English word gratitude and the Spanish word gratitud.
You’ll want to take the paper you printed and underline any cognates you find. Basically, if you see a word that looks familiar, stop and underline it, making a note of what you think it might mean.
I really like this method as it puts you in charge of your own learning. Instead of passively consuming content, you’re put into the driver’s seat. You’ll likely be surprised by how much of the chapter you’re able to figure out only from words that are similar to English.
After having looked for cognates on your own in the previous lesson, Olly will help you find some more with a video. He’ll look at certain lines or words from the text and help you to spot patterns. For example, how the English ph becomes an f in Spanish or how an English b can sometimes become a Spanish v.
This video is really helpful as it gets you to think of things that you may have never realized on your own. These are the same things that other courses may rarely point out.
This video typically lasts around ten minutes, but some are a bit longer.
At this point, you still haven’t seen the English translation of the chapter. So, not surprisingly, you won’t yet understand much of the story. But, you will understand more than when you started and may even be able to get a rough idea of what’s happening.
There’s a short 5 question multiple choice quiz to test your comprehension of the story. There’s a good chance that you won’t get everything correct – that’s fine. You’re going to keep working with this chapter for a while longer still.
Finally, for the first time, you’re given a copy of the transcript in English. Here you can read through it and see how much of the story you understood. It’d be smart to read through the Spanish version a couple more times after reading the English translation.
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The next section focuses on teaching vocabulary. Like the previous section, Olly will walk you through parts of the text with a video. This generally lasts between 10-20 minutes long.
Although the lesson is mainly about vocabulary, there’s a fair amount of grammatical explanations included.
It could be easy to sit and passively watch these videos, but you’ll be unlikely to retain much that way. You’d benefit significantly by actively taking notes of words to study.
I really liked with smarterGerman how there was an accompanying Memrise course where cards were made up of chunks of the story. I wish Olly had done something similar with this course.
Overall, this video is really helpful. I like that it’s not simply listing and translating vocabulary words. The fact that he explains lots of aspects of the language makes it much more valuable.
In addition to the video, there’s also a PDF worksheet for you to do.
This PDF has several exercises, for chapter three, there are 8 of them. In addition, there is also some more explicit instruction. This helps to cover some material that hasn’t yet come up in the course, but that you should know. You’ll also find the answers at the end.
The exercises are helpful but nothing particularly special or unique. They feel a lot like the worksheets I got from my high school Spanish class.
There’s a lot of matching, fill in the blank, ordering sentences, writing, translating, and even word searches.
There’s no doubt that these are helpful. But, in some ways, they feel a bit dated and I’m not completely convinced that all of the exercises are the best use of time. Still, if you were to pay for the course, you probably shouldn’t skip over them.
After the vocabulary section, you’ll move on to grammar. Again, there’s a video of Olly explaining various grammar points that came up in the story. The grammar video lasts anywhere from 13 to 41 minutes.
He’ll also add in other example sentences to further reinforce the grammar.
Again, watching these videos is really helpful and Olly adds a lot of valuable information. But, don’t fall into the trap of simply watching. Taking notes is highly recommended!
After watching the video, there’s another PDF file with exercises related to the video. There are also some further explanations there for you as well, though it seems like some of the grammar points in the PDF weren’t mentioned in the video – but there are clear explanations for you there.
There’s quite a bit to take in and it’s not like some of the other courses where you can just fly through and get everything correct. You may need to rewatch and reread the materials. Even then, you may still not be 100% certain. That’s alright though, as you move through the course, and learn more Spanish, you’ll get more comfortable.
I feel like there’s too much crammed into the grammar section. For example, just from this chapter, you’ll learn gustar, ser vs estar, hay, and a bit about stem-changing verbs.
Most other courses take these topics much slower, and it makes sense to do so. They’re somewhat tough for beginners so having extra time to explain and practice them is really useful. Sure, you’ll continue to practice them throughout your time learning Spanish, but I’d rather see a more focused approach in the grammar section, or perhaps having several grammar lessons instead of just the one.
I feel like it would be very easy for students to become overwhelmed and discouraged at this point. From the story, cognates, vocabulary, and now grammar, there’s just so much for students to take in.
It’s really important not to rush through the course, but rather take it slow, reading and watching multiple times if needed.
The pronunciation lessons are a stark contrast when compared with the rest of the Spanish Uncovered course. Whereas in the other lessons, there’s just so much content, the pronunciation lessons are much shorter and simpler.
Here, Olly got some help from a native Spanish instructor to make the instruction videos. They’re fairly short, with most lasting around four minutes long.
Each video focuses on one or two letters. The teacher explains the sound very clearly, given a clear description of how to make the sound with your mouth. I also like how she will let you know what the sound isn’t, highlighting some common mistakes.
I wish they also added some animations or diagrams that clearly showed how the sound is made. That way you could visually see where exactly your tongue is supposed to be and how the sound is made.
The videos are pretty basic. Much of the lesson is just saying words which contain that sound. Then, also saying some sentences that have a large number of those sounds.
I don’t really like the way these lessons are distributed in the course. I’d much prefer to have several pronunciation lessons in the early chapters and then none later on.
In each chapter, the lesson following pronunciation is focused on speaking. But, of course, when speaking Spanish, you’re going to use a lot of sounds, not just the one you’ve recently learned. I think it’s far too likely that students will develop bad pronunciation habits by saying words as they’re said in English, simply because they haven’t yet learned the actual pronunciation.
Moving on to the speaking section, you’ll want to find a tutor or a language exchange partner. If you don’t have one yet, italki is a great place to find both. Other options include Verbling, Tandem, Speaky, and HelloTalk.
You may be able to complete this section on your own, but you won’t get nearly as much out of it that way.
Here, you’re given a PDF with a couple of different activities to practice. It has already been marked with information for both the student and the teacher.
Basically, you’ll practice talking about what you’ve studied in this chapter. In chapter 3, for example, you learned about the verbs hay and gustar. So, some of the conversation will be about what you’ll find in your city and the things you like and dislike about it.
Overall, I think this part is done pretty well. Of course, it’d be great if there was an instructor included with the price of the course, but it’s easy to understand why that wasn’t feasible.
It’s easy enough to find a language exchange partner and online tutors are very affordable anyway.
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The review quiz is the final section of each lesson. It’s helpful but far from sufficient. It only contains around 10 multiple choice questions.
I like that the questions are pretty challenging, with a few of the options appearing like they could be correct if you haven’t learned the material.
However, given the high price of the course, and the depth of content in the previous sections, ten multiple choice questions just don’t seem like enough.
As an example, ser vs estar was a pretty important part of this lesson. However, on the review quiz, there are only two questions that require you to know the difference between the two and how to conjugate them.
Although I don’t love multiple choice questions, they work well enough for an end of the unit quiz. There just aren’t enough of them. I think this section should have at least 25 questions.
Spanish Uncovered, German Uncovered, and Italian Uncovered each cost $297. There’s also a 30-day money back guarantee for each course.
I like Spanish Uncovered. It’s a good course that could be great with some improvements.
- I wish that pronunciation was taught earlier in the course, instead of having one lesson included in each chapter.
- I think too many unrelated grammar points are thrown into the grammar lesson.
- I think the final review quiz is far too short
- Although the accompanying worksheets are helpful, I found them to be rather uninspiring.
Having said that, I like this methodology of story-based teaching that Olly calls Guided Discovery.
- It really does make learning Spanish more fun.
- Learning words and grammar from seeing them in the context of a story makes them easier to internalize.
- By encouraging the student to look for cognates, it makes it much easier to realize how much Spanish you already know.
- The course forces you to actively learn instead of passively consuming material.
- By the time you finish the course, you’ll have read and listened to an entire story. For most beginner students, that may sound impossible, but it’s not.
Overall, I liked Spanish Uncovered and am happy to recommend it but don’t necessarily think it’s right for everyone.
I would expect that most, learners would feel overwhelmed at the beginning.
With learning a language, the most important thing is just to keep going and continue studying. I could see this course having completely opposite effects on different types of people.
Some people will love jumping right into the story. They’ll be self-motivated and enjoy searching for cognates and working through the study materials. They’ll be completely comfortable not knowing every detail and not getting everything correct. These types of people will really enjoy the challenge and likely thrive with this course.
However, others may have the opposite reaction. Learning a language can be hard and it’s easy to lose confidence. Apps like Duolingo and Lingodeer can be great for these types. They make it super easy to study and the questions are quite easy. This makes it much easier to remain confident and keep going (the most important part!). I worry that these people may get discouraged and would be more likely to give up with Spanish Uncovered compared with other courses.