Looking forward to 2014 and beyond – what’s coming down the line?


One of Catrin’s favourite festive activities is suggesting that I become a little more like Walter Matthau every year.  Unfortunately for her, although I’m a huge fan of Walter Matthau and take what she’s saying as a compliment, I’ve never actually seen ‘Grumpy Old Men‘, so I’ve no idea how close to the truth she may or may not be.

One of the things that seems to trigger this description is my response to ‘The Best xyz of This Year’ and/or ‘Our Predictions for Next Year’.  I’m not a big fan of that kind of ‘fill the schedule’ programming, so it’s probably a good thing that we don’t usually watch much TV, and I probably like it even less in newspapers.  I mean, this year, next year?  We’re right in the middle of a (not particularly good so far) rugby season, that’s all I know.  It’s all a bit made-up, isn’t it?  There’s nothing particularly special about being on this side of the sun rather than on the side we’ll be in six months, is there?

So it seems fitting that I should wind down for this week by looking back at what’s happened in the last seven days, and looking forward at all the things that should happen in the next seven days.

Okay, okay, I guess that doesn’t work as well.


Colour me hypocritical then, and let’s just hope I’ve heard the last of it by this time next year.


Looking back before looking forward

Well, I can’t, really.  I can’t remember that well.  Too much has happened!

I know we’ve, er, pretty much missed all the targets we set ourselves back in January – apart from perhaps the biggest, to have someone else working full time, which is almost certainly the single most important.  And we’re tantalisingly close to a number of other entirely made-up targets, so that’s good.

We’ve spent a lot of the year trying to understand the right way to present our Spanish material to a marketplace that doesn’t seem to work on word-of-mouth in the same way as Welsh does – and I think a lot of what we’ve learnt will be an important part of what happens next year.  Oh, and I, er, decided to re-write our central framework, er, several times – enough to bring Louis to tears, anyway, as he kept on having to change the Dutch lessons.  Ahem.

In the broad scheme of things, I think I’ll remember this year as being mostly about two things – 1) backs, and the heady delights of being part of a community that helps keep the wheels turning when backs misbehave – and 2) the value of doing the groundwork and not settling for second best.

That, I think, has been why 2013 was fairly slow in a lot of ways – because we’ve been working on building structures that will let us produce more courses in more languages, and on making sure that those courses will be as good as we can make them.  If I’m right, and if I’m right that we’ve done most of that work now, 2014 should be fun…:-)

What might be coming down the tracks, then?


Let’s split it into two parts – definites and maybes.


[Disclaimer: you’ll probably notice that the definites are all about Ifan’s workload, and the Maybes will all be about mine.  Let’s call it delegation rather than harassment in the workplace…;-)]

We’ll launch a new website design, which will make it easier to find things and harder to get lost.

We’ll launch a new social layer, so there’ll be an end to separate logins – hooray!

We’ll build some tools to make starting and running local meetups easier, and to make the meetups more findable.

We’ll integrate the weekly email with the new site and the new social layer, which will make life more enjoyable for Dee…:-)

We’ll offer vouchers and different ways to pay for courses, and actual CDs – hooray!  Which will also make it possible for us to start offering things on eBay, Amazon, Groupon, and other voucher sites.

We’ll start publishing on Audible [Amazon’s audiobooks department] – that one’s thanks to Jeff…:-)

We’ll build a far better understanding of how people use the first few lessons, and as a result of that do a far better job of helping people succeed with them – including much more advice and support for the first 5 lessons.

We’ll take our lesson databases online, which will allow more automation, more functionality, and a faster process in recording/producing new courses, and will allow us to add options for voices/accents/etc.

I’ll finish writing the latest version of the central framework for three full courses, and for a new set of listening practices which I think are going to make a very important difference.

We’ll run some test two day highly intensive courses.

We’ll actually finish Course 3 of SaySomethinginWelsh!  Yes, and the Course 3 vocab lessons!  I promise!  And we’ll have a new kind of listening practice for you…

We’ll get three full courses completed for Spanish, and three full courses completed for the new Welsh course – as well as at least 10 Welsh starter sessions for families.  [Oh good heavens, did I really just promise that in public?  It’s time to shut up and put everything else under ‘Maybes’.]



We’ll work on developing a consistent experience for mobile users, across the site and from course to course – we still need more thought on exactly the right way to do this, but we know it’s an important one to get right (and it’s definitely a huge help that Ifan is principally a mobile user!).

Ifan and I will spend some time working on an idea I’ve got for semi-automating the process of building courses in new languages, which Iestyn is keen for us to call the SSiBorg.  As those brave souls who’ve been doing it know, this is a tough gig, with a lot of not-at-all-obvious booby traps.  But I think if we combine word for word translation with sample phrases, and then… okay, I’ll spare you the detail.  If we can get it to fly, though, we should be able to open the doors for anyone who wants to build an SSi course for their language, and make sure that they’ll all be at least as good as what we build centrally.

Jeff and Ifan and I have been batting around some ideas about what we can do to help Welsh language musicians, and how the musicians can help learners – this will be a bit time-dependent, but if we crack it I think it could be very exciting indeed.

Money.  That’s a maybe, because we still haven’t found a consistent, reliable way to promote our Spanish course – but I think we’re getting pretty close now.  If I’m right, and we can develop a more professional level of cash flow, then (rather conveniently) Iestyn and Cat won’t have to starve, we’ll be hiring and our Maybes will all turn into Definites…:-)

We’ll run some test three (and maybe even five) day highly intensive courses, and hope to get the results on television.  Perhaps we’ll run a 10 day super-intensive course before the end of the year, even if just for the joy of seeing other people suffer.

Is that enough for one year?

Yes, I think it probably is.  In fact, I’m feeling a bit tired looking at it now, so I’m going to post this and go and lie down for a while.

If there’s anything important you think I’ve missed, please feel free to stick it in a comment, but don’t be surprised when I say ‘Yes, I’m sure that would be lovely in 2015’…;-)

Oh, I forgot!


Definitely holidays at some point.

When I say at some point, of course, what I really mean is starting right now.

Nadolig llawen iawn i chi gyd!



14 responses to “Looking forward to 2014 and beyond – what’s coming down the line?

  1. Sounds like a very exciting year ahead! Any proposed changes on the cards for ffrinDiaith?

    Looking forward to seeing you several times next year! 🙂

    Iechyd da, a Nadolig Llawen i ti hefyd a dy teulu hyfryd.

    • Diolch yn fawr iawn, Vaughan – ac i chdithau a dy deulu di yr un fath…:-)

      Yup, we’ll be doing a lot more stuff with ffrinDiaith, and with our own social layer if there’s time, but I couldn’t find a way to make ‘Keep on making ffrinDiaith better’ sound clear enough to be a promise…;-)

  2. Happy new Christmas and merry new year to you Aran. Your voice has become a part of my life! What do you think of the Duolingo project?

    • Diolch yn fawr iawn, Stephen! I always feel I ought to apologise to anyone who has to spend too much time with my voice [and my mother agrees firmly!]…;-)

      Duolingo have got some absolutely fantastic designers, and I love their aim to provide material for free – using translation to provide a cash flow is very clever. They’ve worked hard to gamify what they do, and I think they’ve probably done about the best possible job with an approach which still has quite a lot of traditional methods underpinning the tech.

      I don’t think those traditional methods are the fastest way to acquire a new language, though – in particular, they do quite a bit of translation from the target language as part of the learning itself, and I don’t think that is as effective neurologically speaking (although I’m a bit short on any actual proof for my belief at the moment!). Until we can get some independent tests run to compare results (in the same way they’ve done versus ‘universities’) that’ll have to remain a personal belief…;-)

  3. oooh, so excited about what you’re definitely (and maybe!) doing in 2014! especially the SSiBorg bit – I’m wondering now if building a language course is at all a time effective way to learn a language, but either way it sounds like a lot of fun …but no MRI machines in 2014? Think bigger!
    Nadolig Llawen 😀

    • Diolch diolch! Mmmm, yeah, MRI, may have to wait another year or two…;-)

      From experience – no, building a language course is a filthily ineffective way to learn a language! But needs must when the devil drives…;-) And it certainly is fun, even if it reduces you to tears sometimes (just ask Louis!).

      Nadolig llawen iawn i ti, Amy, a diolch am dy holl fewnbwn a chefnogaeth…:-)

  4. I would hazard a guess that you are probably finding it harder to break into the Spanish market because there are already so many other resources out there – both online and offline – for that language compared to Welsh.
    One suggestion would be to tap into the “polyglot community” (particularly via YouTube) and get someone there to test and blog about your course. From what I’ve seen, there are many people out there looking for new courses, similar to yours, and once someone has recommended something, it tends to spread like wildfire.
    Pob lwc!
    (PM me if you’d like to discuss this further – I have ideas about specific contacts)

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Karen! Yes, I’m sure that you’re entirely right about that – and we’re definitely keen to reach some influencers at some point – sort of thinking that we want to finish doing some tests on two day intensive approaches before that – but when we’ve got that done, it would definitely be great to have a chat with you…:-)

    • Genuinely not all that long! We’ve got ten that are currently being mastered for the new improved Course 1, and will have more ready next month as well…:-)

  5. One of the genuine impressive things about the SSI method as I can vouch for is how all the info stays stored away in the brain despite long lay offs. Have just re-visited lessons 16-20 over the last two days (after a long lay-off of no Spanish what so ever) and have found all the Spanish just comes out as if there’s been no break.
    Have played around with other resources such as memrise and duolingo over the last 10 months, which have their uses, but have definitly found than any extended lay-off from them leads to me forgetting most of the stuff I learned with them.

    • That’s great input, Dai, thanks a lot for sharing – it’s certainly what should happen theoretically speaking, but it’s always a real pleasure to hear that the theory is holding true in the real world! 🙂

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