Algorithms, headaches and Spanish – a year in the rear-view mirror

sgwariauHello!  Yes, I managed to find the password again…;-)

Today, in reverse order, I’d like to talk about a pivot for this blog, share a scarily public list for what we’re going to try and do in 2015, and admit in brutal detail what did and didn’t get done in 2014.

2014 – optimism versus hindsight – how did we do?

Let me just grit my teeth, throw on my sackcloth and do this as a list:

New website design – done!  Sort of!  But we’ve still got a lot more to do on this front.

New social layer – done!  Sort of!  That is, cooking our own got too big for us, so we integrated and have got something that is working well at the moment, with a single login – although I still wake in the night occasionally with dreams of lovely extra social stuff that we could do.  It may come true one day!

Meet-up tools – comprehensively not done.  Curses.  We do have an offer from a superb and extremely busy volunteer to try and dig some time out to do some stuff with this, so it’s not impossible that it will come gloriously back to life in 2015.

Integrating the weekly email – equally not done – sorry, Dee!  And possibly on the back-burner for a while, since it might be a bit tricky to get what we wanted to happen to play nicely with the new forum.

Vouchers, different ways to pay for courses, actual CDs – all actually done!  Yes, even the CDs – although they haven’t gone live yet, we’ve done our part to make Level 1 Spanish available on CD, and should have live links from the duplication company any day now…:-)  We’ve got some fine-tuning to do with vouchers and payment methods, but that’s life.

Publishing on Audible – done!  Thanks to the incredibly hard work of Jeff, who has single-handedly moved several mountains to get Level 1 Spanish on Audible.  Now if Audible would just be kind enough to start selling it…;-)

More advice and support for the first 5 lessons – done!  Sort of!  That is, we have some extra hints and suggestions when people let us know that they’ve finished a lesson on the site, but I still want to do a LOT more with this.

Lesson database online – not even close!  In fact, this is now a subset of the SSiBorg, about which more in a moment.

Central framework for 3 full courses – two completed, one as yet not done, because I’m holding back with the aim of running it through the SSiBorg.

Test 2 day high intensity sessions – absolutely done!  And fascinatingly so – one of the two most interesting parts of 2014, along with the SSiBorg.

Finish Course 3 of SaySomethinginWelsh – yes!  Done!  Hale-blincin-liwia!

3 full courses for Spanish and the new Welsh material – ahem.  Can we pretend I didn’t say that?  Although we have at least got Level 2 for both Spanish and Welsh currently being recorded and imported, so we’re a bit closer than it looks.


Consistent experience for mobile users – that’s a no, really, although the new forum plays nicely on mobile.  More to do here.

The SSiBorg – is under construction!  It’s a huge, complicated beast, but we’re making some fantastic progress, and I think we’re going to be generating some really strong scripts with it in the new few months.

The music site – firmly on the back-burner, until we get plenty of:

Money – still hammering away at trying to figure out how to win the interest of more would-be Spanish learners.  In the near future, we’ll be arriving on more platforms – as well as Audible, we’ll also be on eBay and the main Amazon site, and we’re working to release iOS and Android apps for the Spanish, as well as publishing more ‘How to’ booklets on Kindle – and we’re going to be able to offer blog owners we like enough a direct affiliate link (although we’re only expecting to do this with half-a-dozen or so well respected language blogs).  Meanwhile, apparently it takes approximately for ever to get listed on LivingSocial or Groupon, so we need to carry on trying to figure out other breakeven ways to bring in new learners.  This is our biggest single challenge for 2015.

3 to 5 day high intensity sessions – not done, yet, but I’m expecting to do a lot more on this front in 2015.


I thought that was going to make for slightly more painful reading than it actually does!  We didn’t actually do too badly – 7/12 hits, with a further 2 fairly close, and only 3 absolutely not done – plus some really exciting progress on the SSiBorg, which was only a ‘maybe’ this time last year…:-)


2015 – have I been cowed into sobriety and caution?

Have I heck.  I don’t do caution.  So let’s dig out 12 nice big hairy colourful goals for 2015.

1 – We will go live with the SSiBorg, and have the beginnings of 20 new languages online.  Yes, I just typed that, and now I’m going to have a brief private scream of horror.  [Private moment.]  There we are, that’s better.  Maybe it would be a good idea if I stopped here.

2 – Pah.  Who needs good ideas?  We will publish 5 more meaty, useful ‘How to’ booklets on Kindle, and adapt them for at least 5 different languages.  [This is a slight cheat – I’ve finished one already, so that’s only another 40,000 to 50,000 words to go…;-)].

3 – We will do at least one 5 day High Intensity session, and at least one 5 weekends-in-a-row High Intensity session, which means that we will:

4 – Publish Level 2 Welsh and Spanish, and their associated accelerated listening exercises.  What the heck, we’ll publish Level 3 for them both, too, oh yes we will…;-)

5 – Publish Level 1 and 2 Spanish on eBay, Amazon, Audible, Kindle, and as Android and iOS apps.

6 – Run a Kickstarter campaign to take the SSi model out into the other Celtic languages.

7 – Start work on a narrative dialogue based approach to the most common 4000 words, as an accelerated tool for users who’ve completed Level 3.  See how cautious I’ve become?  ‘Start’ could mean almost anything.

8 – Publish our ‘Welsh for Parents’ introductory 10 sessions.

And, um.  Actually… you know what, stuff that ’12’ idea, I think we’ll be fine with these 8.  1, 4 and 6 on their own would be a pretty great result, so there’s no point making up other targets just to beat myself over the head with a year from now…;-)

Let’s just have a short supplementary, ‘Things I Hope Will Happen’ list, just for fun.

Things I Hope Will Happen (And Will Actually Do Something About, Without Going As Far As Making Them Official Goals)

1 – I hope we’ll get a chunk of funding from somewhere to push on faster with the SSiBorg, and maybe invest a bit more in the website.

2 – I hope we’ll find half a dozen or so really good language blogs who’d like to give their readers discounts for our materials.

3 – I hope we’ll actually get a listing on either LivingSocial or Groupon, although discovering extraterrestrial intelligence is probably more likely.

4 – I hope that getting our Spanish courses (plus a few other languages) onto a decent number of the major platforms will generate enough income for us to test paid traffic until we can find a breakeven proposition.

5 – I hope we can find someone to partner with to make our materials available for schools.

6 – I hope we can find some celebrities who’d like to try out our High Intensity approach.

7 – I hope the time magically appears from somewhere to let me start writing the book I’ve got in mind to encourage teenagers to learn Welsh, and the different book I’ve got in mind to encourage teenagers to learn Spanish.

There we are, that should keep us busy for 12 months or so.  Now:


A Pivot for this Blog

This blog started as a way to keep people who were interested in SSi as a company aware of what we were doing, and what we had in mind next.  I’m no longer sure how much we really need to be doing that at the moment – anyone who’s interested can always ask on the forum, and we tend to discuss everything on the forum at some point or another anyway.

And things crystalised for me with the last post I made, way back when – talking about why it was a good thing to make a fool of yourself when you’re learning a language.  Almost immediately after publishing it, I realised that it needed a follow-up piece – HOW to get yourself into the habit of making a fool of yourself, and enjoying it.

Just telling people to do stuff isn’t all that much help, is it?

And although the blog hasn’t been a focus for it, that became something I did more and more work on over the course of the year – getting lots of enormously interesting and useful feedback from learners on our email list, and thinking more and more about how to present everything I’ve found out about helping learners over the last five or six years.

As many of you will know, that lead eventually to starting to publish booklets on Kindle, which is something I’m going to continue to do in 2015 – but I’m also going to use the blog as a place to build towards booklets, by writing up different tips and suggestions on a one-by-one basis.

I hope you’ll find it interesting – and if you’re stuck on anything at all on your own language learning journey, sing out in the comments and I’ll see if I can figure out a way to help you…:-)

Oh, yes, one last thing:

Nadolig Llawen to you all!…:-)


4 responses to “Algorithms, headaches and Spanish – a year in the rear-view mirror

  1. Diolch yn fawr, Aran.

    You’re very brave to commit to so many promises for next year and I appreciate your candour in reporting on last year’s performance.

    I wish you every success in 2015 and best wishes to you and your family for Christmas.


    • Thank you so much, John! I think there’s probably a fairly fine line between brave and stupid, and I’m not sure which side of it I’m on – but it’s always good to have something to aim at…;-)

      And very best wishes to you and yours as well…:-)

  2. Although I don’t understand much of what you are talking about (what’s SS Borg?) your enthusiasm and commitment are so completely infectious that you are bound to succeed in all you do for language learning. hail to thee blithe spirit. And a wonderful new year to you and the family. June.

    • Diolch yn fawr iawn i ti, June! 🙂 The SSiBorg was introduced in the post rounding up last year – it’s our pet name for the algorithm we’re writing to automate (as far as possible) the process of letting translators build new courses…:-)

      And our warmest wishes to you too…:-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s