Where are you from originally and what brought you to Spain?
I'm originally from Phoenix, Arizona, out in the middle of the Sonoran Desert in the USA. I came to Spain on vacation and somehow met a very nice girl who was living in Madrid. Sparks were flying! After a few days, I went back to Phoenix, but I realized I needed a big change in my life. So I decided to come back. That was 2004, and I’m still here 12 years later.
(At this point, everybody always says “Oh, how romantic! Are you still with that girl?” The answer is no. But we’re still friends.)
What do you love about Madrid and what do you loathe?
I love a lot of things about Madrid – there are people from everywhere, there’s great food, lots of art and lovely architecture, and always something to do.
It’s hard to say what I loathe. Maybe the thin-walled flats. Hearing everything that’s going on in your neighbors’ house is sometimes less than exciting.
Daniel has written several books on learning English.
Tell me a bit about your business – what made you want to teach Spaniards English?
Really I just fell into teaching a few months after I arrived in Spain. I never expected to do it for long, but I ended up loving it and giving face-to-face classes for more than ten years. The interaction with people is great, and you’re able to help them achieve one of their major life goals.
Speaking another language really changes everything for a person, (it certainly has for me) and you can be a part of that.
I started teaching online because I wanted to get my name out there and find private students, which didn’t work very well. But in the process I realized I could reach thousands of people around the world, not just in Madrid. And I had always liked writing, so the project just sort of transformed from advertising my private classes to “English teacher to the world”.
What is the key to making a successful online business using YouTube, blogging and ebooks?
There are a few things that certainly help. The main one, I think, is persistence. I've started several other blogs that have completely failed, written books that nobody bought, had people complain and call me a scammer on Amazon because they didn't like the $3 ebook I was selling (or they didn’t like the fact that I was selling anything at all).
You have to keep moving forward, despite the setbacks, and if you're going to do that, it has to be a topic you're really passionate about.
You also have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone constantly. I just passed 10,000 followers on YouTube, which is funny for me, because I remember how embarrassingly bad my first videos were. But I decided that I wasn't going to get better by not doing videos, so the only solution was to make a hundred bad videos, and improve along the way. If you just try something once or twice, decide you're bad at it, and give up, you're not going to get very far.
Your blog, books and YouTube channel are all in Spanish: do you enjoy working in Spanish and was it difficult to master the language?
I do enjoy it.
Spanish wasn’t particularly difficult for me because I never thought of it as work, it was just a sort of game. Talking to people, reading books, discovering a new culture. I had a lot of fun with it.
I got the C2 certificate from Instituto Cervantes several years ago, a bit before I started writing my blog. When I look back on my early articles, I realize I’ve improved a lot as a writer… There’s a whole world out there beyond C2.
I enjoy the expressiveness of Spanish a lot, too. People worry about their accents, but I get comments all the time from people who say “Your accent is great, please don’t lose it!”
Having said that, people imagine that you reach a level in your language learning where all doubts disappear and you just speak perfectly. I don’t know if that’s really possible or not, but it certainly hasn’t happened to me yet!
Photo: Daniel Welsch
Your method focuses a lot on speaking before learning perfect grammar: why is this important for Spaniards?
It’s important because it’s the opposite of what they’ve been doing since they were kids. A lot of people study grammar for years and end up (naturally) with a huge fear of making mistakes. Then they don’t want to start speaking until they’ve done even more grammar, to eliminate those mistakes, and they never make progress on actual speaking.
My method does the opposite because for most people, speaking is the goal – not filling in blanks in a grammar worksheet.
Do you think Spaniards have gotten better at English over the past ten years?
Definitely! These days I go to a lot of restaurants where the waiters just start speaking English, for example. That’s something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. There is certainly progress because of the bilingual schools and the program that brings “Auxiliares de Conversación” to Spain. But there’s also a lot to do for Spain to reach the level of other countries like Germany.
What’s the typical profile of someone who uses your resources to learn English?
I really have people all over the world. My online courses have people from 52 countries. But most of them are in the larger Spanish-speaking countries: Spain, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, and the US (we have more than 40 million Spanish speakers in the US these days).
Other than that, they seem to be educated, ambitious people. I get a lot of emails from doctors, engineers, people who work in different creative professions.
I also have a lot of students and younger people: Spaniards and Latin Americans who have moved to English-speaking countries and are living with English daily. It’s a little bit of everything.
Have you been able to identify any specific problems Spaniards have when learning English?
There are a few big ones. The pronunciation is difficult, especially because they usually spend years studying grammar without actually hearing anything pronounced correctly.
And as I mentioned earlier, the fear of speaking really limits people. A lot of Spanish people have told me they don’t particularly mind speaking English with natives, but they would rather die than speak it in front of other Spanish people.
A lot of people also have a larger problem of not having a really clear goal or a good motivation: just a vague, nagging feeling that they need to “learn English” with no real idea of how or why or how they’ll know they’re finished. That’s why I’ve started writing a lot about goals also. It works!
What are your plans for the future?
I really just want to keep improving on what I’m doing now. There’s always more to learn and more to teach. These days I’m working on three things simultaneously: a book about learning and personal development, another book about colloquial English, and a course about business English and job interviews.
In any case, I feel very lucky that I’m able to make a living off of writing, and I plan to keep at it as long as I can. There are a lot of talented people out there who never manage to earn a living this way, and I’m happy to be one of the lucky few.
Plus, I feel lucky to live in Spain – people in other countries in Europe might earn more money, but they spend it all coming to Spain on vacation. Those of us who live here full-time have a lot to be happy about. So I’m planning to stay here as long as I can. We’ll see!