Nearly 10 million people have listened to Reza Shah and Craig Wealand’s podcast, Aprender Ingles con Reza y Craig.
It’s an English language learning podcast for Spanish speakers with topics like hypnosis, truck drivers’ language and chocolate.
For English Language Day 2021, these podcasters and English language teachers tell us what connects their community of listeners.
We understand you were friends before you started the podcast.
Craig: We were friends many years before we started the podcast, and thankfully we still are. I'd been podcasting since 2010. Reza joined as co-host in 2014 and it became Aprender Ingles con Reza y Craig. In the beginning, we were pleased if a couple hundred people listened – we didn’t expect such a big community.
Reza: When it comes to a language learning podcast, or any audio, there has to be two people. Two people create a dialogue. A lot of people write to us and say that they listen because they learn and it’s entertaining.
Craig: We’ve been releasing an episode every week since 2014. I’m really proud that we haven’t broken that chain. People mainly join us because they want to improve their English. I like to think they stay for the hosts. We combine English teaching with a bit of entertainment and a sense of community.
How do you find topics?
Reza: Sometimes our listeners suggest topics. For example, someone suggested DIY (do-it-yourself, or home renovation). The topic hadn’t occurred to us, but it is a really important language area.
Craig: Things come up in conversation with people in our lives, or we hear ideas in our classrooms. But most of the topics we’ve done recently have come from listener suggestions.
Reza: One of my favourite requests was from a listener we know as Tony Tiger, a Mexican truck driver living in the United States. He asked for an episode about the language of truck driving. We practiced language like long haul, short haul and articulated lorry or articulated truck. And, less formal language like ‘catch ya on the flip-flop’. We talked about how to get heavy goods vehicle licences in the EU and US, and how much truckers generally earn.
Craig: And we learned the abbreviations and special language that truckers use on citizens band (CB) radio. For example, ‘10-4’ which means that everything is okay, and the very important ‘10-100’.
You often play voice recordings that listeners send to you, which you call feedbacks. Why is that such a big part of the podcast?
Reza: People are proud of the progress they make. It’s not easy to learn a language, and it’s great that we can all hear their progress and give feedback.
Craig: It creates a sense of community. Some people send in multiple voice messages, and so others in the community get to know them a bit. They also recognise that the mistakes we make while learning are not isolated.
Reza: We have listeners all over the world, and we hear lots of different ways of speaking. We have quite a few listeners in Italy and France.
Craig: Lots of listeners in Brazil send in their messages too.
You’ve made connections with a diverse group of people.
Reza: Yes we have. Paola, a pediatrician from Bogota is a regular listener. She’s so keen that she started her own Spanish-language podcast on women marathon runners.
Craig: Another listener from Brazil has been in the hospital with Covid-19, and has been listening to our podcast during her treatment. She emailed us and said ‘discovering your podcast has helped me a lot to forget my symptoms’.
It’s not something we expected to get from the podcast. We’re helping people to learn English, and it’s wonderful to know that we’re also connecting with people while they get well.
Reza: Trainee English teachers listen to us and get ideas for their lessons. We’ve heard from a Russian student teacher and a Chinese student teacher who use the podcast for inspiration.
Friends of ours who teach in state language schools here in Spain use our podcast in their classrooms. Some teachers whose first language is not English learn from the podcast and use it to teach.
When did you start to think of this as community building, in addition to learning and teaching?
Craig: The basis of social media is community building, and we wanted to build a strong, healthy community from the start. We just didn’t have any idea how it would grow. From the start, we wanted to include the feedback and make listeners part of the show.
Reza: Many listeners comment on specific details of other listeners’ feedback. They say things like ‘I hope Pepe in Madrid’s cold is better’ or ‘I really liked Jose from Bogota’s story about the fish’. They pay attention to each other.
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What differs audio from other mediums?
Craig: It’s an intimate medium. We’re in the listeners ears for 30-40 minutes a week.
It’s also a freeing medium. We have control of the structure, format and topic. We don’t think it can be too long, but it can be too boring.
People can multitask while they listen. If you’re watching, you’re limited. But with podcast you walk the dog, clean the house, commute; it’s a time saver.
Tell us about Coco the dog who we often hear barking in the background.
Reza: A lot of listeners are interested in Coco. We use a bark recording because Coco is so gentle and doesn’t bark much. He needs a stunt double! Often, he’s by my side while I’m recording. I don’t think he cares that he’s famous, as long as the biscuits keep coming.
And your Mickey Mouse obsession?
Craig: For some reason Reza decided I was obsessed with Mickey Mouse, and he brings up Mickey Mouse when we need grammar examples.
Reza: I think I saw you wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and decided to exaggerate. People seem to like it.
Craig: I’m not obsessed with Mickey Mouse, but when I went to Orlando for a podcasting conference recently I took a photo with someone dressed as Mickey Mouse for Reza.
Have any listeners connected in real life?
Craig: Yes, Mamen from the north of Spain came down to Valencia and we went all out for a meal. Alberto in Australia came back to his hometown of Madrid and sent us some lovely chocolates – I often talk about my obsession with chocolate.
Reza: Craig, didn’t you run into a fan by chance in Venezuela?
Craig: Yes, I was travelling with a group of six people and a tour guide in the mountains. The tour guide, who was from the local area, asked us to introduce ourselves and say where we were from. So I said ‘I’m Craig, I’m originally from the UK and I live in Spain’, and he said ‘Are you the guy from the podcast’?
He said he’d improved his English for his work as a tour guide by listening the podcast.
Listen to Aprender Ingles con Reza y Craig.
English Language Day is 23 April. #ConnectedByEnglish