As part of our ongoing interview series, Cindy Cooper, Co-Founder of fair trade language tutoring site Speak Shop
, shares her thoughts with us today. A big thank you to Cindy for taking the time...
1. Could you provide a brief overview of the organization and your role and responsibilities in it?
Speak Shop (www.SpeakShop.com
) makes it easy to take one-on-one Spanish lessons online via webcam with teachers in impoverished countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua. A lot of people study languages abroad, but not enough to make it a year-round sustainable source of income for these language teachers. So we bring the customers to them and empower them as micro-entrepreneurs. Customers get personalized lessons that fit their schedule. Everyone benefits.
A big part of our mission is to create connections between people coming from different cultures, locations and beliefs. We think that more human contact and cross-cultural understanding are keys to a better, more peaceful world.
As for my role, I co-founded Speak Shop with my husband and work on strategy, marketing and partnerships.
2. Fair trade language tutoring sounds like a brilliant concept! Could you briefly explain how the process works?
We’ve helped the tutors to become micro-entrepreneurs. In other words, the tutors don’t work for us. They are not our employees, and we don’t take any of their lesson fees or charge them to use our service. They set their own hourly fees. They can decide to charge more or less based on experience and demand. Some tutors own computers and others don’t. Depending on their situation they pay a share of their earnings to partner schools to cover direct expenses and staff support. We work with tutors to negotiate with the schools and ensure their net earnings are fair. Tutors are netting three to four times local rates by teaching at Speak Shop and they can teach when they want, all year round, as opposed to just 3 or 4 months during tourist season.
3. How do you ensure that the tutors are qualified? Do you work with specific language centers or with freelance tutors?
First, we work with a couple of Spanish schools that are experts in identifying good tutors. Second, we interview each tutor personally. If they make it that far, we train them on teaching online. Finally, we have a continuous quality assurance system: our customers leave feedback after their lessons.
4. Is this a service that complete beginners can take part in as well? Or do you need at least a basic knowledge of Spanish to get started?
Absolutely. With personal tutoring, even a beginner will start speaking Spanish during the very first lesson and they don’t have to feel embarrassed about what a class full of people will think of them. The tutors are very friendly and encouraging. It’s also excellent for people who have studied Spanish because they can quickly improve, and they appreciate how fun and effective it is.
5. Speak Shop currently works with tutors based in Guatemala and Nicaragua, are there plans to expand its reach to other countries and languages?
Our vision is to offer a multitude of languages and bring new sources of income to developing areas. Right now, we’re working on Spanish. And in the future, I can see Arabic, Chinese, and, my favorite, Portuguese!
6. Any additional thoughts?
This year we will have delivered 15,000 hours of tutoring and provided sustainable income to 12 tutors. We hope you join us in making the world a friendlier and more peaceful and economically fair place for all.