How I Made It: 'I went from learning foreign languages to teaching them'

Welcome back to How I Made It,’s weekly career journey series.

This week we’re speaking with Esteban Touma, a language teacher who hosts live lessons for language-learning platform Babbel.

His job isn’t all about standing in front of a classroom but creating innovative content online, so there’s lots of video and media work around the teaching – sometimes even costumes are a part of the set-up.

Coming from Ecuador, Esteban arrived in America when he decided to take learning languages seriously.

Outside of teaching, he’s a stand-up comedian too.

Speaking to, he says: ‘It’s the most fun I’ve had since pre-school.’

Here’s how he made it.

Hey Esteban, so how long have you been in this job?

I’ve been teaching languages for more than a decade.

I studied communications and literature student in Ecuador, my home country, and my original plan was to become a literature teacher, but I taught a bit of Spanish to international students shortly before finishing my bachelor’s degree.

I loved seeing those lightbulb moments where someone learns a new phrase or can order something on their own: you can almost literally see things clicking in your students’ brains.

Being part of that proud moment where they can finally say: ‘¿Dónde está el baño?’ Oh, it’s beautiful.

What happened from there?

When I went to the US I took it seriously – I did a masters’ degree for Spanish teaching, and developed a passion for language teaching in general.

Teaching also got me into stand-up comedy – I discovered early on that humour is a very powerful tool to teach languages, because language learning can be frustrating – it’s helpful when a teacher can say they made mistakes learning a language too.

That led me to do stand-up comedy and content production in my free time alongside the teaching.

How hard was it, going from learning English to eventually teaching Spanish to English-speakers?

I have been learning English since I was a kid in Ecuador, but it’s a big jump speaking the language casually to using it as a teacher to a professional standard.

I also made the incredible decision to marry an English teacher.

Do you really want to learn a language? Marry a tough-but-fair instructor that will correct every single word you utter 24/7.

Average day in the working life of Esteban Touma

9am: Esteban starts the day by checking emails and messages, as well as checking feedback on previous videos, and reviewing scripts. Creative meetings with the Berlin team take place.

10:30am: Prep for the next class.

11am: Teaching time.

It’s a busy day (Picture: Esteban Touma)

12pm: After the class, Esteban works on future scripts and social media.

2pm: After lunch, he turns his living room at home into a set for filming. He sets background screens, adds stuff to the set depending on the shoot, sets tripods, cameras, lights, and connects remotely with a producer.

4pm: The last hour of the day is spent editing content and getting it ready for publication.

5pm: Time to log off.

How long did you train to get into this job? Is there a set route to take?

A higher education degree is very much needed to understand the nuances of language learning.

Becoming a media producer is a bit different. It’s a very hands-on profession, so you need to get in there, so it’s about practical experience.

I can imagine the job is very rewarding.

Seeing your learners’ progress is incredible.

Watching them not be able to speak a word of Spanish to having real conversations with our learners in our classes, and seeing them forming new sentences, expressing themselves, and sharing information with me in Spanish, forming a real, human connection with them, being a participant of their process of learning my language…it’s truly remarkable.

Learning a language is not easy – so I have tremendous respect for anyone trying it.

What do you love about your job the most?

I love how creative it is.

Language learning is all about human connection, which is why we place so much emphasis on making real, communicative, and creative products.

What do you dislike?

Working remotely in a small space can be tough.

Perhaps the worst part is, after a whole day of shooting, having to take down lights, put the green screen away, take down the set, and then putting it all back up the next day.

How I Made It

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