I'm Richard and I am the creator of Linguaspectrum, and Linguaspectrum PLUS, my virtual language schools. I am a native British English speaking teacher of English as a foreign language. I have lived in Seville, Spain since 2003.
I have been teaching since I passed my CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in 2003, here in Seville, Spain. I have taught in classrooms, in summer schools, in private homes, in businesses and, since 2009, exclusively online using Skype.
Linguaspectrum provides a growing library of free English language learning materials for students around the world.
Perfecting your British English, one animation at a Time
Q: Hello Richard, and welcome to our feature stories. Please tell us a bit about your background, and about Britlish.
I'm honoured to have my work considered good enough to feature on your website. It's an even greater honour when you consider that I'm not an animator but an English teacher, albeit an English teacher who is also a bit of a geek when it comes to technology. Attracted by the weather, I have been teaching English in Spain since 2003. I began teaching in schools until, in 2006, I came up with the idea of teaching English online.
I saw that new technologies like Skype and high-speed Internet access could save me from having to teach rowdy kids in overheated, noisy classrooms in my ever advancing years. I realized that as an online English teacher I would need a strong web presence, and so I created my first website, Linguaspectrum. The small, static site I initially built was little more than an online brochure, really, but it was the best I can achieve with my limited skills and at least I was out there waiting to be discovered.
Unfortunately, nobody took any notice and I realized that I needed a way to attract people's attention. In 2009, I decided to post my first video English lesson on YouTube. I had no idea that over the next five years I would create hundreds of videos which would attract millions of views. As my original aim was simply to attract some students to my online classes, the videos certainly did the trick.
At the time of writing, I have taught 138 students in 37 countries. Just as the original simple Linguaspectrum website evolved into a dynamic, professional website as my skills developed, so too did my videos go from very amateurish to extremely professional. The more I learnt about making videos, the more I began to explore the possibilities offered by technology such as that offered by Reallusion.
Q: Could you tell us a bit on how, and why you started Britlish?
As I said, the first website I created was Linguaspectrum.com. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the name proved to be unwieldy and not very memorable. Considering that my target audience are students of English as a second language, I needed a shorter, and more memorable brand name. I coined the word, Britlish, from British and English, and was surprised to find the domain name Britlish.com available. I even managed to get the word Britlish recognised by the online dictionary Wiktionary, and hope that one day it will make its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.
As I concentrate on teaching British English and British pronunciation, I now use the Britlish brand for all of my published work. However, Linguaspectrum remains my most visited site, mainly because it hosts my hundreds of videos and enormous amounts of free English language learning material which goes with them. It is mainly the popularity of Linguaspectrum and the wealth of material that it provides students which wins me my online students.
As English teachers are not the wealthiest people on the planet, I could never afford to hire experts to build what I wanted to build. I had to sit down and learn everything from scratch. The road was long, and at times exhausting, but as I moved forward I learned how to build better websites, then I learned how to make better videos, and then I stumbled into the exciting world of 3D animation.
Q: In your work, you make extensive use of iClone and CrazyTalk. How and when did you learn of these tools? Any particular reason why you choose to use them?
My early videos were made using a variety of software packages, but I eventually found Adobe After Effects to be the most useful in putting the videos together. My early videos only used still images I took myself, or images from collections of stock photographs, and the only "animation" in the was done using After Effects. I then began filming my own video footage which brought some life to my video English lessons. I could further enhance the videos by using After Effects and text overlays.
More recently, I've been able to source stock video footage at a reasonable price and have used a lot of this to make many videos. The biggest problem I had was in finding just the right image or just the right piece of footage to illustrate a point of English that I wanted to illustrate. I needed a way to produce my own images and video footage tailored to my needs, without having to spend a fortune on actors or sets. I knew there must be some sort of technological solution available, but had little idea of where to look.
One of my Italian students was a researcher and developer of Machinima animation and through talking to him I investigated further. This is how I came across iClone and CrazyTalk Animator. It was in May 2013 and Reallusion had an offer on to buy iClone 5 Pro and get CrazyTalk Animator 2 for free. I took the plunge and entered the world of 3D animation.
I don't have a background in graphics or design, and I can't draw to save my life. However, with my new toys I didn't need any particular skills in these areas. I just needed to learn how to use this new software and let my imagination loose. People say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but I'm proof that you can. Not only have I had to learn to build decent websites, but I have also had to master the complexities of editing and production software along with the animation software. Luckily, Reallusion software is very intuitive and the more I played with it the more I began to see what it was capable of.
Indeed, it's a testament to the ease-of-use of the software that, having only been using it for two years, and even then only sporadically, I've been able to produce high-quality 3D animation. I envy those with more artistic backgrounds who would be more able to achieve some incredible things with the applications. Even with my limited talents, I no longer have to rely on finding just the right image, because I can create any image I need in iClone.
I can create any scene that I need, and with the recent release of Character Creator, I am now able to create any character I need to fit any imaginable situation that I want to use to teach English. I have also been playing with CrazyTalk Animator 2, having seen that it has great potential in bringing to life any historical character I may want to use in future videos. Bringing any famous character from history to life from a painting or photograph in an English lesson makes learning so much more fun for the student.
One of the biggest factors in settling on Reallusion software was the fact that everything I create is royalty free. It's very important for me, as a YouTube partner, that everything I put on my network belongs to me and I have the right to publish it and, most importantly, monetise it.
Q: Do you make all the animations yourself? How long does it take you to create one?
As I said, English teachers are pretty poor and we don't have the necessary resources to hire in experts. I've had to try to master all the software packages I need to create my websites, videos, and now my animations, myself. Thanks to the ease-of-use of the Reallusion software even I can manage. Nevertheless, it is a steep learning curve which still towers above me like a digital Everest, but I consider myself to have at least ascended as far as Base Camp.
Actually, I'm very happy to make all the animations myself, because the creative part is half the fun for me. I love seeing how I can translate my ideas into virtual reality. I also love exploring the possibilities afforded by such a powerful piece of software that I know I've barely scratched the surface of yet. The future is very exciting. The most amazing thing about the software is the speed at which I can make an animation. It's faster than anything I could have ever hoped for. I teach about 30 classes a week, and when I'm not teaching I'm writing my eBooks and developing material for my websites, so if animation using iClone hadn't been so fast, I would never have been able to use it for anything worthwhile.
Obviously, the more details you have on a virtual set, the more time it takes to set up, to light, to animate, and to film. And of course I also have to write the script and record the audio. With so much to do, and only need to do it, some of my more complex videos have taken a week or more to make.
I am using my videos to teach English, so I try to adopt a minimalistic approach and focus on the things that I want my students to notice. I find I can produce a short video with a single character in less than a day.
It can actually be faster to produce the necessary footage for a video using iClone that it can to find the right stock footage or images using more traditional means. It's certainly a lot easier than trying to find actors to perform the actions that I need to demonstrate to my students.
Q: Are there any upcoming Britlish projects that the community can look forward to?
Last month, I invested in the Kinect v2 for Windows with the adapter for the PC. I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the upgraded mo-cap plug-in so that I can use my new toy. I hope that with a little practice it will enable me to more easily get the movements I need for my characters in my videos. I'm also hoping that the Kinect technology will make it easier to produce scenes where characters act out the dialogues that my students have been pestering me for. My wife, herself a teacher of Spanish, is also keen to help out as an actress in some upcoming videos.
As my videos are the main way I advertise myself online, I will be continuing to produce new videos regularly. With each one I make, I find new things that I can do with iClone or CrazyTalk Animator 2, and always try to make each new video a little better than the last. I'll also be using videos to promote a new series of interactive eBooks that I'm writing, which will be available through the Britlish store.
I have found that a well-made video can do more to attract students than any amount of online advertising. A video is also great â€œteaserâ€ to give potential customers a taste of what they will get if they buy one of my eBooks. For this reason, I keep my fingers crossed that my 10,000+ daily YouTube views will continue to increase in line with my growing ability to use iClone to bring my imaginings to life.================================================================
To see more of their work, visit >>
Official Websites: http://britlish.com/
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Linguaspectrum