In this special episode, we answer your most burning questions about the Duolingo Spanish Podcast! Listen as host and executive producer Martina Castro takes you behind the scenes of this one-of-a-kind podcast — with a little help from some friends. And for those listeners who asked about starting your own podcast (there were a lot of you!), Martina recommends these resources: transom.org, training.npr.org, and googlecp.prx.org.
How to Listen
Listen free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Martina: Hey there! ¡Hola y bienvenidos! I'm Martina, the host and executive producer of the Duolingo Spanish Podcast.
As we say at the beginning of every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world. But this time, we're trying something a little different.
We asked you to send in your questions about the podcast, so we could take you behind the scenes. And the response has been amazing! Right, Román?
Román: Sin duda, Martina. Our listeners are the best!
Martina: So that is Román Frontini. He's our production manager, one of the many people you probably don't think about when you consider how this podcast gets made. But they’re all essential to the process! Román and other members of our team will be jumping in to help me answer your questions.
And we got so many of them from all around the world: United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, China, Russia, Iraq, Syria, and Kenya, just to name a few. And you asked us about a lot of things. But one question rose to the top…
Frank: My name’s Frank, I'm from the UK.
Eduardo: My name is Eduardo, I'm calling from Portugal.
Tae: Hi, my name is Tae from South Korea.
Frank: So my question is: Where do you get inspiration from for the stories on your podcast?
Eduardo: How do you find these amazing stories and amazing people?
Tae: So I'd like to know how editors of Duolingo go about finding these true stories that are not only interesting but also inspiring.
Martina: We got similar questions from many other countries, as well. Our storytellers are amazing, aren't they? We've had more than 50 so far, from 30 different countries. And we're working on new episodes all the time. To help me answer the question about how we find them, let's bring in David Alandete, our new Managing Editor, who’s from Spain, but leads the hunt for new stories from Washington, D.C.¡Hola David!
David: Hey Martina!
Martina: So David — where do we find our stories? This question’s kind of hard to answer, isn't it?
David: Yes, it is!
Martina: I'd say it's a sort of alchemy.
David: That's right…because we look everywhere for stories — magazines, newspapers, Facebook groups, documentaries, Instagram… even among friends and family! We are always on the hunt. We spend hours every day doing research and we have certain storytelling criteria: we strive to include people from all over the Spanish-speaking world, and we're especially drawn to stories of people who help their communities, and do their best to change the world! Do you remember our episode of people who helped their communities during the pandemic? Well we found those four stories after hours and hours of research on social media. Or another episode we love, the one about Jaime, the artist who is on the autism spectrum: we found his story published in some newspapers in Spain, where he lives. We also receive pitches from producers all over the world.
Martina: I also want to give a lot of credit to our storytellers, because this is not an easy process. Our producers interview the storytellers multiple times. And we record them reading their portion of the script at least twice. Some of them have never even been in front of a microphone before! So it's a big commitment for everyone.
David: About half of the stories we pursue don't even end up in the podcast. Sometimes a story just isn't the right fit. Those that make it through to the end are thanks to really really generous storytellers who take the time to let us into the most important and intimate parts of their lives. People like Tatiana Sfiligoy from Argentina, who was adopted during the brutal dictatorship. And Marco Antonio Quelca from Bolivia, a chef whose cooking is influenced by Bolivia's social and political issues.
Martina: Right. And you can tell our storytellers truly care about helping people learn about their language and culture. Every storyteller is passionate about what they do — including working with us to bring their stories to you! ¡Gracias David!
David: ¡De nada!
Martina: Ok, so the next question came to us from Uyanga in Siberia…
Uyanga: Hello! My name is Uyanga. I’m from Siberia, but now I live in Moscow. First of all, I want to say how I’m grateful to all people who made Duolingo. This is a brilliant and enjoying way to study Spanish. I like that you tell about people whose lives really encourage. And also, I like that your stories deal with real serious social problems. And they help me to learn more about Spanish speaking countries; about society, traditions, political processes… Really fascinating stories! But sometimes I doubt, are your stories all truthful? Really? I guess that the process of how you find them is really interesting. So please, tell me about it. Thank you very much!
Tali: Yes, Uyanga! Believe it or not, all our stories are true!
Martina: That is Tali Goldman, one of our story producers. She joins us from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tali has produced several of our stories, including "Los niños de los desaparecidos" and "Un cocinero para la gente," whose protagonists were mentioned earlier.
Tali, like myself and many of the people who work with us, has a journalism background. We’re firm believers that true stories can inspire us and move us. Tali, what kind of stories inspire you?
Tali: I’m inspired by stories of people transforming themselves and their communities. I like it when I discover small anecdotes that reveal whole worlds that I didn't know about. For example, I discovered a whole new world through Yola Jimenez, who is the first woman in Mexico to own a mezcal factory.
Martina: I loved that story! And it would be a lot easier to write fiction and hire actors to read the script. But we'd lose the most important part of our podcast: the connection to real lives, cultural identities, and actual places in the Spanish-speaking world. ¡Muchas gracias Tali!
Tali: ¡Gracias a vos Martina, y saludos desde Buenos Aires!
Martina: We can tell you all are making so much progress with Duolingo, because many of you sent us your questions in Spanish! This one came from the Philippines:
Jerico: ¡Hola! Soy Jerico de Filipinas. Realmente disfruto escuchando los podcasts de Duolingo porque son interesantes. Las historias son muy buenas y una excelente manera de aprender español, y mejorar mis habilidades de comprensión. Mi favorito es "Buscando el Río Hirviente" debido a mi profunda fascinación por la geografía, la historia y la cultura del Perú. Me pregunto, ¿cuánto tiempo lleva producir y grabar un solo episodio? Saludos y ¡gracias!
Martina: "How long does it take to produce and record a single episode?" Great question! For this one, let's go back to Román Frontini, our production manager who's also based in Buenos Aires:
Román: Yes, that’s a really good question. You know, every story is different. If we have to record in a hard-to-reach place, or we are working with a really high profile person with a very busy schedule, the process might take longer. But in general, I’d say each episode takes an average of two and a half months to make.
Martina: And that's if everything goes according to plan! ¡Gracias Román!
Román: ¡De nada, Martina! ¡Adiós!
Martina: The reason Román is so essential is that every episode requires collaboration across many different time zones and teams. We have to interview our protagonists, write scripts, edit them, adjust the language level, and record and mix audio — there are a lot of steps! And we do an actual test run before recording the real thing! To cover that part, I want to invite Laura Macomber to join us. Hi Laura!
Laura: Hey Martina!
Martina: So Laura is the supervising producer of podcasts at Duolingo. She sees every story through the process, from start to finish. And she supervises this test run — the rough mix, as we call it.
Laura: So the rough mix is a part of this process that’s really important! We bring together a group of people at Duolingo that we call “the Braintrust.” And the Braintrust is made up of language experts, and people who are learning Spanish, and just people with really good storytelling abilities. And we all listen to the episode together. What we’re listening for is to make sure that the language level is at the right level of complexity, but we’re also listening just to make sure it’s a really good episode to listen to — that it’s engaging and entertaining throughout. You know, being engaging and having fun content to offer learners is really important to us at Duolingo.
Martina: So just to recap, by the end of the process, a story has gone through at least two rounds of revisions and has been seen or heard by at least a dozen people. Thank you Laura for joining us!
Laura: Thank you!
Martina: The goal of all of this is to help you practice your listening skills, which is one of the hardest parts of learning a new language — especially when you get to the intermediate level. And many of your questions were about just that…
Jillian: Hi my name’s Jillian Porter from Columbus, Ohio. I was wondering how you determine what type of words to use, how the Spanish is considered intermediate for your podcast? That's all, thanks.
Martina: To answer your question, Jillian, ah…we’re going to bring in another key member of the Duolingo team: Cindy Berger. Hi Cindy!
Martina: So Cindy is one of Duolingo's language scientists who helps us find just the right level of complexity for each Spanish sentence. Take it away Cindy!
Cindy: What makes Duolingo so unique is our network of brilliant teaching specialists and learning experts. We follow a standard called the CEFR — the Common European Framework of Reference for Language. Yeah, I know, it's a mouthful! But basically, the CFR helps us understand what people should be able to do with language at different stages in their language-learning journeys. And from there, we can then pinpoint the vocabulary and grammar they're most likely to know at each of those stages — both from the earliest beginner to the most advanced speakers.
Martina: So, how do you use the CEFR in the podcast?
Cindy: Good question! Our language experts take a script that features the storytellers' native Spanish — which is usually filled with tricky vocabulary and complex sentences — and then, they simplify it. Their goal is to hit the 'sweet spot' where intermediate Spanish learners can actually understand what they're hearing. The end result may sound simple, but as it turns out…there's a lot of complexity that goes into simplifying language.
Martina: So basically, we're able to give learners a Spanish listening experience that they're unlikely to find anywhere else. Right?
Cindy: Exactly! And yet we still give learners that critical exposure to Spanish that they need to become more confident in their listening.
Martina: Thanks Cindy! Ok… next message!
Sandra: Hi, my name is Sandra and I'm from Maryland. I've been loving the podcast so far, especially the stories centered around social justice. Something that I found to be striking was the amazing production. Everything from the audio quality, music, and narrative style is extremely well done — and it even sparked my own interest in podcast production.
Martina: Thank you, Sandra! You know, sound design often doesn't get the recognition it deserves. But trust me, it's everything for a podcast. Especially for one like ours. So, I'd like to introduce you to Martín Cruz, our lead sound designer who’s based in Santiago de Chile. ¡Hola Martín!
Martín: ¡Hola Martina!
Martina: So, can you explain what sound design is for you?
Martín: Yeah, sound design for me is essential to a good audio story. It offers rhythm, provides information, creates atmospheres, and I think it plays a narrative role. It's not just filler — it adds meaning, and that's why it is so important. I think good sound design shouldn't distract from the storytelling. It should help create visuals in the listeners' minds. And help the listener connect with the story. It's how we create an emotional listening experience.
Martina: That's a great explanation, Martín, thank you. All right. Next question! This one is from Charlotte in Germany.
Charlotte: Hi my name is Charlotte, and I’m from the UK, currently living in Germany. All of the speakers on the podcast manage to speak slowly and clearly. And I’m curious as to whether any of them struggled with this? And whether they had to practice speaking at a speed that learners would understand?
Martina: Charlotte, the simple answer to your question is yes! Reading that slowly and expressively is not easy! But for the more complicated answer, I'd like to bring in one of our senior producers, Mariano Pagella, he’s based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hi Mariano!
Mariano: Hi everyone!
Martina: So Mariano, you were our first production manager and have done a little bit of everything on the show, including coaching our storytellers. Do you want to give our audience an idea of what goes into this?
Mariano: Well…the main ingredient is time! It can take up to 3 hours to record everything we need for a 25-minute episode. And so the second ingredient is patience. Our storytellers are amazing because most of them are recording in front of a microphone for the very first time when they work with us. Some of them are nervous, and understandably so…but they are so committed to sharing their stories with you that they make the effort. Sometimes they have to repeat phrases 5, 6, 7, 10 times so they get it just right. I'm there to guide them and ensure they read slowly enough, and enunciate every word in a way that is understandable, but also natural.
Martina: Do you have any favorite moments from those marathon recording sessions?
Mariano: Ah…I'd have to say that my favorite was probably the hardest, and that was with José Elías Argaña from the indigenous soccer team from Paraguay — the episode entitled "Una victoria en la cancha, a Victory on the Soccer Field." Spanish isn't even José's native language, but he really wanted to share his team's story. So I helped him by reading each track out loud and then having him repeat after me. I think we ended up recording for six hours.
Martina: Oh my goodness, that's amazing! Well, it really paid off. I loved that episode! Thank you so much Mariano!
Mariano: ¡De nada! ¡Chau!
Martina: Ok, so next let's hear from Sanah, in Sudan, who asked us for some advice:
Sanah: Hola Martina Castro. My name is Sanah, I'm from Sudan. I'm really really happy about the Duolingo podcast, the Spanish one. I love it. I listen to it almost like episode by episode and it's been really, really helpful. And thank you for giving us the opportunity to ask questions. This is something really cool because it's been on my mind… I love the way you tell the stories, your voice tone, vocal expressions if you can say so… how can someone develop themselves as a podcaster?
Martina: Thank you so much for your question, Sanah…and thank you so much for listening! To answer, I'm going to call on the first editor of the podcast, Catalina May from Santiago de Chile. She also hosts and produces another podcast. So we both have experience creating shows like this one from scratch… Cata, what would your advice be for Sanah?
Catalina: Sanah, my main advice is to be sure you know why you are creating a podcast. What are you trying to say? Who are you talking to? And what makes your podcast unique? You'd be surprised, but many people think they just have to have a podcast because other people have one, but it is so much work! You should really be passionate about what you're going to say, have a plan, and stick to it.
Martina: I couldn’t agree more. And I'd add that to get better at this, you just have to do it. Trial and error is key to improving your skills. Make something, have FUN. And listen back with friends to see how you can do it better next time. There are a variety of free guides online that you can also turn to. We'll include links to a few of them in the show notes of this episode. ¡Gracias, Cata!
Catalina: ¡De nada!
Martina: And with that, we've reached the end of this special episode. Thank you so much for your questions, and your words of appreciation!
You can keep sending us messages via voicemail, or WhatsApp. The number again is +1 703 953 9369. Or send an email to email@example.com. Don't forget to mention your name and where you're calling or writing from.
We'll leave you with this last beautiful message that we received from Raha in Syria:
Raha: Good morning! So much love for the great Duolingo team, from Syria! My name is Raha Famran. I am an orthodontist from Latakia, Syria. I've learned Spanish from scratch using the Duolingo app, and now I'm listening to the podcast, both Spanish and French, and I'm in love with this show. I mean it changed my morning routine, it changed the way I spend my mornings. I wake up, make a cup of coffee, and listen to a podcast of yours. These stories are amazing, and I just want to send you this voice message to show you all the love that we send you from Syria. Thank you so much!
Martina: Thank you Raha! We love feeling connected with you and the rest of the audience as you listen from every corner of the globe. I hope you now also feel more connected to one another — and to us — as you practice your Spanish. Here are a few more people who work very hard to bring you this podcast:
I'm Lorena Galliot, living in Brooklyn, New York, originally from France and Venezuela.
Antonio Diaz Oliva from Chile, currently in East Nashville.
I'm Antonio Romero originally from Venezuela now living in Austin, Texas.
I'm Grant Fuller from Chicago, Illinois, currently living in Santiago, Chile.
I'm Lucía Villavicencio from Ecuador.
Rémy Maréchal, originally from France, now living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I am María Vittoria Mandelli, living in France, but originally from Venezuela.
I'm Michaela Kron, originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but now living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I'm Eliana Sánchez, originally from Honduras, now living in Costa Rica.
I'm María José Abascal from Guatemala.
I'm Alec Lownes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Hi! I'm Kevin Kunitake from Los Angeles and living in New York.
I'm Karla de Seijas in Guatemala.
I'm Emily Chiu in New York.
Martina: And I'm Martina Castro, host and executive producer, signing off physically from Brooklyn, New York — but spiritually from Montevideo, Uruguay… ¡Hasta pronto y gracias por escuchar!