A teenager witnesses his family negotiate the release of his kidnapped aunt during the Guatemalan civil war. A Peruvian man starts a new life in the United States with his beloved dog. An Ecuadoran woman grows closer to her father as she learns of his time as an exchange student in Ohio.
As you listen to these and other stories on the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, you might get so absorbed that you forget you’re taking language lessons—and that’s by design. They’re told partly in Spanish by the people who lived them, alternating with English spoken by host and producer Martina Castro ’04.
“These stories feature personal perspectives on huge cultural events,” she says. “I am also particularly proud to say that the vast majority of the authors and staff on the podcast either live outside of the United States or are Latino, which is rare in our industry.”
Castro is working to make it less rare. The Duolingo Spanish Podcast—which thousands of listeners propelled to #1 on the iTunes charts within two weeks of its debut last winter—is the first project from her podcast production company, Adonde Media. “I launched Adonde Media after seeing a huge opportunity to create high-quality, sound-rich podcasts in Spanish,” she says. “Podcasts are still very new in Latin America, so your average person most likely doesn’t know what it is. But Latin Americans are extremely loyal audio consumers and have strong oral storytelling traditions, so I see it as only a matter of time for podcasts to catch on.”
Listeners propelled the show to #1 on the iTunes charts within two weeks of its debut.
Castro grew up in Virginia speaking Spanish at home and often traveling to visit her parents’ native Uruguay. During her college years, a family friend introduced her to National Public Radio’s Doug Mitchell (“still my mentor”), who hired her to write for the Next Generation Radio website. After that came an internship with a news service in Washington, D.C., followed by years at NPR and San Francisco’s KALW. In 2011, Castro helped to launch Radio Ambulante, NPR’s first podcast in Spanish. A Fulbright took her to the University of Montevideo in Uruguay to teach narrative audio storytelling. She also established the Podcasteros collaborative to support producers and fans of Spanish-language podcasts.
An accelerator called Start-Up Chile in Santiago gave Castro the support and funding to establish Adonde Media in 2017. Since then, Adonde’s small team—consisting of Castro as CEO, Natasha Betancourt as community manager, and several advisers, one of whom is Mitchell—has worked with the language-learning platform Duolingo, and also with TED en Español, VICE News, NPR and Jetty, an audio media brand of the Al Jazeera network.
Already, Castro’s company has broadened its mission beyond Latin America, producing projects in English and French as well as Spanish. “My goal is to work with companies that don’t see language as a barrier, but instead as an opportunity to reach new audiences,” she says. “By its very nature, the podcast is a global medium. If books and films can expand their impact to different corners of the world, I know we can and should do it with podcasts.”