How To Start A Language Blog
- Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW
Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
This article will teach you everything you need to know about starting your own language learning blog – whether it’s to provide a resource for other learners or to keep yourself accountable (or both).
I never actually intended for The Mezzofanti Guild to become what it is today but by consistently providing useful information for other learners, it’s now a full-time job that supports me and my family, offering useful advice to thousands of people around the world every day.
I’ve been writing now for decades (12+ years on the topic of languages and language learning) and I’ve learned a LOT over that time about what works and what doesn’t in the world of blogging.
So since I occasionally get requests asking for advice on how to start a language blog, I’ve decided to provide this article as a guide to help anyone interested.
So let’s get started!
NOTE: You can jump to different parts using these content links:
Table of Contents:
1. Come up with a unique idea that people will love and benefit from
You need to sit down and plan.
There’s no use reinventing the wheel.
Without a clear direction and plan, your new blog will end up on the trash heap with every other directionless, haphazard blog ever made.
So let’s say you speak Spanish and you want to create a blog where you offer people tips and advice on how to learn Spanish. A very quick search will show you that you’re the 2,512,679th person to try this.
Unless your blog is incredible, it’ll be drowned out by a million other voices saying the same thing.
You need to come up a unique spin or angle that everyone else has ignored.
Find a specific gap and fill it. This could be anything where there’s a serious need, lack of information or (better yet) an area that’s covered by your own expertise.
To give you an example, let’s say you learned Spanish from Peruvian speakers and most of your friends come from Peru.
You could start a blog that’s all about Peruvian Spanish where you cover local expressions and pronunciations, slang and swear words, dissect Peruvian TV shows, talk about the best places in Peru to study Spanish and so on.
A tagline for your blog could be something like: ‘Everything You Need To Know About Peruvian Spanish’.
Since there appears to be a lack of blogs and sites specifically focused on this particular niche of Spanish, you’d be instantly authoritative and stand out from the crowd. You’d be filling a gap that no one else has filled.
Of course, this is just a simple example of the kind of thing you could dream up and put to paper.
So start brainstorming ideas!
It could be literally anything that other people find useful.
Never think that your topic or niche is too specific either – to somebody out there it’s exactly what they need.
2. Choose and register a name and domain that you won’t regret later
So let’s say you’ve decided to go with the Peruvian Spanish idea I mentioned.
Now you need a name.
You’ve got two options for naming:
- A domain name that explains what you’re doing and leaves little doubt or confusion to new people (e.g. SpeakPeruvianSpanish.com, LearnPeruSpanish.com, SpanishInPeru.com).
- A unique name that says nothing about what your brand is about (e.g. The Mezzofanti Guild, italki, Google) <– the risky option.
When I first started The Mezzofanti Guild, I had no intention of it ever even being read by many people.
I didn’t care about blogging full-time.
But I’ll be honest with you – as it began to grow into one of the most popular language learning blogs, I started to deeply regret the brand I’d created because few people know who Mezzofanti is and the domain name I have ‘mezzoguild.com’ is confusing and needs to be spelled out every time I tell someone about it.
I often considered changing it to something easier and more obvious.
But… over time I fell in love with it. It became recognizable.
It’s unique and these days much more widely recognizable as being related to languages AND to myself.
It’s uniquely mine.
So yes, you could start something like ‘learn-peruvian-spanish.com’ which tells people exactly what you’re all about or you could find a Peruvian expression that sounds cool for example and use that instead.
Many people believe that a specific name (e.g. thebestspanishresources.com) is advantageous for SEO, but in my experience this is not true and actually just comes off as spammy and untrustworthy. My domain (mezzoguild.com) is totally non-specific, yet it’s one of the highest ranking domains in the language learning niche. It simply doesn’t matter.
Alternatively, if you have a unique personal name, consider branding your own name instead. This will enable you to pivot later on.
Just remember that whatever you go with, brand consistency is crucial.
There are loads of options for registering domain names but I now use Google Domains personally (domains usually cost a couple of bucks per year too so it’s very cheap).
You can also get a domain name registered for free when signing up for a hosting plan (see my next step).
3. Find the right web host for what you plan to do
So you have a great language learning idea, a well-thought-out plan and a domain name that you’re happy with.
Now you need a host (server).
The host is where you put your website and the domain name is what points people to it.
Your host will usually have an option to set up WordPress or another CMS automatically (this is the software that allows you to write posts, create pages and so on).
I’ve used a lot of web hosts over the years for this and other sites and they all have their own pros and cons. I’ll share what I know with you below, but in summary:
- Best for beginners: Bluehost
- Most affordable: Hostinger
- Best VPS/Cloud/Dedicated option: Siteground
- Best fully managed/stress-free option: WPEngine
- Best technical option: Vultr
- Best environmental option: GreenGeeks
Cheap and low-risk Wordpress hosts (shared)
What you want at this level is a shared server which is the cheapest option and just means that you’re sharing your server with hundreds of other websites.
If you’re just starting out in the world of blogging and you’re really just a newbie trying to figure everything out - and you want something cheap - then Bluehost is a very safe option as it’s really been a market leader for decades in the ‘affordable hosting’ space for Wordpress users. Most bloggers start out here.
Hostinger is actually the cheapest option available for shared Wordpress hosting (about $2.99 a month last time I checked). They also have excellent uptime for such a low cost host.
SiteGround is another very popular alternative to services like Bluehost and Hostinger. I prefer their interface and find their server quality better, but it’s an extra dollar or two per month.
I thought I’d just add GreenGeeks here for those who are concerned about the environment or climate issues. Web hosting generally consumes enormous amounts of energy, and GreenGeeks prides itself on being the most eco-friendly web host as they actually replace the power they consume back into the electricity grid.
Environmental matters aside, they’re actually a really good host and affordable too.
Shared servers like the ones listed above are insanely cheap – usually just a few bucks per month (but usually charged up front for a year).
These shared hosting options are perfectly adequate for new, small blogs but as soon as you start pulling in decent traffic, you may start to run into performance issues (e.g. if someone else on your server is hogging resources).
At this point you’ll need a VPS or dedicated server option.
Upgrading to VPS or Dedicated (Cloud) hosting
If you’re aiming for your website to become big and popular, or if you find your growing site to be slowing down, then you’ve outgrown shared hosting.
I personally upgraded my servers at Bluehost when traffic reached a point where it was necessary for a more powerful hosting option.
Most of the shared hosting options I’ve listed also offer VPS and/or dedicated servers (these days often listed as “cloud hosting”), and in most cases, they can even perform the upgrade for you so you don’t have to worry about it.
The ultimate, bells-and-whistles “managed” option
There’s one other option I’d like to share here: WP Engine.
I met these guys at a blogging conference recently and after learning more about their services (I was setting up another site and approached them about it), I was blown away at what they offer.
They’re a fully managed, WordPress-specific host based in Texas and they are basically the ultimate service for anyone wanting a safe, secure and ultra fast blog. The WP Engine servers are built and designed specifically for WordPress bloggers and developers.
Their support is second-to-none too – if you call for help, you don’t get routed to a call center in Asia.
WP Engine devs in Texas talk to you directly.
These guys are strict in a good way – they won’t let customers install risky plugins on their blogs (they’ll advise you on alternatives). WP Engine keeps everything safe and secure to protect you down the track.
Backups are done routinely and your site is monitored by staff who will take action if anything goes wrong.
The only con with WP Engine is that they’re higher priced than other hosts but the service definitely makes this worthwhile (if you sign up using this link then you get 3 months free).
WP Engine offers loads of other bonus perks and addons too that you can read about here:
The technical (I want fine-grained control over everything) option
So you’re pretty clever?
As a web developer, I don’t personally need any of the above hosts for my Wordpress sites.
Whenever I need to set up Wordpress, I use a host called Vultr (requires a lot of technical knowledge to get set up). You get to select your OS or Docker image, and it deploys a fully self-managed VPS for you.
These are generally much cheaper but you’re on your own getting the server set up and dealing with issues. If you break something, you’re on your own.
I’ve found Vultr absolutely fantastic but it’s not at all suitable for anyone not technically minded.
At this point, it’s time to focus on design.
4. Get design work done by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing
NOTE: I’d recommend not getting obsessed with perfecting your blog design at first but just get it to a point where it’s acceptable and then really spend your energy on making amazing content.
I’m going to assume that you selected WordPress as your CMS to create posts and manage your site (it’s the most popular platform).
As far as design goes, you have 4 options:
1. Use a free theme. 2. Use a paid theme. 3. Pay a professional to design your site. 4. Design a custom theme yourself.
Initially you might want to just go with a free theme and really focus on producing excellent content that people will love.
At the end of the day, if your posts are incredibly helpful to people then nobody cares what the design of your site looks like. My first theme for The Mezzofanti Guild was a hideous free theme but my content was well-received by people so it didn’t matter (much).
Take a look at the progression of my logo design/skills (simplicity rules!):
Of course, an ugly or boring site design can only get you so far! 🙂
A step up from free themes are paid themes which are often much higher quality, supported by the creators and easier to customize.
Divi (Elegant Themes) is still the most popular paid Wordpress theme in the world. It’s another really popular option that anyone is able to use to create stunning designs (highly customizable and user-friendly).
If you’re not graphically inclined and you want a professional design, then I recommend using a service like 99Designs.
You can get some amazing logo and web design work done for a reasonable price which will add to the professional image (and authority) of your site.
Rather than slap together a dodgy do-it-yourself logo that screams unprofessional (my first logo is great example of this), let someone create it for you.
For a complete, custom job by a creative expert, you’re looking at thousands of dollars so unless you have disposal income then I wouldn’t spend this on a custom site. If you do want to make that investment, then I highly recommend Toptal as I’ve used their services in the past (they’re basically a high-end agency that will get you set up with expert designers and developers — but be prepared to spend big).
If you sign up with WPEngine, premium themes are included as part of their service.
5. Produce content that YOU wish someone else had created when you needed it
Great content is everything in the world of blogging.
There’s no point having an amazing, professional design if you have nothing to offer people. As a general rule, I wouldn’t even bother publicly releasing a blog unless it had a dozen or so quality posts on it already.
Not a writer? Make some awesome videos!
Not a writer or videographer? Make something that people can use.
Since you’re creating a language learning blog that’s highly specific and targeted (if you followed my advice earlier in this post that is), you need to consistently offer people content that they have a genuine need and use for.
Not sure what to write about?
Here’s the best advice I can give you:
List all of the problems and issues that YOU have experienced learning this language and how you overcame them.
If you struggled with it, you can be guaranteed you’re not the only one.
Create the very thing that you wish someone else had created when you needed it.
Don’t assume everyone’s at the same level you are either.
You might be an advanced learner and only interested in advanced grammar topics for example but just remember that a lot of your visitors may still be learning the alphabet or just looking for basic advice on how to get started.
Unless your blog is highly targeted to a specific learner level (e.g. only for advanced learners), then make sure your content is appropriate for everyone. Write naturally – as if you were talking directly to a friend (this is one really important way you can relate to your readers).
Set up a schedule (e.g. once per week or once per month) and stick to it.
NOTE: For content planning, either by yourself or with a team, I highly recommend tools like Monday. They have been game-changers for my blog and business.
Make it a thing that has to be done without fail.
There’s nothing more disappointing than landing on what looks like a really useful blog and noticing that they haven’t written anything new in ages.
6. Email, email, email
If you browse through this site, you’ll notice that on almost every page I have an email sign-up form.
Email is where real connections are made as far as blogging goes.
Of all the thousands of people who land on this site each day, unless people sign up to my email list then I have no idea who they are or what their needs are. They come, they read and they go.
So having an email list is vital to the life of any blog and enables you to send your content directly to a person’s inbox, survey them and receive direct replies back from them.
For a language learning blog, you can send exclusive tips/advice this way or create email courses which give readers something to look forward to each day/week/month.
For this, I definitely recommend ConvertKit which is currently the most popular (trending) email platform. As far as features and functionality go, it’s the best out there.
There are other alternatives but ConvertKit is second-to-none.
7. Earn a living by blogging about languages
Let me be blunt for a moment:
If your main motivation for starting a language learning blog is to make money, you’ve almost certainly set yourself up for failure already.
I really mean that.
I never started The Mezzofanti Guild because I wanted to make money. It came about over time, birthed out of a genuine love for what I do (I had previously made money either translating or teaching English).
It’s taken me well over a decade of persistent, daily hard work to turn a hobby blog into a 7 figure online business.
I went from journaling about my interest in languages on a $200 broken laptop using free wifi at the local pub, to now running my own company and managing a global team.
I now own over 30 profitable language learning websites and courses, including this one.
I’ve written this guide for people like myself who are passionate about language learning (or a specific language) and want to share their passion and expertise with the world.
Of course (like anything) profit often does/can follow passion.
Share amazing, free content with people that comes from a genuine love for what you do, be consistent, never be dishonest and you can financially benefit in the long run.
There are generally 3 ways to do this:
- Advertise (i.e. place banners on your site that send people to language products that you endorse).
- Become an affiliate of language products that you endorse and earn a commission on their sales when you refer people.
- Create something yourself that people need and put a price tag on it.
Notice how I emphasized “that you endorse”.
Never ever promote something that you haven’t used or don’t believe in.
If you don’t stand 100% behind the quality and effectiveness of a language product then you should not be trying to convince people to buy it.
I turn down offers all the time for high commission opportunities on products that I believe are trash.
You’ll also notice that unlike many other blogs which list hundreds of resources, I stick to the few that I know are top quality.
People respect honesty and as a blogger you should consider the trust of your readers as a precious thing to be nurtured and cared for.
Once your reputation and credibility are shot, it’s game over.
When I first started earning from The Mezzofanti Guild, I was simply placing advertising banners on my site but I quickly learned that this is incredibly annoying for most people (since we all hate ads), I couldn’t control who Google placed in those ads (since they decide) and it just distracted people away from the content I was trying to share.
So as you can see if you look around this site, there are no distracting banner ads.
If I added display ads, I could easily make thousands of extra dollars a month. However, it would subtract from the quality of my content and return readership, so I will never do that.
The other issue with display ads is that you need very high traffic in this niche for it to be truly profitable.
My income from this site comes from two streams: affiliate commissions and my own products, TalkInArabic.com (and other undisclosed products I own).
For affiliate commissions, I review and sample language products of all kinds and when I find a product that I truly believe in, I contact the company to see if they have an affiliate program set up for it.
That way when I share the product with my readers, if they find it useful and decide to buy it or sign up for it, I receive a small percentage of the sale.
It’s rewarding not only in terms of earning a small commission but also knowing that I’m referring people to a good product that I know will help them.
But if it’s something you’re serious about then I highly recommend creating something new that fills a serious need people have.
In my case, I came up with my idea years ago because it was not being done by anybody and so many people needed a service like it. I personally struggled when I was learning Arabic because no product existed to help me.
So whatever your language is, use your expertise to produce something that will truly benefit people.
There are many ways to produce your own profitable course or platform for language learners, but one of the easiest ways to do it is with a platform like Teachable.
Teachable makes course creation super easy, and they also handle payment processors, taxes, affiliates and so on. It’s really the quickest way to get started and launch a revenue-generating language product.
If you’re looking for a recommendation on a course to teach you how to blog for “passive” income, the truth is that nearly all of them are overpriced, overrated garbage not worth the cost (more often that not, these influencers got lucky in the early 2010’s when blogging was at its peak and they’ll tell you how they succeeded 10 years ago which is no longer applicable).
They usually sell you on their lifestyle (here’s a picture of me with my laptop on a beach in Costa Rica – pay me so I can tell you my secrets).
Avoid these like the plague.
The best thing you can do is just focus on producing content that helps other people and learn through persistent trial and error.
8. Let your readers get to know you and never pretend to be something you’re not
Don’t brag or show off.
It’s very easy to attract a following by masquerading as something that you’re not – a hyperpolyglot with twenty C2 languages under your belt or whatever – but that’s not who you are. Don’t create a false identity with your blog.
Creating a connection with your readers is about letting them get to know you personally, including your weaknesses. You may be an advanced learner of a language but you’re still exactly that – a learner.
Let your subscribers see your mistakes.
Let people know that they also have a lot to teach you.
See your blog as two-way communication rather than just a platform for you to get your message out.
People relate to real stories so whenever I write or make a video about what I’m doing, I’m careful to emphasize that I’m just a regular guy who loves languages and I make tonnes of mistakes along the way (sometimes even posting videos of myself trying to speak a new language).
9. Be a language learning brand, not just a blog
I’m sure you’ve seen all the big language learning companies that have very recognizable brands.
Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Michel Thomas, Assimil…
They have websites, social media pages, they’re all over YouTube and other places, and they have instantly-recognizable logos.
Treat your own blog the same way: as a brand, not just a blog.
You don’t have to be a business to be a brand.
So from the very beginning – before you even come up with a name – decide on an idea that you can envisage being shared and spread across every online platform. Make a very detailed checklist of every facet of your brand from the domain name, Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/YouTube accounts, email addresses and signatures, logos and so on.
Be present everywhere on the Internet with your brand.
This doesn’t just get your idea exposure – it shows people how serious and professional you are about what you say and do.
Hope that helps!
Got a specific question for me on blogging? Ask it in the comments below.
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