How To Stay Relevant As A Language Learning Blogger In 2023
- 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.
Not too long ago, I wrote a detailed how-to guide on how to start a language blog.
It was aimed at people who had never started one before.
I put the post together in response to a lot of emails I received from budding new bloggers wanting advice on how to share their particular language learning experience or perspective with the world.
As dense as my article was, I still feel I should revisit it as there’s a lot that I could of added.
Starting a blog is one thing - getting people to follow it is a different story.
Today’s post is an important follow-up.
This site is already well over a decade old.
Each year I routinely reflect and self-examine (should I continue?) as I try to navigate the Internet’s rapidly changing landscape. Consumers of information are constantly changing their habits.
It’s honestly a real struggle to keep up.
The way people read and engage with blogs, channels and social media accounts looks almost nothing like what it did when I began blogging about language learning all those years ago. I also talked recently about the way this has affected language app development.
So I’m always asking:
“What language learning topics are important to people right now? What problems are people experiencing?”
“How do they prefer to find answers to their problems and consume information?”
To give you an example, I’ve read quite a few articles over the last 2 years on video that all suggest something like 80% of online content now is (or soon will be) consumed in the form of streaming video (YouTube, Twitch, live streaming, etc.). That means fewer people actually reading blog content for language learning advice and going straight to YouTube for answers.
I even asked recently on my Instagram account something along the lines of: “Who actually reads blogs anymore, anyway?”
Of course many still do but I think the level and depth of engagement has shifted massively.
I recently started a tech channel on YouTube for another hobby of mine (unrelated to languages) that already brings in hundreds of comments per video and tens of thousands of views with virtually zero effort on my part.
This is the kind of engagement I saw language blogs getting 5 - 6 years ago.
Times are certainly changing.
UPDATE: I recently started offering consultancy for anyone wanting to start full-time, income-earning language (or other) blogs. If you’re interested in learning from me, send me an email.
1. Watch for shifting trends in language learning
So as I just mentioned, always look out for trends (should be an obvious point!).
Trends sneak up on you when you’re not paying attention. What the hell is this TikTok thing? 🙂
Do you know what the most (or at least one of the most) popular language learning channel is on YouTube?
It’s a channel where some guy chooses a random language, reads off a dozen or so facts directly from Wikipedia, and throws in a bunch of stop cuts. It almost looks like a high school presentation.
BUT this channel is massively popular and is frequently shared on Reddit and social media.
I believe it’s because this is a trending video style/format on YouTube indicative of much shorter attention spans.
It’s how people prefer to consume information now (unfortunate but that’s the trend).
Things like TikTok are another indicator of this - who’s going to read a well-thought-out, 2500 word blog post when they can get the gist by watching 9 seconds of video?
A bit like people who get a 15 minute summary of a dense book on a site like Blinkist because they can’t be bothered reading the entire thing.
I talked in detail once before about language apps and the way that they are increasingly being tailored for tiny attention spans. Programs like Duolingo actually have UI designs that intentionally look like children’s toys and offer immediate gratification to the learner with gamified sounds and cartoon awards.
My chief concern as a language learning influencer is that I see too many people falling down the rabbit hole of ‘non-human interaction learning’ that authentic human interaction takes a back seat (what’s the point of learning a language at this stage?).
But does this mean blogging is dying? I don’t think so.
It just means you need to be mindful and adapt accordingly (but subtly resist bad trends at the same time!).
2. Offer the one language learning angle that you’re an expert on that nobody else can do as good as you can
In my language blogging guide, I talked about having a unique angle.
A new blog called “How to learn Spanish” has about a 0.00001% chance of being found unless the content is mind-blowing.
But a blog called “Mastering the art of cursing in Chilean Spanish” is going to make you an instant authority on the topic of Chilean Spanish slang and curse words.
You’ll be interesting.
In no time at all, your unique, targeted blog will be prominent in every search engine for Chilean Spanish slang and related topics before you know it.
Sure… there won’t be as many people looking for such a specific topic but when they do, you’re it.
The problem is I still see a lot of people trying to create incredibly generic language learning blogs on topics they can’t possibly be heard in.
Be an expert on one single aspect that nobody else is.
It’s getting harder with more people drowning out every market and niche so you need to stay creative and find your own voice.
A few good examples: Conor Clyne (Language Tsar - Travel Language Dating) goes around Ukraine/Eastern Europe talking about culture and women (totally unique angle), Olly Richards (StoryLearning) is all about the power of stories in language learning, Lindsay Williams has a project called Language Stories where she travels around doing documentary-style podcasts on languages.
They’re not just blogging about languages.
They have a unique position and purpose in what they do.
3. No one cares about your language mission UNLESS it teaches them something
This is definitely a change I’ve quietly observed over the last couple of years.
Language missions don’t seem to generate much buzz anymore.
A few years ago, a blogger could announce a language mission (I’m going to learn language X in a certain amount of time or under certain restricted conditions), document their progress online and ultimately generate a tonne of discussion online about it.
In some cases it would draw out media attention (e.g. I was interviewed by the Irish radio and TV when I learned Irish, BBC after I learned Korean and Esquire magazine after I learned Russian for example).
I think this was something originally popularized by Fi3M and then many other bloggers and YouTubers did similar missions and challenges.
But eventually, everyone starts ‘learning X in X months/years’.
Done to death.
What I’m noticing (at least from my perspective) is that subscribers are far less interested in the entertainment aspect (“Can he do it?”) and more in what they can extract out of it for themselves (“How does this help me?”). Olly recently did this with Italian.
This has become especially clear since I announced last year that I was relearning Koine Greek while attempting Modern Greek at the same time (updates coming).
4. Stop repeating what everyone else is saying about language learning
This goes back to point #2 - few language bloggers (at least most of the ones I’ve seen) share a truly unique point of view.
You could easily read an article on one blog about language learning methods and strategies, and then find that exact same opinion being echoed on most other blogs.
If you want to remain relevant in this noisy climate, you need to bring something new to the table.
And if your blog is a generic topic (see above) then I doubt very much that there’s anything fresh to introduce.
Hence why you need to be ultra specific with your language niche.
I post much less frequently than many other bloggers but there’s a primary reason for this. When considering a blog post on language learning, I ask myself:
1. Is anyone else talking about this? 2. Do I have a unique opinion or piece of advice on this? 3. If yes, I share. If no, there’s no point repeating what’s already been said many times by others.
Going back to point #3, ensure that whatever you’re saying is answering the questions people are continually asking.
5. Fake positive reviews of language courses, books or products are pure cancer - don’t do it
I call sites that do this review farms.
Have you ever gone looking for a product review (language or other) on Google or YouTube and had to sift through dozens of spammy, inauthentic 5 star recommendations to find a real one?
It’s a plague.
Same with computer products.
When I try and research a new laptop for example, I end up navigating to page 3, 4 or 5 of Google because all the first pages are full of sites offering amazing ratings for products they earn large commissions on.
These sites often have SEO teams working hard to ensure that their spotless reviews stay on page 1.
In fact, I use DuckDuckGo and Bing as more reliable search engines when it comes to authentic product reviews (the Google algorithm is so broken and biased that it’s hard to consider it a legitimate search engine at times).
It can be really tempting for any blogger - language or other - to write an amazing recommendation for a course or book that they’ve never even used before.
No research. No time spent actually using it.
“You should buy this course!”
They’re doing an enormous disservice to ordinary people looking for information and it’s a great way to lose the trust of your readers (when they find out you recommended a dud product then your trust is gone).
Over time your inbox will get flooded with requests from startups and companies for glowing reviews and ‘will you add my language product to your resource lists?’.
Avoid the temptation to plug everything without doing your homework.
6. Fake negative reviews of language products are even worse than cancer - definitely don’t do it
People have realized that fake positive review farms are a dime-a-dozen and increasingly ignored by people.
It’s like banner blindness but for reviews.
So they’ll use a deceptive ad bait strategy which is to completely trash a product in order to draw attention to something else (i.e. whatever they’re selling).
These might look something like:
Product X Review: DON’T BUY IT
Product X Review: A Waste Of Money
I say this kind of thing is worse than the positive reviews because it can often be much harder to tell if that person’s being truthful or not.
We fell victim to this recently by a banned affiliate who posted a hit piece on our project on his “review” site to score revenue through ad clicks. Legal recourse for this kind of reputational sabotage in America is a gray area.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a negative review.
Only if it’s justified.
If you meticulously go through a language book or course and find that it’s really failing in many ways, then it’s completely legitimate to share those findings.
You’re providing a valuable service by educating learners before they buy.
For example, I’ve written several reviews on this site for products that were harshly negative (e.g. Living Language and Michel Thomas) but in every case I spent weeks using and researching these language courses, as well as researching the experiences of other people and communicating with the course creators/publishers, in order to ensure that what I was sharing was accurate and fair.
Even then, a negative review against a company or individual should never be taken lightly.
If you go hunting for language courses or books to spotlight whatever negatives you can find and diminishing its actual value just to get people on your email list or sell to them, it’s extremely unethical.
It’d be like a restaurant setting up next to another restaurant with a big sign out front saying:
“DON’T EAT HERE! You’ll get food poisoning. Come and eat IN MY RESTAURANT instead.”
As the Internet gets more and more noisy, people are going to stoop lower and lower in order to be heard.
Here’s the right way to approach reviewing a language product:
Actually want it to be a good review.
Going back to my previous point again, wanting it to be a good review does not mean making it a good review.
It just means you care.
Start reviewing it from the perspective of someone wanting the product to succeed - any negative aspects are unfortunate flaws. Seek out clarity from the publisher or creator. One of the first things I do before publishing a language product review is fire off questions by email or phone to the people who made it.
Offer suggestions for improving.
Be open to second chances from publishers (e.g. I accepted Michel Thomas Greek from the publisher after I was unhappy with the Arabic edition).
7. Write blog posts that solve language learning problems and forget about SEO
Search engine technology is becoming so sophisticated that SEO is almost a redundant term (not quite but almost).
Despite the issues I have with Google (mentioned above), they’ve put a lot of work into updating their algorithms to detect what people are searching for - even if the keywords are totally different.
Sometimes I’ll search for something on Google and word it in my own way, then it comes back with an answer that is dead accurate (but not the same wording).
Now… I subscribe to a lot of language blogs (new and well-established) by RSS (yes, that’s still a thing!). 🙂
There’s one thing I’m noticing more and more lately - bloggers are putting out increasingly click-baity titles for search value.
I’ve also been guilty of this at times.
Here are some recent examples from my RSS reader (I’ve tweaked them a bit):
7 Incredible Reasons Why You Should Learn Spanish
32 Amazing Movies For Learning French
86 Portuguese Phrases To Help You Get Around Lisbon
And so on.
You know who reads posts like these?
Teenagers with a 2.5 second attention span (see above). 🙂
Seriously though, I feel like well-thought-out posts based on a writer’s language learning experience or research are becoming rare. How many X reasons, movies, phrases, etc. do people need?
Instead of trying to find SEO keywords to write fluff articles with a 98% bounce rate, try solving problems. Or be uniquely entertaining.
Whatever language you’re learning or fluent in, you have so much to offer your readers.
Find out where the biggest pain points are in learning your target language and focus on providing solutions to them.
8. Pretend you’re the only language blogger on the Internet
This might sound a little contradictory after my last point but here goes:
Stop reading other blogs.
Stop watching language vloggers on YouTube.
Pretend you’re the only person on the whole Internet writing about the things you are.
Otherwise this starts happening:
- You keep comparing yourself to what other people are saying and doing.
- You’re being influenced way too much by their discourse - so much so that you start sounding like everyone else (see above).
I check in from time to time to see what people are up to but overall, I intentionally try to focus on what I’m doing.
I don’t want to find myself blogging about the same language topics everyone else is or starting to sound like them.
Whether it’s blog topics, resource reviews, or just a general style of speaking, I want to stay uniquely me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been encouraged by hearing people refer to me as “very different to other bloggers”.
9. Language blog creativity can only come from actually learning languages
It’s hard to continue producing content when you’re out of creativity.
And where does language learning creativity come from?
Actually learning languages.
In fact, I find that sometimes my mind works like this:
1. “Oh, I really need to write something for The Mezzofanti Guild today.” 2. “What can I write about?”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It must always be:
1. “Wow. I just had an amazing experience practicing that language.” 2. “This would make a great blog post.”
The best content I’ve ever created has been born out of experiences I’ve had - I’m learning a language, I have some incredible experience or learn something new, I share it.
Creating content to fill a schedule is a guaranteed formula for flat-line posts that nobody cares about.
If you’re not actively learning a language then your creativity will dry up.
So when I find myself in the mindset of trying to come up with ideas to write about, that usually indicates that it’s time to go out and start speaking my target languages with people.
Interested in creating a language blog? Start here.
What are your thoughts? Comment below.
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