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How I became a pro Language Hacker

| 18 comments | Category: saturday post

The question of “What do you do?” has always been a tough one for me to answer. I have actually had about 40 jobs in the last 10 years, so answering with a single description just doesn’t describe what I “do” with my life in any real sense.

I was the race controller at a go-karting course, computer tech support, salesman in several stores (including a yoga one), mathematics teacher, youth hostel receptionist, English/French teacher, lots of boring office jobs and electronic engineer (to name just a few).

Then three years ago I became a location independent freelance translator. This enabled me to continue travelling without worrying about getting a job in the location itself. The pay was good enough to cover my expenses, but not enough to get me out of a debt caused by replacing a broken computer (it actually melted in India…) and spending a month not working because of that.

This year I have a completely different source of income – whether you could call it a “job” or not depends on your definition of the word. For me it’s a lifestyle and one I thoroughly enjoy. I am a pro Language Hacker.


Earnings from blogging?

Due to confusion surrounding the term “blogger”, I will never introduce myself as one. It’s a term that is hugely misunderstood by most people and since I don’t even speak English most of the time it’s quite hard to translate well in a professional context. I usually say I’m a writer if people want a short and sweet answer (incidentally, in Hungarian “Irish writer” sounded really cool: ir iró).

What is actually earning me money in the long term is not simply writing in a blog but leading a particular lifestyle that is conveyed in the blog. I start a new challenge every three months or so (so there is a story to follow) and I write my tips about how others can attempt what I do (so people can maybe learn something by reading). This content is interesting enough for them to want to share it with their friends and this means more traffic to the site.

I also write e-mails with more tips and altogether write about 10,000 words per week for free. Anyone reading the blog doesn’t pay me and isn’t bombarded with sponsorship and advertising. I get about 10 e-mails a day from people who want me to promote something vaguely related to languages and I tell them the same thing: it’s a once off fee of 17 million dollars. That usually shuts them up quickly enough!

99.9% of people coming here just want to get free advice, and I want to give it to them. Helping people is the purpose of fluentin3months.com and any money I may earn from this just help me put more time back into the projects to keep writing free content to help more people.

All my earnings are from sales of the Language Hacking Guide. I only need one sale a day to cover all my expenses, and at the moment that’s about what I get – I have never had any advertisements on the site.

This means that as I work to write interesting content and give cool tips, more people come to the site (by seeing it shared by their friends on Facebook or twitter for example) and a tiny fraction of those new visitors will want more in-depth information. If I stopped writing about my new missions and didn’t give any more helpful encouragement then I’d only have Google searches bring new visitors and that’s (currently) way too little for me to earn from. This means it’s all connected: learning a language is literally putting food on my table!

So how did I get here in less than a year?

From site registration to quite popular

I registered fluentin3months.com back in 2009 to start to document my language learning stories and to explain how I was doing it. This wasn’t one of those “I wrote it for my family and it got popular” stories. I have been reading blogs for years, and even though I had no experience doing blogging or marketing things at all, I knew from talking about it in person with various aspiring language learners that the advice and stories would be appreciated by a lot of people.

However, I did not actually plan to earn from the blog. I had no long-term plans other than to try it out for the first “mission” and kept up with it when I enjoyed feedback and e-mails from people appreciating the tips. I get a thank you e-mails several times a day from people saying that my advice has been genuinely helping them. You can imagine how incredible a feeling that is and how much it pushes me to want to keep writing!

Showing people that learning a language is a lot easier than they think it is has been my real motivation.

Like the advice I blog about related to languages, I try to simply be confident and optimistic with all my projects. Rather than relying on luck, I am presuming this blog will become popular and simply laying down the foundations ahead in the path to make sure that happens.

Even though I had never blogged, I had a little online presence thanks to my multilingual videos on Youtube (Matador had been showing some of them), so one of the few people following me on twitter must have taken me seriously enough, because just a few days after my first post, a Dutch online newsletter caught wind of the story and ran it.

This instantly gave me a modest first ever “spike”. A month later I saw the Top Language Blogs competition, and just wanting to get somewhere in the top 100 slot I made a post and asked my friends on Facebook to vote for me. Amazingly it got in the top ten!! You can see it here. (Notice the picture of the site looks very different, since it was a different design back then). This year I got in as the top language learning blog (and number two out of the entire Internet), but that was easier due to the blog being better known.

After that competition, the locations the stories took place with gave me lots of traffic. I was getting a lot of traffic specifically from Brazil when blogging about that mission, and then from Thailand and recently from Germany.

I used to base my site’s popularity on RSS reader numbers, but when I reached my target of 3,000 in July I took the counter off the site and stopped checking feedburner. Now I update at the Google Analytics unique visitor numbers per month (currently over 40,000), but I don’t have a goal with it. I learned from the RSS target that there is little satisfaction (at least for me) in aiming for a number and reaching it and then aiming for a new one.

Now all I’m worried about is making sure I genuinely get the message across to people. Reaching ten million people who don’t get or apply my advice is worth way less than me than reaching ten who do.

Going pro and killing the debt

The site was constantly growing but there were times when I had to leave it to the side – the debt that had been following me meant I had to quit my first ever blogged mission (Czech) after two months to lock myself in my room for a month straight to work on intensive translation projects.

This didn’t cancel the debt, it just gave me some breathing space. I would do this in Brazil and in Thailand too – several weeks blocked off just working. It was frustrating and stressful.

Luckily, while in Thailand I ran into some other bloggers who had gone pro. Up until then I hadn’t really considered it, since my idea of earning from a blog was just covering it with cheesy flashy advertising and I didn’t want to annoy readers with that. I hung out with several bloggers on Ko Phi Phi and in Bangkok, such as Chris Guillebeau, and got some fantastic ideas from them about being able to do what I was passionate about, while actually funding myself from it.

So I decided to create the Language Hacking Guide. At first I thought I could put an hour a day into it while still translating, but I quickly saw that was unrealistic. I took the risk of taking six weeks off work (while still in debt remember) to devote entirely to this project. I made sure it was the best quality content I could come up with, sharing my best ideas about speaking a language quickly and including interviews with some of the best known language learners online, as well as worksheets to make sure people actually apply the tips and coordinating translators so people can read the guide in their target language.

Then came launch: as you can imagine I was very nervous! If I sold just a few copies then I would have been even worse off than I was before due to time off work. But I had a plan and people trusted what I say enough to want to read more and support me. There was actually an incredibly huge number of sales compared to what I was expecting! In less than a week, I cancelled the credit card debt!

My plan was actually to get back to translation – I just wanted something to earn some extra money on the side. However, sales continued and I eventually saw that I could just e-mail my translation clients and say that I was no longer available! I have been entirely sustaining myself from the Language Hacking Guide ever since launch – less than a year after the site began!

Full time Language Hacker

So now Language Hacking is my job. Learning a new language is something I would want to do anyway, and sharing the stories and helping others discover their own potential to learn language was always what I wanted to do with this site. But the new visitors and an occasional sale due to that means that I can devote more time into the projects, and more time into the site to write more.

To make sure the blog continues to grow so I can reach more people, there are many things I do behind the scenes other than simply writing. I can write about them in more detail some other time, but one of them is simply networking with other bloggers.

That’s why I am currently at blogworld (as you can see in the photo). Of course, paying for the entry and flight over and the ridiculous expense of simply existing in Vegas for a few days (i.e. eating etc.) was a big chunk out of my savings, but just three hours after arriving I already made a connection with someone that I know will pay for all of that immediately. (Seriously!)

It’s still on now, so I should get back to mingling with other people who are sharing their amazing ideas online. I’ve made a lot of fantastic connections this week and it’s going to help me to spread this message to many more people and work on some other projects in future that I look forward to sharing with everyone!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a little behind the scenes – there was some confusion from readers about if I was still translating. I enjoyed that work, but I get more satisfaction out of making the unique difference I can with this blog, so for the moment this will be my full time passion, along with learning my actual languages of course :)

Don’t forget that you can support me by simply sharing your favourite posts (not necessarily this one) with your friends on Facebook or twitter or sending me an e-mail or leaving a comment to say that you’ve been appreciating the tips! :)

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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.

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Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
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  • http://www.wakeupcloud.com/ Henri Junttila

    Awesome story, dude!

    It’s a great feeling when you can make a living doing something you love. No, scratch that, an incredible feeling ;)

    I remember bumping into your blog in late 2009, or was it early 2010, and at first I thought “a language in 3 months? no way.” and just left.

    But I kept hearing about you, bumping into your blog, so I read a few articles, and thought that it was interesting, but it wasn’t until in the middle of this year that I realized that I could actually learn a language in 3 months, thanks to your blog, and looking back at how I learned English when I was a kid.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your progress. This is only the beginning! ;-)

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com Erin

    Inspiring story! It’s amazing what you have achieved in such a short space of time – you must work very hard. I think the combination of a great story, your personality and the amazing value and usefulness of the content has meant you’ve had this well deserved success. I am so happy to hear you are making a living from the blog now, and look forward to seeing what you’ll be up to in the future.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful story Benny its great to hear behind the scenes and I’m really looking forward to what you’ll do with all that extra time ! Sweeeeet.

  • http://twitter.com/AbbyFerrari Abby Ferrari

    I used to follow my favourite blogs through RSS, now I have so many RSS feeds that I rarely open the Reader. So I read this blog whener I get an email, or see a new post in Twitter or Facebook.
    My plans are to work as a translator and to keep being a blogger as a hobby, but as a great philosopher said “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

  • Brsd

    Hello !

    Tetszik a blogod, gratulálok az eddig elért sikereidhez.

    Üdv.

  • Brsd

    Hello !

    Tetszik a blogod, gratulálok az eddig elért sikereidhez.

    Üdv.

  • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

    Thanks for posting this–it was very informative and I had been wondering about how you support yourself.

  • http://feint.me feint

    A great inspiring story! I’ve been reading this blog (quietly on the sidelines) for a while now and your passion has always shone through – and I think its that passion thats been the key to your success. Congrats

  • Steven

    It is great to see someone make a living doing what they love! You definitely earned it!

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I love reading success stories like this, it makes me happy AND it inspires me to keep working on my own site! Thanks, Benny, seriously.

    So who did you meet at blogworld right off the bat that’s going to make you rich?? :P

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.irelandgymreviews.com Stephen

    Nice to hear you can live of your website and still travel and post new interesting stories to your blog.

    You have an interesting way of telling a story or writing about something which even if they story doesnt interest me that much i can still read it.
    I think a persons style of writing also helps to get and keep visitors on their “blog”

    Im also glad you write a new post 3 times a week, gives me somethign to read in work :)

    Keep up the good work.

  • Quokka

    I love “Behind the Scenes” stories :-)
    Before you decided to become a professional hacker did you actually have a “plan-b” in mind in case things wouldn’t work out ?

    It’s interesting that you call yourself a writer. Initially I wouldn’t agree but then again I understand how frustrating it is to describe activities to people who don’t have the slightest idea of what you are doing. As an ‘electronic musician’ (“well, it’s about the texture of sound, using modulations as musical instruments … still listening ‽” I have experienced that often enough… ;-) .

    btw, a little request: I know you are not a fan of input based learning. However, I’d be interested in a post concerning the most efficient ways input can be used.

  • djc463
  • Anth

    Great detailed story Benny. I love a good ‘rags to riches story.’ You’re making money through helping eachother and your passion, awesome! Fully deserved and enjoy Vegas.

    • Anth

      Helping *others* grrrrr typo

  • B Brucker

    You know, I once heard that the best way to be successful in life is to find somebody who is doing something that you think you’d like to do with great success, and tell them, “I want your job!” I must say, I’ve only read a few of your blog posts, and…I think I want your job. I’ve always felt that the more languages one knows, the more one can be connected with the world at large, and I’ve been frustrated that I only fluently speak two languages and barely get by in three others. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more about what you’ve done, as I think you’re bound to be a huge inspiration to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/claudia.marseglia.7 Claudia Marseglia

    Great story and article, Benny! And I love your “spontaneous ethics” of not advertising on your blog! love it, and wish you the greatest success!

  • Luis Trejo

    Me parece excelente que hagas lo que te gusta y te apasiona. Soy de Venezuela y tengo un buen manejo del ingles en la parte auditiva y de lectura, pero no tengo fluidez para una conversacion. Espero que con la ayuda de tu blog, algunos tips y mi dedicacion pueda mejorar este aspecto. Tambien me llama bastante la atencion aprender el aleman, porque quiero conocer ese pais algun dia. Muchas gracias Benny.