When you take on any major project like learn a language, get out of debt, lose weight etc., out of all the things that can hold you back from reaching your goal, there is one that stands out above all the rest:
You clearly want it; it could even be one of the major priorities in your life. But despite that, the monstrous size of the task ahead can get intimidating and you can lose the momentum that you had when you started it. The list of reasons why it's “impossible” start to raise their ugly head and you become deflated and distract yourself with TV, or go out for a few drinks. Next thing you know, months have passed and you haven't made any progress at all.
Well, today I want to talk about one simple step that you can take, which is completely free, that may just change all that. It's not magic, but it has worked wonders for a huge amount of people, including me. You'll have to bear with me though, since I know this might raise an eyebrow of sceptics out there!
Here it is:
Start a blog
No, I don't mean a site portraying pictures of your cat. Remember the origins of the word “blog”: web log. You need a log of your progress – but a blog is way more than a journal/diary that you write in. It can literally change your life:
For example, this post was inspired entirely by a post on my friend Sean Ogle‘s blog. He has an interesting story; he had an OK office job, but it just wasn't doing anything for him. His life wasn't that bad, but what kind of life is not bad? The prospect of being chained to a desk for life doing something he wasn't passionate about, did not look very bright.
So he started a blog to share his dreams of travelling the world, working on his own terms, fulfilling his bucket-list, and generally living his dreams. And you know what? The blog made it happen (well, of course Sean made it happen, but the blog was what made it possible for him to do it). He got encouraging comments, committed himself to a goal that he was public about, quit his job, made some amazing contacts that gave him work opportunities, and is now working location-independent right here in Thailand, with a whole world of possibilities awaiting him.
External pressure, encouragement and connections from the global community
Sean's story isn't unique. Here in Thailand I have met countless people whose lives have been transformed by simply clicking some buttons and typing some words. People sharing their dreams of getting out of debt, visiting every single country in the world, or generally living by their own terms, and succeeding.
So how is their blog and approach different to the vast amount of rubbish that you can find on blogger?
Well, they have worked on building a community around their goals. Rather than complain about how hard it is, they focus on the positive and share their tips on how others can achieve the same goals, and they engage readers to comment and keep the discussion going. Those readers will have their own experience and advice to share, especially if they have similar goals – through sharing, everybody wins.
Apart from the community, there is also pressure to achieve what you said you would. You are publicly announcing it to the world, rather than just to a couple of buddies next door. It's a mind-altering thought that an Internet-enabled villager in Africa, or a rich billionaire, or a tango instructor in Buenos Aires, or a cook in Moscow can access your claim to reach your objective. The whole world is watching.
When I started this blog, any quantity of readers would do. Even a few dozen was fine – breaking a promise that I had made to about 50 people was not something I was willing to do, so that forced me to keep working so that I would have something to show for it in my next post.
My own extra pressure
Of course, the community following this blog has grown much faster than I had ever anticipated, but I'd treat the pressure the same if it was 50 or 1000 or 100,000 readers, especially since a lot out of those first 50 were commenting (and still do) regularly and giving me the sense that they were curious and eager for me to succeed in my (language) mission.
This has changed everything. I've been learning languages on the road for 7 years, but the last 9 months have definitely included the hugest jumps I've made in the shortest time (such as speaking Czech in two months and Brazilian Portuguese like a Carioca in 3 months). Also, I have not given up when I was losing my motivation (which naturally happens at different stages in any huge project), because I felt like I wasn't alone in that project. Other people out there wanted me to succeed too!
For example, several years ago I was learning Catalan in Barcelona, but just stopped one day and never got back into it. I had simply lost my drive to continue. I don't have career-driven purposes to learn languages; it's just my own interests in expanding my horizons. But if I get bored I might just decide that maybe I should ditch it. Who cares really? Even with actually important projects, it's sometimes hard to picture the end. Even for Sean, everything was fine in his office job; he could have just written off travelling the world and being his own boss as a silly pipe-dream.
However, through this blog everything has changed for me, and it's all thanks to you, the readers. I've gotten tips, a ridiculous amount of encouragement, and even the negative and cynical comments have given me extra purpose, just to prove them wrong 🙂
Starting the blog itself
I said it was simple, right? Well – you just need to go to wordpress.com and sign up. It really is that simple; you can have a post out in less than a minute! You can think of an interesting language-relevant name for the blog; or just use your own name if you like!
However, to get the best out of your blog, make sure to set it up fully, personalise it to your own style, and learn about the extra features like widgets and plugins. Here is a great guide (albeit extremely detailed and somewhat technical) for doing that.
WordPress.com is completely free. Alternatively, you can buy your own domain and install wordpress on it, however this step really is not necessary for most blogs, especially if you'd prefer not to pay. You get your own sub-domain blog name through the free version anyway. If you decide later to expand on it, WordPress makes that really easy.
Engaging your community
As Sean suggests, this concept of a blog to achieve your dreams can be applied to pretty much any aspect of your life, but for the purposes of this site I'll give language goals an honourable mention.
Of course, I'm not the only one with a blog about learning a language, and giving tips I learn along the way! Once you have your blog and have introduced your mission, to get people to read it and join in, you have to get out there! Just writing posts (even amazing content) is not enough to bring them in.
What I like to do before I start a mission is genuinely ask for tips on how to best learn that language through online forums. I've used Lonely Planet's Thorntree (for the travel/immersion aspect) and How to learn any language for the language aspect (both are fine for pretty much any destination/language: Couchsurfing's groups have also been helpful). And then I'll see if there are any forums specifically for the language I'm interested in. Usually Googling [language name] + forum will give you several options, and you can see by posting frequency which one is the popular one. Thai visa has been great for Thai advice, although it actually found me, rather than the other way around this time…
These forums usually have an introduction section, and you can mention your blog there. When you have a few posts behind you later on, you can link to them if they helpfully answer questions that someone posts on the site.
It goes without saying that for a non-language mission you could do exactly the same thing for equivalent forums for your own purpose. You may have to write in the forum several times before you are allowed to leave a link to your site (to prevent spamming), but this is a great excuse for you to get into the community, and contribute to other threads! Some sites allow you to have a “signature” associated with each post, and you can leave a link to your blog in that and just talk about the topic at hand, rather than your own blog/mission.
But that's still not enough – to engage your community, you have to get out there (virtually speaking of course) once again, and comment on other sites. Most blogs include a URL option in the comment form that you can auto-fill to include a link to your blog. Encouraging comments, engaging comments and even criticism (only constructive; the web has enough trolls as it is!) that contribute to the discussion are best. (Talking just about your own blog is usually not a good idea). When other readers (not necessarily the owner of the blog) see your comment and your positivity or interesting contribution, they may just click your name to see what else you have to say…
Of course, you should be responsive to comments on your own site, and encourage discussion in posts (asking questions and opinions). That's where the real community begins around your own project.
This is ideal, however some blogs may be read by a lot of people, but still not commented on as much. In this case you can see how popular it is over time by redirecting the default RSS feed address to feedburner so that it can count the (approximate) numbers of readers (that is described in the link I gave above). E-mail subscribers are also included in the same count.
Google Analytics (once again, how to use it, is given in the above link) is fantastic for seeing the numbers of people coming to your site every day (and how they found you).
Another vague indication is the Alexa rating; you can install a toolbar (or unobtrusive status bar in Firefox) and see how the site's popularity increases over time. That number represents the ranking out of all websites on the entire Internet covered by Alexa statistics – the next milestone I'm aiming for will be 100,000(th). Time will tell if I make it! Of course, it's just a silly and inaccurate number, but having that to aim towards contributes to driving me to continue to write some good posts and of course succeed in my missions, so more people check out the site to come and encourage me ;).
So to wrap up this post, I'll share a few links of just a small sampling of those that have commented on my site with their own language learning blogs. Make sure to drop by their sites and leave a comment or two and subscribe if you like them! With some comment exchanges, you can help one another to achieve your language goals 😉
Ich estudio langues – As the multilingual title suggests, Jessica is taking on several languages simultaneously!
Fluent every year – Randy's site has a familiar title, but a time-frame that you may find more down-to-earth!
I kinda like languages – Interesting topics being discussed about general language acquisition
Öt év – öt nyelv (5 years, 5 languages) – Actually in Hungarian, but you'd be surprised what you can understand through Google Translate!
Have you got a blog documenting your language learning adventure? If not, why not make one right now? 🙂 Then come back and leave a comment with a link to your site so others can check it out! If you already have one, tell us about it and about what you are doing! What I said above about just talking about your own blog in a comment not being good “netiquette” – that rule doesn't apply this time! Go crazy!