Polyglot Benny Lewis speaks over 12 languages and he is the founder of Fluentin3months.com, a hugely popular website which provides unconventional language hacking tips – the aim of which is to encourage people to learn how to speak a new language, as quickly as possible.
Benny is an online entrepreneur, a “technomad” – a full-time technology-enabled globe-trotter. He has been travelling around the world for the past 11 years – during which he has learned a lot of short-cuts, unconventional learning techniques, and developed a pretty good mentality that has hugely helped him to learn new languages – all of which he shares on his website. Due to his work in encouraging authentic travel through language learning, in 2013 Benny was awarded the title National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year.
Benny is currently on a world tour to promote his first book Fluent In 3 Months, which has already hit several online bestseller lists. Anna Codrea-Rado, of the Guardian reviewed his book saying: “Benny Lewis is the Eckhart Tolle of language learning. Fluent in 3 Months is the definitive self-help guide for anyone who wants to master a foreign language.”
Easyspace recently caught up with Benny for a chat, to find out how he makes money from his website, all while travelling around the world:
Q1. Please give us a brief background on yourself and tell us why you started your website Fluentin3months.
I have a degree in electronic engineering and started travelling the world after graduation. At first I was pretty bad at learning languages, but I got better and better. People would ask how I was “so good” at language learning, and I kept trying to explain that it’s easier than they thought. Eventually, I started the blog specifically to share actual language learning journeys so that people could see it for themselves!
Q2. How many languages do you speak now and what is your motivation for wanting to learn so many languages?
It depends on how you define “speak”. I understand it as everything from basic conversational up to Mastery, and in that case it’s about 12. I have been passionate about each one, through exploring a local culture and making new friends. When you see a language as a living thing, then you never lose motivation!
Q3. Tell us about your “language missions” that you have in different countries. How do they benefit your website?
Other than giving encouragement and advice, what has really helped my site grow has been the specific language projects that people can follow. This is a story with a start and finish that people will subscribe to and check for updates. It’s helped my site grow dramatically!
Q4. Your website is all about language learning and your experiences travelling the world learning a new language. It gets a lot of visitors – half a million a month, as well as a loyal following. For somebody wanting to start a new website, what advice would you give to develop a popular website i.e. regarding web design, domain names, blog, email subscribers, newsletters, etc?
Get a decent host (depends on your budget), install WordPress.org software, use one of many beautiful free themes, and create an email list if you can. Updating people is easier when you email it to them.
That’s the nuts and bolts, but you can’t grow your site unless your content is good. I go to great lengths to write interesting and engaging posts, and to make it as personal as possible, by sharing stories that people can relate to and putting myself out there.
Q5. Your website includes a forum. How does this benefit your website, and what are the challenges of managing it?
It allows the community to talk to one another, and not just through me and my blog posts. It has grown quickly! Managing it wasn’t that bad actually – some very passionate followers offered to moderate it, so I gave them the power. Once in a while there are technical glitches that need fixing, but that’s about it!
Q6. You currently make your living from your website, by selling your Speak from day One video course and Language Hacking Guide ebook. What are they and how can they help people?
The original video course and book were my main source of income over several years. I’m in the process of replacing this with Fluent in 3 Months PLUS, which will focus more on video and other multimedia, now that I have a print book to replace the ebook.
The online course expands on my written words by demonstrating what I introduced in the print book. The great thing is that it can build on it, and expand through what video can do that words can’t. So you can see me actually talk with the polyglots I interviewed, and follow live examples of my actual language lessons, and see me using my resources. For instance, this week I’ve just made the first video of how I use Anki.
This first one is free, and there will be useful previews for people who have the book (through a log in question), and I’m hoping this new system will work effectively to support the blog, and now staff working to encourage the world!
Q7. How difficult has it been setting up & managing your website and courses/ebook over the years? Do you do it all yourself or do you outsource anything e.g. web design, etc?
You can’t do everything yourself! I write my own blog posts and make my own videos, but many times, especially now that I’m on a book tour, I simply don’t have time to answer all my emails, fix site problems, professionally edit my videos, photoshop, scour news articles for cool language related articles and so much more. And yet each one of these helps my site grow in some way.
It’s why I now have a team helping me with various technical and inspirational parts of what I do. This way as many people as possible can get inspired in their own way!
Q8. Who have you learned from or been inspired by, to develop your website and earn a living online?
Rather than one single person, I have gone to conferences and met other bloggers, and even socialised with them as friends when my own blog was in its infancy. These people blog about fitness, spirituality, business, travel, lifestyle and much more and I get inspiration from them consistently about how to develop my site as well as earn from it in a way that doesn’t alienate readers who can’t afford it.
Q9. You have previously spoken at a TEDx event, explaining how people can learn a new language. What effect did this have on your website?
My site was already growing very strong, but the TEDx talk gave me a huge boost of credibility. Before this I was “just a blogger” in the eyes of many people, but being a speaker at such a prestigious event means that people know they can trust what you say.
Q10. You have been travelling for over 10 years, and learning languages in many different countries. As a “Technomad” what equipment/resources/tools do you use for your “mobile office” which allows you to work while travelling?
My smartphone, my laptop, a Canon XA10 video camera, and essentially whatever I can squeeze into my tiny travel limits. The laptop is the core of it all though! It has to be fast, powerful and yet extremely light. I also have a 5m HDMI cable so I can hook the computer up to a huge TV screen to work from that if it happens to be in my accommodation.
Q11. Do you use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, to promote your businesses? How successful has it been for you? Any advice on how businesses can use social media to promote themselves?
Yes – social media is essential if you want to make it – people are social and need to interact with you. Static pages are a thing of the past. I don’t really see them as promoting my business, but more of a way to engage with people way more directly and make things more sharable. I’ll also promote other people’s content by sharing that and tweeting it, and Youtube interviewing other polyglots. Interaction, rather than just promoting the hell out of just what you do, is the best way to keep people interested.
To give an example, I used my Youtube channel to promote the biggest polyglots online a while back by joining forces and having us all sing a music video together!
Q12. What has been the most effective way to drive traffic to your website?
Writing powerful and sharable content that people love. No strategy beats this.
Q13. What do you think are the key reasons for the success of Fluentin3months and would you do anything differently if you were starting it today?
I made a lot of mistakes in my early days, but I think that mistakes were the key to getting me where I am today. If I had waited to play it safe and only done things when I was confident about them, my site would have grown far too slowly.
I wrote posts that didn’t jive with people, had a terrible idea for a site design, launched a premium product before it was fully “ready”, wrote controversial posts, and have done many things I would never do right now, but each one has been an excellent chance to learn. You can always start over.
The only thing I’d do differently is make even more mistakes 😉
Q14. You recently wrote a book ‘Fluent in 3 Months’ – Tips and techniques to help you learn any language. Tell us how this came about and how it can help people.
When I figured it was time to expand my reach, the next step is to publish a book, and an agent helped me get in touch with HarperCollins to make that happen. It was a long process, but it has been worth it to read people’s amazing feedback and see them inspired to go forward.
The book is years of work to compress my best advice into one single source. It has been edited and proofread and parts rewritten by dozens of people after my initial draft, to make it the go-to resource on language learning encouragement.
Q15. What are your plans/goals for the next 6 months work & travel wise?
I’m on a book tour! Visiting every major city in every English speaking country on earth that I can find, and trying to encourage people to speak their target language face-to-face. This has been an eye opening experience and I am having an excellent time! My work will come on the road with me while I talk in bookshops across the world, and travels will be way more hectic than normal, since I move city every day or two, with a break just once a month for a few days.
But if doing this can make a real difference in the world, then it will have been worth it.
Thanks Benny, from everyone at Easyspace