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1000 True Fans: Why You Need Tribes to Learn Languages

The inspiration for this post was a brilliant thing that happened to me – right here on the bravelearning project! I’m sharing this with you, along with a few ideas and tips for making the most of an invaluable learning resource: other people (especially friendly people).

When the world gets crowded: bravelearning’ (small) success story

This week, just a few months after I started blogging, I discovered three things.

The first thing was that my Twitter account – which I use to promote, discuss and seek out anything connected with language learning – had over one thousand followers.

The next thing I found was that bravelearning’ Facebook page – which I only set up quite recently – had also reached 1000 “likes!” This was a big surprise.

The last thing I learned was more worrying: I had no idea where to go next. And I’m still trying to figure things out. Some of the things I’ve found are actually quite useful for language learners as well (hence the post).


One Thousand True Fans: the origins

Source: Kevin Kelly / The Technium

The idea of attracting 1000 true fans to your project must have been around for ages, but in 2008, it was brilliantly expressed by Kevin Kelly. I’m not going to spoil the (enormous) pleasure of reading his riff – just follow on and be enlightened – but if you’re really short of time, here’s the gist:

  •  Most artists / businesspeople focus on becoming super-popular, on releasing the mega-hit and raking in lots of money / attention. This is lucrative, but extremely rare.
  • For an average artist / businessperson, there is an alternative way out: focusing on getting 1000 True Fans. These would be the people who would support you all the way, financially, morally and by spreading the word.
  • The numbers will vary depending on the nature of your project, but the idea stays the same: having a tribe of die-hard supporters trumps having to count on miracles and blockbusters.


Language learning and your tribe

If you’re a businessperson, you may already begin to see the link and the relevance of this discussion to learning languages (business and foreign language learning are often related). In case you don’t – here’s why I think it matters:

  •  Languages are learned through interaction. Get all the apps you want, pore over course books and dictionaries – but you’ll still need conversations, exchanges, communication breakdowns. This is how you learn. This is how words acquire meaning. I’m not just making this up, either: it’s as scientific as it can get.
  • A tribe makes things easier. Connections are shared, ideas are (re)formulated, introductions – made, resources – exchanged. A tribe will boost your motivation when you need it and give you a reality check when you’re too ambitious. Want to know how they work in today’s connected world? Listen to the expert.
  • Variety is crucial in learning languages. Listening to different accents, speaking to different people about different things, comparing learning styles – all this makes you a more flexible, versatile user of language. There’s a reason why people on course book recordings don’t all speak with the same accent!


Getting your fans in a row: some useful tips

A thousand fans – sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it?

Well, maybe it isn’t so hard. You certainly don’t need to treat the magic 1000 as gospel – the idea is to surround yourself with people who understand, share and/or support your language learning mission. And once you think of it this way, it gets much simpler. Here’s what you could do:


  • Join a language-learning social network.
  • Use the existing networks for the purpose of learning languages (here’s Instagram, for example).
  • Get in touch with your mates from abroad – and contact them as often as you can.
  • See if you can start a language exchange with students from abroad – these things work like magic! – maybe your teacher can make this happen?
  • If you’re living abroad: get out more. Seek out friendly, chatty places, and return often to benefit from their genius loci.
  • Most importantly: Be honest and clear. Tell everyone who should care that you’re learning a language, and that you’d appreciate their help.


Fans, tribes and theories: a toolbox

1. Kevin Kelly’s original post on “1000 True Fans”

2. Seth Godin’s book – “Tribes”

3. Vysogsky’s Social Development Theory


Update: Duolingo Invite Giveaway

One of my favourite language learning websites of all time, Duolingo, is going public in 27 days. You can get in earlier, though! As a huge thank-you to my friends, fans and followers, I’m giving away my invites to the website. Just leave your email in the comment. First come, first served: 3 invites only!

You are here to read and learn. I'm here to write!
My three e-books are available for you to download.
I update them every year with bonus chapters, so you always get the latest info.
They all cost less than a fancy coffee. If you don't like them, you get your money back within 45 days.
And if you do like them, you will help me help my favourite charity, and motivate me to write more!
Get the bundle here.


7 Responsesso far.

  1. Wiktor K. says:

    A belated birthday gift coming your way, Hannah 🙂

  2. Hannah Bouteba says:

    Thank you! X

  3. Wiktor K. says:

    …and done. Great – no more invites for now, happy learning folks!