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Stop Writing Language Learning Articles No One Wants to Read

How to write language learning articles that add value

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexel
There are billions of language learning articles out there that talk about the obvious.
 

The titles of these articles look something like this:

  • 7 Benefits of Learning Spanish
  • How to Become Fluent in Finnish
  • 5 Tips to Learn Korean
  • The Importance of Learning Hindu
  • 3 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Swahili

Open “How to Become Fluent in Finnish” and you’ll be reading that to speak like a Finn you should set achievable learning goals, listen to podcasts in Finnish, join Finnish language exchanges, watch movies, read books, and do a series of other things you’ve been advised to do since the beginning of time.

Open “5 Tips to Learn Korean” and you’ll read the same stuff except you’ll see the word “Korean” instead of “Finnish”.

And if you read “The Benefits of Learning Spanish”, you’ll learn how speaking Spanish helps you make friends in Bogotà, understand Spanish movies, and discover the Mexican culture.

Impressive — I would have never thought about that.

I WhatsApped my cousin Stefano this question: “I’m doing an experiment. If I asked you to give me five tips for learning English, what tips would you give me?”

Stefano is a 37-year-old Italian man who speaks only Italian and has never tried to learn any language.

He replied, “Listen to music, watch movies with subtitles, read books, translate every manual of home appliances you have in the house, buy textbooks to learn the basics.”

I’ve been a language learner and teacher for many years and, admittedly, “translating home appliance manuals” is a new one for me.

But you get my point.

Even a non-language learner like my cousin knows that to learn a language you have to read, write, speak and listen. We don’t need another post that tells us that. In fact, this is content an AI chatbot could write in a second.

I’ll show you what you can do to write more interesting articles and give you eight examples of successful articles people have written on Medium.

Get personal

Unless you’re a researcher who can share new findings on second language acquisition, everything that you can say about language learning has already been said.

What the language learning world is missing, though, is your own unique storyWe want to know how you learned another language. What exactly did you do? What challenges did you face? How did you manage not to give up?

Language learners who are struggling to make progress don’t want to read another article that tells them they should listen to podcasts.

Sure, they want actionable tips, but they also want to be reminded that mastering another language is possible. Your personal stories and experiences show them just that.

Anyone struggling with any problems in life wants to hear that their problem was solved by another mortal before them. This gives them hope, inspiration, and motivation. This is what you look for when you have a problem too.

Say you want to write better horror books. Would you rather get five general storytelling tips or hear how Stephen King crafts his stories?

Include personal experiences in your article and you’ll immediately produce more interesting content than most people.

What’s obvious to you is useful to others (remember that if you think you’re not special).

Explore mindset development

Learning a language involves two things:

  • Developing language skills.
  • Developing the right learning mindset.

There’s a lot of content about skills development — how to improve your speaking, how to understand natives, how to write better, etc. — but not enough content on developing a healthy learning mindset.

Mindset-related articles are 99% of the time about how not to be afraid of making mistakes when speaking.

Can you find something else?

Share strong views

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexel

Because there are 1+ million ways to learn a language, people have really strong opinions about how languages are learned and taught.

For example, I have colleagues who disagree with me when I say that translation is useful and the use of apps and textbooks in a language class should be avoided as much as possible.

Do you have any dissenting or strong opinions about what’s going on in the language learning world? Do you hate Duolingo?

Humbly share that. Strong views make interesting content.

Curate resources

Instead of saying, “To improve your German listening skills, listen to podcasts in German,” why don’t you tell us what are three podcasts that helped you get better at understanding people in Berlin?

German Podcast 1:

  • This is a podcast about…
  • I love it because…
  • You’ll expand your vocabulary around…
  • It’s perfect for you if…
  • It helped me improve my…

German Podcasts 2 and 3: blah blah blah

You can do the same with books, apps, movies, YouTube channels, magazines, comics, TV shows, websites, social media channels, courses, learning platforms, teachers, coaches, language learning communities.

There are so many language learning resources out there. If you can curate them in a personal and interesting way, then you’ll have some useful content language learners want to read.

Share your research

Language learning has a scientific side to it.

Have you done any language learning experiments on yourself or with your students? Did you watch movies without subtitles for a month? Did you try to learn one new word every day? Did you ask your students to try out something new?

That’s unique content no one but you can share.

Also, if you’re a qualified language teacher, I’m sure you’ve read tons of books and academic papers on second language acquisition. Turn those boring texts into digestible information that language learners can understand and use to improve.

Examples of successful articles

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexel

I’m one of the editors of Language Hub — a Medium publication with 200+ writers and nearly 1000 followers — so I have access to article statistics.

At the time of writing, these are the top five articles for number of views:

  1. “Boost Your Speaking Fluency with “4–3–2”” by me (> 24K views, Boosted by Medium). I’m the author of this article. I turned an academic paper I had written for my Master’s degree in Language Education into a scientific-based article that explains a practical fluency activity. This article got the Medium Boost.
  2. 10 British Phrases That Most Americans Will Not Understand by Marilyn Glover (> 11K views). Most articles about vocabulary and phrases would explain what an expression means and give you an example sentence. Don’t we have dictionaries for that? Instead of doing that, Marilyn takes you through the meaning of ten British phrases by telling you personal stories of her growing up in the US as a Brit. Lovely!
  3. How to Learn a Language Without A Teacher by Sarah Mathrick (> 6K views, Boosted by Medium). Sarah doesn’t just say, “To learn without a teacher, use apps, watch Netflix and do stuff”. ChatGPT could write that in a second. Instead, she shares personal anecdotes about how she’s been learning Spanish through apps, Netflix and doing stuff.
  4. I Learned 4676 New Words in 10 Months by the founder of Language Hub, Antonello Zanini (> 6K views). Antonello crafted a brilliant article that shows you exactly how he expanded his vocabulary through spaced repetition, a vocabulary learning technique. Science + personal stories = 6K+ views.
  5. Refold/Mass Immersion Approach: Spanish ~4–6ish Month Update by Joshua Derrick (> 5K views). This is a personal update on the author’s language learning progress using the Mass Immersion Approach for Spanish. Joshua presents some language learning theory and, most importantly, his personal experiences.

Other successful stories include:

You don’t need to copy what these authors did. Everyone’s journey is different and you may even dislike how these stories are written.

But I hope you see why people decided to read these articles.

Compacting all this into content-generating questions

Here is a list of questions you can use to generate ideas for interesting language learning articles:

  • What personal stories can I tell about learning another language?
  • Do I have some experience that can debunk any language learning myths?
  • What exactly did I do to learn another language?
  • How did learning a language make my life worse / better?
  • What are some lessons I learned from your language learning journey?
  • What language learning problems did I have and what exactly did I do to solve them?
  • What do I find easy about learning a language that others find difficult?
  • How did I manage to stay motivated when learning a language?
  • What do people disagree with me about when I talk about language learning?
  • What are some language learning mindset areas I could explore and write about?
  • What language learning resources do I think are amazing and why?
  • What are some language learning resources no one talks about but should?
  • What language learning research articles or books did I read that language learners might find useful?
  • Which of the language research papers I wrote could be easily turned into an insightful article for ordinary people?
  • What makes me upset or even angry about language learning trends?

I hope this helps!

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Read more on my blog.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.