Pioneer Nation: 4 Lessons for You and Me

Well hello there fellow language fans, and welcome to a personal post. I hope you'll like this personality, she's sat at the bar with a Gin and Tonic.

So a few months I travelled to Portland - the other side of the world for me, and I attended a business conference. It was called Pioneer Nation and designed to give a lot of practical support to solo-businesses, tiny makers, people with something to say. Well, let me tell you this conference was beautiful. Everyone got to wear a wooden name tag and eat lots of donuts in the morning. But it also taught me something about my business - about Fluent! And I want to share some basics with you, because Fluent is obviously where you've come to read this and that means you care.

Teaching and Learning - It's great stuff!

Teaching and Learning - It's great stuff!

I can't find the time to really put all my 45 pages of scribbled notes into a blog post, but some of the highlights are extremely relevant for Fluent and for language learning. Right now, I'm putting a few of them into practice in the following ways:

  1. I've dedicated the last two months to working on not one, but two Fluent Language Guides. I know - OMG! These books will help you get organised and study your language in a holistic way. No quick and empty promises, instead I'll give you exercise ideas, practice plans and tips of how to learn in line with your own strengths and personality.
  2. The 50 Calls Project (it's free - get involved) is all about offering you guys more of an insight into what I can help with. But actually, you are also helping me so much! The confidence in my knowledge of learning and connecting with people has grown as a result of talking to you, and I keep looking forward to each conversation. And more importantly, I'm really learning a lot about how Fluent can BEST serve you - think guides, courses and really practical answers.

PIONEER LESSON 1: Business Is About Service

Lesson one was a big one for me, because it reminded me that Fluent is about making sure my kinda people get what they need. The first speaker, Chris Brogan, is kind of a big deal. And what he says was the biggest deal of all: In business, we do well when we serve the people we really care about.

This lesson was repeated many times over in sessions with the brilliant Rebecca Rapple and Shenee Howard. Wanna learn how to find a customer? Just learn what people are bothered about!

Here's a list of problems that YOU GUYS ACTUALLY HAVE and that I've never really addressed. Boy, do I swear I will become better!

  • You are embarrassed when you finally get the chance to speak your language
  • You worry that you don't know enough to talk to natives
  • You have been told really unhelpful stories like "language learning becomes impossible after the age of 7"
  • You hit roadblocks and stop studying because even the little ones feel so discouraging
  • You worry about your accent when you speak another language
  • You have been told a million things about "just doing it" by the internet, but they forgot to mention how exactly to manage it all
  • You wonder what the point is because everyone speaks English

If those sound like you, trust me. Fluent will serve you well in future.

PIONEER LESSON 2: Pick one Task & Take Action

This is an important lesson for business owners, right? But have you seen the difference it can make to you as a language learner when you stop thinking "I've got to learn Russian" and just pick a small corner of Russian to start at?

A lot of us are faced with a sense of overwhelm when we face the tasks that he have before us, and taking action is so important. Always keep taking that first step on the big journey. There are mistakes and plateaus and setbacks along every long way.

Some ideas I've discussed with the 50 Calls folks have been..

  • If you are stuck on revising the foundations of your language, you could try switching the screens off and working with an old textbook from a second hand store.
  • If you are struggling to understand native language content in films and TV shows, look for places where people speak slower or shows that you already know. For me, understanding Buffy in French will definitely be easier than understanding something like The Sopranos.
  • If you want to get your kids more involved in language learning, perhaps try to think about your own language from a teacher's perspective. How would you start? Could you weave the foreign language into everyday tasks?
  • Finally, if you want to go from talking to one person to talking to many people at once, how about observing, recording and shadowing more conversations? That can really help take the pressure off and get you more comfortable with the situation before you jump in.

All of these big steps become a little bit easier when broken down into smaller tasks. One of the best ever language learning questions I can ask you is "How can you make this into something less scary?"

PIONEER LESSON 3: Be a Pioneer in Anything

I want to tell you something about the language learners I admire the most. Easy to guess they're not the 32-language Polyglots you can find on Youtube (although I respect the achievements of those guys too!). But my real inspiration and my kinda people are the self-directed learners who are doing their own thing. You are at the heart of what Fluent is about: Motivation, curiosity and commitment!

You're a Fluent kinda learner if you

  • Are not in school anymore
  • Decided to go for it anyway and want to get to grips with this language
  • Are human, too: Maybe you struggle with confidence and homework, but you never give up
  • Think my site is great (of course)

Websites like italki are doing a fab job to help you find your kinds of people, but it can be a lonely place anyway. Especially when you read too much into people saying what you should do without remembering that these are all things that you could do. I'm terrible at that too.

One example? My Russian studies are progressing slow as treacle, but every time I read about other people doing things like reading the news in Russian I feel awful. What I really need to do is remember the pioneer mindset and ask myself "What can I do today that's good enough for me?" It's all about facing up to the scary situations, being the person who says "this is MY thing" and starting something new. That's what you are doing every time you pick up your dictionary. I'm here to cheerlead you.

PIONEER LESSON 4: Ask All The Questions

In this conference, I learnt so much new stuff that I could hardly keep it in my head. I had a wonderful time meeting people, and the sessions were truly valuable. But you know where the real value came in? It was every time that someone had the chance to ask a question. I didn't hesitate to do my part and asked (I think) about all sorts of nonsense from "how can I make more people like my blog?" to "if I barter lessons for design services, is that real money I need to put into the accounts book?"). But what this did was really valuable.

First of all, the person asking all the questions gets a lot out of what they're learning. And secondly, you'll be talking and getting heard by many other people. It's so worthwhile!

Feel like a pioneer yet?

Thanks for reading this (slightly weird) article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources AND you'll be the first to know exactly how awesome the Fluent Language Guides are going to be.