Saturday, 25 January 2014

How to learn a language in 1-2-3

1. The word is 'learning', not studying. Have fun with it.

It's not Civil Law. A language is more like a sport: practise it and you'll learn. Ergo: jump into the bath.

Of the 5 languages I speak, there's only Spanish that I learned in one month only, and for the best reason that exists: having no alternative.

I was in a small village in Spain and thus went through an accelerated process of stumbling and struggling.

(Which, by the way, everyone who ever learned a language had to go through. Don't think for a split second that you "do not have the talent for it").

The second best option is: switch your life into that language. Be it the settings of your Facebook or cell phone, be it the songs you would watch on YouTube or the music in the background: immerse yourself in - and surround yourself with - the language you want to learn.

But then again, I'm a great believer in that 'learning a language' is not a field of study, but a fun sports or game. What with all the great and fun Spanish music, it sort of 'came to me', as a nice breeze (German was more like camping in a storm - for me as a romantic that was an even greater experience though).

2. Find someone who helps and motivates you. Like this person. He's great.

His enthusiasm and results really rubs off on others. That helps, seeing the fun factor in it. Better: someone like this around you!

Personally I love those 'polyglots' you find on YouTube. If I want to learn a new language it's with them I check how it sounds, how easy or difficult it will be etc.

3. First, think hard why you want to learn a language fast...

For obviously, the easier the language... the least useful for professional or marketing purposes. For it means that many already speak it - or at least more than there are demands for it.

The same applies to 'quickly': there's just no demand for non-quality in the world.

Anything of worth or that comes with a reputation or that establishes a deep emotional connection... is difficult.

I would only ever go for that 'easy, quick' language - if it's a language belonging to a culture that you really, really love.

That love, by the way, will accelerate the process unlike anything else. No love? Forget about quick, forget about easy. Impossible. It's like wanting to win Wimbledon but not liking tennis!

In short, do you want to 'speak a language very quickly'? 

Start speaking it now. It'll feel like climbing over a hurdle, as the clown in the stadium. And the next two weeks will not be much different.

Jump in the bath. You can't learn how to swim with a bucket of water either. Which is what language courses at school so often do... forever dragging the process over years and years of a drip or a bucket of water - whereas the only way for fast results is to jump into the water.

So far, I haven't found any online course or tip that really makes it faster.

Not sure which languages to learn?

Discover the language predictions for 2025.

Veel geluk!



Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Marketing Rule 3: Use the magic words

We 'enjoy' literally everything these days. 'Enjoy' has been all over the place for a decade, and we have become completely immune to the word. 

So after Zappos, also a lab at a soft drink giant has discovered the untapped potential of the word 'happiness': its upward trending as key word and the importance we attach to it. 

They go so much all out with marketing based on this single notion and do this so strongly that 'happiness' has become largely connected with Coca-Cola. 

Anyone else who is using it, is willy-nilly, up to at least a distant or vague degree, conjuring up images of Coca-Cola. Almost performing tertiary publicity. The word has become monopolized, so to speak.

'Discover' is another word that is used very much - but in my experience not overused. 

Edit 2015: definitely completely overused by now. Every other commercial uses it. Things go fast, only the first really profit from any insight, so consider this article to be mainly irrelevant now! 

In a website it is still triggering a slightly higher conversion. If I can, and do not have very much inspiration, I always prefer to write Discover more here as a link, rather than Read more

Then again, anything is better than 'Read more about...'. As I pointed out before, online visitors do not read, and surely do not want to go to pages where there's nothing else to find than reading. 

They wanted to discover, be helped, sometimes learn more - even click here is better: at least the latter has got the connotation that something exciting is about to happen, and that the writer caters to the desire to be an active explorer rather than a passive consumer. 

Yes, in online marketing 'God sits in the details' and magic words can cause an increase in the click-through rate.

The power of positivity

It is remarkable that so many of the 'magic words' are part of a very positive vocabulary. 

You might have found that yourself, when reading posts of friends on Facebook. A positive message can trigger dozens of Likes and comments, whereas the friend complaining, mentioning being ill or to not be happy, can find himself left with only one or two quick comments along the lines of 'sorry to hear this'

This does not mean that positivity is a Must. Far from! It's about authenticity in your words. 

Deliver the magical promise

It goes without saying: 'discover' only works when you cater to the promise hidden in that word: it's a word leading to believe something special is about to be shown. 

If behind that button or link there's nothing that satisfies the build-up, there's no sense in using such a word. If anything, it will just switch that button in the visitor's mind that says: to forget and delete! 

Words only perform magic, if they deliver. 

The classic magic words

You know the marketing classics 'new' and 'free'. They're classics right because they keep catching the attention and thus working as magical words. 

As always, also here you can better underpromise and overdeliver. A 'free bottle of champaign' with a hotel reservation of 800 Euro can hardly be named a great converter. In such a case the word is just taken for what it is: a marketing trick. To forget and delete. 

I cannot find the magic words for you - you and me would need a lab filled with cooperators - so what you can remember of this piece of advice is: never be insipid. 

Not in your titles, not in your links, nowhere. 

Always take great care with your content. 
Online visitors can smell a copycat or uninspired writer from a mile. 

You are catering to living and breathing visitors, who are not looking for the next lukewarm brochure, but to find real and actual contact.


Monday, 13 January 2014

"Which language should I learn"?

By now you know I'm a great big believer in passion. It's the only real gold.

It's fine if people 'study something' or 'have a skill' - but great to meet those who are a true expert in it, who live and breathe their skill. The way the world is moving I also think the latter to have more chances in the future. 

So you can have a look at online language predictions for 2025 (Europe) here - OR ask yourself the question and answer within 1 second: 'What language do I WANT to learn'? 'In what language will I achieve excellence'? 

A song to to bring you in the right mood while making a decision (no, you won't understand the words):

I've long reached the age that I can drop a few generalizations. Like (cliché alert!): passion wins, always. I've been an independent online marketer for 8 years now, and that's because of passion. It's passion that puts food on the table, that buys my freedom and that makes me work with great customers.

I worked with people who spoke 7 languages for they wanted to optimize professional chances, and people who 'only' spoke 2 - but so enthused and profoundly they connected with clients unlike anyone else. For it's as though they spoke their culture, the body language, the country, not just their alphabet. 

A person with passion brings things to the table that few others can: quality, depth, self motivation, motivation of others and, above all, an immense and very clear standing apart from others. And that's what competition is all about: standing out. You 'are sexy when you dance', not when you have a degree in grammar. 

Any other reason (than passion) for learning a language will make the process twice or three times as long and hard. I speak 3 languages I really love, and 2 I only learned for professional reasons - and, man, we're talking a world of difference! 

It doesn't matter that I all love them now - it was blood, sweat and tears versus a breeze. (See 'How to learn a language in 1-2-3')

Another thing to consider is: if you are going for a specific language for economic reasons, than so do many others, probably even very many. Where is then the advantage? Are you sure you will be better at it than others - or will know how to 'sell' yourself for that matter? 

You don't have any 'zing' with any specific language or culture? Are you sure? Absolutely sure? You could do what some career specialists do: ask yourself what you did or liked to do as a child. Without thinking, without putting ratio or thought in it (ergo: what is in you, intuitively, effortless). 

Can you remember any mention of or story from or a link to a culture that often came back? Chances are you have - be it ever so delicately - an emotional link to that language or culture, that will enhance your chances. 

Alternatively, we can learn Russian together.
It's the next passion on my own list.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Learning Dutch, language of rivers and horizons

I'm one of those that are crazy about Dutch, my language of 'water, rivieren en horizonnen'. 

True, German breaks my heart. It is spoken far more, is the language of the great European composers and poets, can both open a door towards professional benefits as to a superb world of poetry - a universe in itself.

It can also feel quite heavy, sombre, difficult, dark - when compared to that fun, open, clear, sexy, far easier Dutch of the little brother. 

Looking inward versus looking outwards. Heimat versus world.  

How can 2 brother/brüder/broeder languages come with such a different feel?  

As so often in the world the answer is: sea and water. Zee en water.  

(If you sometimes you don't know the answer to a question, any question, try 'water'. There's a chance you're correct). 

For ages the Dutch and, to a lesser extent, the Flemish, lived at a corner of the continent. Traveling over land (mud tracks, carriages) was an incredibly difficult affair. Much easier it was to jump on boats and use the sea as the motorway. 

So whereas inland people can have a tendency to withdraw in themselves, or only deal and communicate with the nearest neighbours (such as the Flemish with France) - the Dutch of the 17th century were already everywhere. 

Now only 2 provinces of the Netherlands, super tiny 'Holland' founded New Amsterdam (which later became New York), arrived in South-Africa, negotiated with the Japanese, meddled with Indonesia and heavily influenced the language at the other side of the street: England. 

The Jan and Kees were everywhere. Leaving a footprint such as the expression 'the Yankees'. 

It has resulted in a small country that is both northern - and open and extraverted.
Always in for an experiment.

"Oh, oh, don't learn our language, we want to learn yours"! 

This is the commercial side of a people who have gone to markets everywhere.

Come over, you Jews expelled from Spain, you protestants that are at risk in France, you Flemish painters that need refuge... come on over, inject our thinking and markets alike with new ideas and objects from far away lands! We'll be the pre-USA!

I exaggerate.
(In Dutch: ik overdrijf. 'I over drive', 'I over float' - so much is related to the sea and to water here).

You catch my drift. The tolerance of the Netherlands is not just a souvenir brought back from all those travels, it's also economically profitable. Just as a more than average enthusiasm to master the most commercial language of the moment is a typical result of that (shall we place a bet? Who will be the Europeans with the best knowledge of Chinese by 2040?).

Holland, Netherlands, Dutch... why so many words??

Making things difficult is SO not Dutch.

If anything, it's all about ease, openness, clarity, honesty. Having had to deal with a great mixture of cultures have resulted in an attitude of: make things as 'Esperanto' as possible. Avoid confusion.

In Dutch itself it's easy:

The country is Nederland where people speak Nederlands and they are called Nederlanders.


And it is called all that because NETHER / NEDER means 'lower in position'.

It's the rest of the world that is really confused: they still name the country after that piece of it that was so successful in the 17th century: Holland.

Just as people keep speaking of 'Indians' (native Americans) or 'Gypsies' (for thinking they came from Egypt), Holland is the word in the collective memory.

And why that word 'Dutch'? Don't even go there. It refers to Deutsch, the German word for German for there was a time that the one and only German was divided into High German (hills and inland) and Low German (at the sea). Further it refers to 'Diets' which means 'of the people'. And so on and so on. So there you go:

The Dutch speak Dutch and live in the Netherlands.

And they sing songs like 'Het is een nacht' - or 'It is a night':

'Een nacht die je normaal alleen in films ziet'.

A night that you normally only in films see.

OK, a night that you normally only see in films. You will have to shuffle the words a bit.

And no Dutchman will find it anything else than charming if you did so the wrong way around - for being a tiny bit in love with anything coming from over the sea, if only an accent or a new ingredient to the dish.


Friday, 3 January 2014

Marketing Rule 1: Cater to expectations

Obviously, one has to exceed expectations. 

However, the overwhelming majority of websites does not even cater to normal, standard expectations. And that's the very, very first rule of thumb

This is me with a Senseo. Or a Voluto from Nespresso

Now these are products of the (Dutch) Philips or the (French) Nestlé. 

So what's with the Italian names? 

The era that Italian coffee was the best in the world is long, long gone. 

However, that reputation still lingers on. It is too deeply ingrained to fight on your own. 

It is the general expectation that anything related to coffee just has to be Italian. 

If you wish to optimize your chances in marketing, you better keep an eye on such expectations in consumer psychology. 

What does that mean for you? As a start, you can learn from highly successful websites. For example: what are the websites that YOU visit or forever return to? That YOU remember or have shared with others? 

Chances are that the quality or originality or usefulness of your own website… do not live up to your own expectations. Without realizing, you might have become quite a demanding online visitor. The chances are very big that others are just like you. 

If you do not cater to the expectations of flawlessness and impeccable navigation, on all carriers, you might be like the jewelry store behind a battered barn door. Nobody will walk in. 

Tip: Organize a poll

Ask people what they honestly think of your website, and whether they would do business with you. 

Naturally, you do not ask friends or relatives - unless they are your target market. If they are not, search for contacts that are peers of the audience that you actually target. (Managing directors of SME if you target SME's, marketing managers of hotel chains if you target 4 and 5 star hotels, etc). 

To start your marketing on the right foot in 2014, make it cost-effective and optimize its potential - you first and foremost have to cater to the expectations of 2014. 

And of course - I am always in for a poll. 


Thursday, 2 January 2014

Das Leben der Anderen, a movie

I had SO promised myself to talk about marketing and marketing only. This blog would be consistent or would not be. 

But there you go. There are also ships that promise to sail - and then there's a storm. 

Like: a dignified movie, poetry in the 21st century, belief in the goodness of people:

All these are white elephants.   A little unexpected storm. Later on I can talk about marketing ad infinitum, possibly until I've bored everyone to death and for sure even until the day my own poem says: 'Das Ende'. So, yes, let's for once in a blue moon mention a movie. 

Who are the thousands of people who spy on us on a daily basis and what are they like? 

Do they just quickly flick through the images of security cameras? Do they never pay attention to our online behaviour unless there's some suspicion?  Or are eyes watching us? All the time or just now and again? Or hardly ever? 

It is to be hoped we can expect some integrity and benevolence (but let's not hold our breath).

It is The Story we all tell in our own lives: which road do we take at any given point? The excuse of duty, safety, 'it was an order', 'I risk my career' and so on - versus humanism, compassion, understanding, righteousness, dignity? 

Do we keep still - or do we jump to the aid, and how are our lives after that decision? 

In the 2006 movie 'Das Leben der Anderen' it is a Stasi captain who, in the DDR of 1984, has to eavesdrop possible enemies of the system. Day after day he and his headsit sit in a grey room to listen to 'the lives of others'.

When the movie starts the victim is a famous playwright. There's no reason at all for him to be a suspect, on the contrary, he is also famous for love of the system - but he has the bad luck that someone high up the ladder is in love with his girl friend. So something must be found to ensure an arrest and get him out of the way (the reason par excellence why we better never start with the death penalty). 

The rest you can discover yourself, you can imagine it: listening in opens a world to our Stasi agent. The love and integrity of the people he is spying on brings touches of colour in the dullness of his work and the society around him. The rabbit is morally high above the hawk.

The DDR might not have been the most depressing country in Europe, but definitely in the Top 3, and is brought back to life with much care for details: in a non-Hollywoodian way those details are atmosphere and behaviour rather than merely an obsession with the right props. 

Director and 30-something (at that moment) Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has made a calm movie, one that let's the message slip in between the seams, sometimes with a little exaggeration, sometimes wandering off in another direction - just as a pianist would do. 

One can't love perfection, only a face with a few imperfections and, maybe, a great big visible flaw too - and, yip, even at my age I still can't get any rest: again I have to change my Top 3 of favourite movies of all time, sigh.