How a South African Polyglot Made YouTube Her Side Hustle

The inside scoop on speaking 9 languages and having 40 000 followers

YouTube is here for business and pleasure, an amazingly talented South African woman explains. We spoke to 23-year-old polyglot, Lindie Botes about how she’s bringing in some extra income with her passion. She has YouTube regulations to contend with, as well as the response to her video that went viral (4.4 million views is no small feat), kinda accidentally.

First up, what is a polyglot?

A general definition is ‘a person who knows and is able to use several languages’, but people on the internet often argue about how many languages this entails. The polyglot community online has pretty much established that you can refer to yourself as a polyglot if you speak five or more languages at an intermediate or higher level. I prefer referring to myself as a language enthusiast rather than a polyglot. This is because I believe language learning is a lifelong process. I am still learning words in my native language! However, for social media presence and discoverability on platforms like YouTube, it makes sense to refer to oneself as a polyglot.

How many languages do you speak?

In order of fluency, starting with my two native languages, English, Afrikaans, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, French, Vietnamese, Hungarian and Indonesian. I’ve dabbled in Arabic, Urdu, Mongolian, Russian, Spanish, Malaysian and Thai as well, although they really don’t count if all I can do is read or say the basics.

Tell us about your YouTube journey

I’ve been making YouTube videos since 2013. They started out very unprofessionally where I just filmed myself on my laptop camera (bad quality!). I talked about language learning and my tips and experiences on learning and speaking multiple languages.

Last year, I had an operation and I woke up from the anaesthesia speaking Korean until I came to my senses and my English ability returned. I posted a video about this to my then 2000 subscribers. Mostly, I did this because it was an interesting linguistic occurrence and I wanted to chat to people about why this happened. However, the video went viral in Korea and over to international news. Because of that, my subscriber base in Korea grew significantly to over 10K subscribers in a few months. I then decided to make more Korean content, like videos about how I learnt Korean, how learning Korean changed my life, and videos for Korean people to learn English.

‘I soon realised that subscribers aren’t always loyal.’

But I soon realised that subscribers aren’t always loyal. These people subscribed for one viral video and expected to see the same comedy and funny content on my channel, and I lost subscribers each time I uploaded a more serious video about language learning content. After lots of internal debates with myself, I realised I need to stay true to my passion for language learning and teaching. I stopped making videos just to impress a Korean audience, and I started making more videos in English about language learning tips, tricks and struggles.

I lost subscribers in the process, but I gained others who were really interested in the content I created.

What kinds of issues or teething pains did you face when building your YouTube channel?

It took a number of years to reach the almost 40K subscribers I have now. One needs to remember that though people have the perception of instant online fame, behind the scenes, it takes a lot of work. Editing videos and adding subtitles is really time-consuming, and replying to comments, emails and requests from companies to review their products also takes longer. It’s also important to stay true to your channel’s purpose and content – I’ve often turned down product sponsorship because I don’t want to be a sellout or a channel that advertises stuff not related to my content just for some extra income. If a company contacts me to review their language learning app, I’ll only do it if I feel it will benefit my viewers as well.

Media coverage was also a bit of a rollercoaster. I didn’t expect my one Korean video to go viral. Because of that happening, there is a bunch of cringe photos of me in hospital gear with funny facial expressions all over Korean media.

Let’s talk money, honey

Making money is quite a challenge on YouTube. YouTube recently changed their rules on who is eligible for monetising their channel. Depending on your video title and keywords, YouTube can also choose to not monetise your video. They can also choose to only make it suitable for a certain amount of advertisers. Once you have reached the threshold of a certain number of views and subscribers, you can apply to monetise your channel. By doing that, YouTube can place ads that play before or on your videos and you can earn a small income each month depending on ad interaction.

It’s a common misconception that the number of views your channel has equaled the amount of money you make. If that were the case, I’d be 5 million rands richer right now – I wish! Currently, I make between 2K and 3K a month, depending on the amount of interaction my videos get and how often I upload. Generally, YouTubers earn more money through sponsorships, merchandise and Patreon (a website used to support content creators) than they do from YouTube ad revenue. I haven’t gone any of those routes yet, but it does seem like Patreon is a popular choice for YouTubers who have a solid, loyal fan base.

What advice would you give other hustlers when it comes to creating an online presence?

Keeping a close eye on analytics is very helpful. YouTube and Instagram have excellent analytic tools that help you. They show you where your main audience is located, how old they are, and from what platforms they’re looking at your content. If you post 10 videos in a week and nothing for a month, people will be overwhelmed and confused, respectively. I post one video a week and it’s been working very well so far.

The advice I would give to people starting their own channels or blogs is just to stick to the reason you started it in the first place and not to try to impress people with content that you aren’t passionate about. Some of the best compliments I’ve received is that my content is honest and authentic and that I show the behind-the-scenes of language learning (i.e the difficult processes), and not just the results (bragging about language ability).

Head here to see Lindie’s addictive YouTube content and learn a thing a two before your next trip overseas!

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