Kristian de Groot
Hey everyone! I help people prepare for and pass the C2 Proficiency exam. I spend most of my time improving my English in many different ways. Reading books, listening to audiobooks, creating my own content, etc.
This has been a great read! There are many valuable lessons I can learn from your intriguing reflections, Alastair Budge .

But... now I have two questions for you, if you don't mind me asking. :)

Question #1
I’d never have guessed that you were a consultant for Jaguar Land Rover! It's so different to what you're doing now. I do understand you have a background in marketing, but still...

So my first question is:

Did you have any experience with starting up an online project before LE? (Website email-list, social media, etc)

All right. Let's move onto the heart of the story.

The getting started part is fascinating. My takeaway would be different though.

Instead of Getting good sound quality is hard I would opt for: Getting traction is hard.

Why? Because: I posted in Facebook groups, subreddits, and on language learning forums, waiting for the crowds to roll in. But not much happened.

Later you also talk about another takeaway: Unless you’re selling Christmas cards, 5th December probably isn’t a great launch date.

I would opt for: Getting traction is hard part II. ;)
Question #2
Actually, the whole article reads like a lesson for people who want to start their own (online) project to help learners of English.

So, let's cut to the chase and ask the 2nd question:

You mention 12 takeaways. What is the number one tip you would give to someone like me who's starting an online project for learners of English who want to pass a Cambridge exam?

Congratulations again on the 100-episode landmark and many thanks for your all your efforts! 

I'm looking forward to reading your answers :)
I don't know how to make things bold on mobile device, but this is important: 

*I'd also focus on trying to stand out and make it clear WHY you are different.*

Start with why.
Kristian de Groot replied
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Thanks for your kind words, and good questions, Kristian de Groot , let me take them one by one.

Did you have any experience with starting up an online project before LE? (Website email-list, social media, etc)

Yes, quite a lot. In fact, prior to Leonardo English, my life essentially involved starting online projects / companies for other people (like JLR). And even going back to being a teenager I was quite a prolific eBay seller in the wild west days of the Internet.

You mention 12 takeaways. What is the number one tip you would give to someone like me who's starting an online project for learners of English who want to pass a Cambridge exam?

I wish I had the secret, but firstly it would be "get ready for a long journey and stick at it".

Good things take time, if you stick at it you will already be doing more than most people who expect overnight success and results, and there's no replacement for just turning up every single day and helping people.

It's not revolutionary by any means, but most people don't do the hard things precisely because they are hard.

Bringing this back to an online project to help people learn English, I'd also focus on trying to stand out and make it clear why you are different.

In the case of Leonardo English, it's clearly not for people who want to watch videos of people making small talk about 'life in the UK' or talking about 'phrasal verbs'. There are many other places for that kind of stuff, and if you try to do that too then what you actually are gets diluted. 

So, the tip would be "don't try to be everything to everyone, just focus on doing one thing well, and stick at it"

That's at least what I'm trying to do.
Kristian de Groot replied
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As a non-native English teacher, this is a topic dear to my heart.

In general, the different skill sets of good non-native and native teachers - as pointed out in this intriguing article - complement each other well.   

That being said, in the end it really depends on the unique individual.

So, instead of reiterating the valid points of ... (the 'written by' part is empty Alastair Budge ), I'll tell you a bit about my own experience. Hopefully without sounding self-indulgent.

I've been teaching for over 2 years, and what I've learnt is that the discipline to prepare your lessons and to show empathy are the most important skills you need to develop as an English teacher.

If you show empathy for your students and you prepare what they want, you'll be successful as a teacher. Your students will give you compliments and spread the word.

You can have perfect pronunciation (usually native) or excellent grammar expertise (usually non-native), but if you do not genuinely care about your students, you're toast.

Now, is there a difference between native vs non-native teachers when it comes to these two key factors?

I don't think so. I don't see any correlation between preparation & empathy and non-native or native teachers.   

What I do know, is that your ability to keep learning is the most crucial skill to master if you want to be a great teacher.

And I'm not referring to your ability to keep learning English

I mean developing empathy and the discipline to prepare your lessons in the best way possible. Because that's harder than learning English, in particular when you do the same thing as a teacher over and over again... 

All right, that's my two pennies worth. :) 

I wonder what you think about this topic? What are your experiences with native teachers and non-native teachers? Join the discussion in the comments :)

Keep learning, keep growing! 👍     
I was wondering what your thoughts would be on this one  Kristian de Groot , and I definitely agree with everything you said. 

From my experience teaching, which comes mainly when I was quite a bit younger and in Asia (where lots of native speakers are 'teachers' become it affords them a nice lifestyle), often native speakers don't score very highly on preparation & empathy, as they know that they need to do less work than non-natives, especially on the preparation front.

Of course, this is a gross generalisation, and it depends on a myriad of factors, but it's easier to believe it doesn't matter if you badly prepared when you are a native vs. when you are a non-native. 

Ps the article is the work of  Ramsay  , my bad for not updating the author on the website.
I think about this topic a lot when I'm doing social espionage on the web to learn from colleagues, especially IELTS tutors/coaches who sell online courses or 1-1 preparation.

There are many native exam tutors who have years of experience with IELTS preparation, maybe even as an examiner. So how do you compete as a non-native who doesn't have that? (I gave part of the answer in the opening post; the other part: you don't haha)   

Another interesting perspective: more than once I've heard something along those lines, "Before you I had a native teacher and sometimes I really couldn't understand that person."

But then again, my mother just told me I butchered the pronunciation of the verb "to occur" in one of my podcast episodes...

Ramsay Nice one! 
Alastair Budge replied
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Kristian de Groot I'm glad you enjoyed it! I agree with all your comments—it's really more about the particular teacher than it is about their "native-ness". And, I think preparation and empathy, exactly like you say, are essential. 

I'll just add that having learned a language really helps, I think, with teaching one. I think I would have been a much worse English teacher if I was someone who *only* spoke English. Back to your point, I think it helps with the empathy—that insecurity and feeling of being stupid! You don't get it until you've had it XD
Kristian de Groot replied
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Hi Alastair Budge

I apologise if you've already answered this somewhere on the forum, but I couldn't find it.

Why is it not possible to reply to the blog posts? So much interesting stuff and food for thought (and discussion) in these articles...

Re:, I enjoyed reading this one very much! Congratulations and keep learning, keep growing! 


Good question  Kristian de Groot . I used to have Discourse on there (a type of forum), but it didn't get a huge amount of interaction, so I removed it.

I'm also wary of having too many different ways for people to pass on feedback. But perhaps I can find a way of integrating this forum in that to allow you to leave comments, but it would stay on this forum - this would be cool. Hmmm....
Hmm, I don't know when you removed it, but now you have much more content and many more visitors... (somebody told me ;))
In the meantime, where can I comment on your wonderful journey?  
Alastair Budge replied
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Alastair Budge great blog post! I responded in Jachym's topic, but I have to say that this is a perfect opportunity to experiment with comments from your listeners and fans out there... (also the non-members who enjoy everything on LE) 

My mother told me about your blog post yesterday and then asked me if she should use the discount! 

If you open this post for comments, I could write a few encouraging words for everyone out there who's on the fence...  ;)  
EDIT: I'll write a review on Apple Podcasts today
Alastair Budge replied
  ·  2 replies
I loved this episode, not in the least because of, and I quote here:

It is a pretty interesting story, and it’s always nice to hear a story where almost everyone seems to win, and nobody needs to have their head cut off or be stabbed in the back.
It's true, and in fact, it's almost unbelievable, so now I'm curious to learn more about this family and Florence.

This episode reminds me of the fact that there's so much interesting history on the European continent. In the 90s I always wanted to visit other continents, but nowadays I'm more eager to explore Europe*. Especially now the EU is under pressure and some people tend to forget how much violence there was on the continent, before the EU was set up.

*That might be another reason why I chose Prague as my new home base.

Anyone with knowledge about the history of Florence or the Medici family, don't hesitate to share it here.

On a different note: 
Alastair, I'm really curious to hear more about 1) your research process in general, and 2) how you learnt to transform epic events that span across centuries into 18 minute stories.

It's an interesting podcast topic. Maybe I'll invite you one day to talk about it with me on my podcast... ;)

So, a few points.

I’m glad you found it interesting. I do too, and there is obviously a load more to say than I managed to fit into that episode. The early part of the Medici is the most interesting to me, but the struggle to get a foothold into the papacy is equally fascinating, and there is heaps more to say about their patronage of the arts.

Re: exploring Europe, certainly. For those of us who live in Europe, it’s easy not to realise quite how spoilt we are. I remember realising this for the first time on an ERASMUS exchange, and all the Americans would spend every weekend doing trips to different European cities/countries. They couldn’t believe that so much variety/history was so close. As a European (no jokes about being British please :) ) it’s easy to overlook how easy this all is was.

Re: how I actually research/make the episodes, I don’t think there’s really a secret sauce, but it normally goes something like this:

  1. With most of the topics done so far, I knew something about the subject beforehand. With some of them I knew a lot (The Aral Sea, Bullshit Jobs, The Great Game), others I was interested in and knew enough to know that it could make for an interesting episode.
  2. Research, research, research. Online this will be a mix of opinion articles, Brittanica / Wikipedia (for the more historical ones), then I’ll normally read parts or in some cases, all, of the most interesting books I can find on the subject. And complement that with some other research papers if it’s a more complicated subject. It’s amazing how error-filled lots of news articles can be…Wikipedia is fine for an overview, but where it’s actually useful is the sources in the footnotes.
  3. Then I’ll try to compress my notes into a structure that makes sense, given the constraints of the podcast (I try not to go above 20 mins). I think they have improved in terms of structure. If it’s a historical subject (e.g. The Medici), I’ll try to give some background, tell the most important parts of the story, include some juicy and interesting details (e.g. the attempted murder of Lorenzo), talk about the impact that this story has had on the world, and that’s normally about it. If it’s a more debatable subject, I’ll try to put across the points of both sides. Evidently, when trying to put everything into a relatively short part, there is a lot that gets cut out, but I try to include some of the most interesting/important parts of the story.
  4. Write it all out, rewrite it with fresh eyes.
  5. Then (the unsung hero in the entire process) my wife reads every one and corrects it and provides feedback.
  6. And that’s it.

Yes, I was also wondering how they got a foothold into the papacy (4 popes!), and after I had listened to the brilliant Caravaggio-episode I was even more surprised at how this family achieved so much power.

Re: your answer in how you make episodes, it's super interesting and helpful. I'm very tempted to go much deeper into this topic, but I noticed you have a special section called Leonardo English life, so maybe it's better if we continue this topic over there? 

Alastair Budge replied
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Hi everyone, I'm Kristian 👋

I'm originally from the Netherlands, but now I live in Prague, the Czech Republic.

A few months ago I got the opportunity to introduce myself on the Leonardo English blog, so a link to that article is probably the easiest way to introduce myself:

Fun fact about me: I'm an early bird. At least five days per week I get up at 4am. When they made face-masks mandatory in Prague early March, I decided to start my workout at 4am, because I didn't want to run with a mask. Now I'm used to getting up early in the morning and I don't want to go back to my old routine. I'm super productive in the morning. However, I do take a nap when I get tired... ;)

Other fun fact: last week I've started a podcast myself. Alastair was one of the people who inspired me to take the plunge :)

I'm stoked to see this community up and running. From the moment I started listening to the podcast, I was interested in getting to know other listeners. 

Many thanks for setting this up!

P.S. If you read this and you have any questions for me, just ask :)
Hey everyone,

I apologise for being “a bit spammy” today, but I’ve got something special to share with you:

Today I’m launching my podcast! It’s scary and exciting at the same time... I hope you will check it out. You can get it on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or listen on my website. See links below.

If you check it out, let me know what you think. You can comment here, send me an email, or DM me. 

Also, if you have family or friends who could benefit from listening to the podcast, then please do share it. 

I want to help as many people as possible, so every podcast rating, review, share, retweet, like and subscribe helps to spread the word.

Thanks for your support! :-)

Best, Kristian
Alastair Budge replied
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Hi Ivana,

The Czech Republic has many things that I find important for daily living:
A cosmopolitan city, beautiful nature, modern infrastructure, plenty of demand for English lessons, and last but not least, it's relatively close to the Netherlands. That's the rational answer I usually tell people.

The other answer is harder to explain in words, but I tried it in my podcast. I had never been to CZ before, so I partly made my decision based on a gut feeling I had. I thought it would be (relatively) easy for me to make a new start in Prague. Thankfully my gut feeling turned out to be correct :)

P.S. Every time I get visitors here in Prague, they are mesmerized by the beauty of the city. It happened this weekend again when my cousin was here with a friend. And to be honest, after two years I still feel the same sensation when I walk in Vyšehrad and enjoy the view, or when I sit on a bench on Kampa Island, or when I just walk around in Prague 1 or Prague 2.   
Hi Ramsay,

Thanks, likewise!

I used to get up between at 5:30am to go out for a run. Then early March wearing a face-mask on the streets became mandatory in Prague. However, I didn't want to run with a face-mask so I thought, let's get up at 4am when nobody is on the streets.

That's how it started. Now, keep in mind I still need my 7 hours of sleep. So usually I fall asleep around 10pm and I get up at 4am. That's six hours. And then, between 11am and 1pm I take a long break to sleep again and to have lunch. After 1pm I'm good to go and can do some deep work again. 

I do this four workdays a week. Wednesday is usually a 5am workday.   

I think the main difference for me, is that I have now two opportunities per day to do deep work, like learning a language. Right after my run and breakfast and right after my "siesta" and lunch. :)

P.S. I can't do this without the break. I really need my 7 hours sleep per day.