Matt Bonder’s popular YouTube channel Matt vs Japan has a loyal following of people who share his ideas on language learning through immersion.
Matt says that to truly master a new language, you must surround yourself with it for a long time. Matt doesn’t sell any courses yet, but the membership programmes that he offers on Patreon, provide him a very good living. Let’s learn how he does it.
What you’ll learn in this interview:
How Matt created a language learning movement
How Matt monetizes his channel through Patreon
Pros and cons of Patreon.
Matt’s best tips for Langpreneurs.
Matt was a freshman when he fell headlong into all things Anime. With that came a compulsion to learn Japanese.
He studied the language that year in college, took a summer school course, and went straight into a third-year class while still a sophomore. In Japanese class, Matt was one of the best, but in reality, he was progressing at a snail’s pace.
Frustrated, Matt looked around for another way to learn and discovered the (now defunct) website All Japanese All The Time.
Matt was inspired by the idea of surrounding himself with the Japanese language, and he went all out. He filled his MP3 player with Japanese, tried to read Japanese books and even created a Japanese environment in his room. He made Anki flashcards to learn vocab and took a six-month study trip to Japan.
But, with all that work, at the end of three years, Matt still wasn’t fluent. It took Matt another two years of immersion to push past the basics; to speak and understand Japanese at a high level.
As he became more and more fluent, Matt made an interesting language-learning discovery.
Matt vs Japan on YouTube
Matt wanted to share his journey towards speaking Japanese the AJATT way, so he began to make YouTube videos.
His Matt vs Japan channel wasn’t structured, the videos were basic, and he popped one out randomly whenever he got a good idea.
But Matt’s gospel of language immersion was unusual at the time, and people started to take notice.
Gradually a core audience of AJATT enthusiasts gathered around his channel. There were only a few hundred, but he says they were the hardest to get.
‘’Going from zero to one hundred is a lot harder than going from one hundred to two’’
Building a controversial niche
There is plenty of marketing advice around creating a niche for yourself. But how do you go about doing that? Matt built his language niche by having polarising opinions.
His videos cover controversial topics such as: Should you start to output straight away in a new language? Matt says no; immerse yourself in listening and reading to develop your comprehension first.
”Even if you have good content, if there’s not something that makes you stand out from the crowd, then no one is going to go out of their way to watch and share your content”
People certainly shared his content, but controversy also brings negativity, and if you take the polarising approach, Matt warns that you need to be prepared for haters to jump on board too. That’s the downside, but more important is the audience who loves your ideas and wants to join in.
In a way, Matt found he had created not just a language channel but also an immersion learning movement.
Using Discord to congregate
Matt creates tons of free content on YouTube, but he also provides a place for immersion learning people to gather on Discord.
You can think of the Discord platform as an informal version of Slack with chat rooms called Servers.
Matt created channels within his Server. One is for general things, another for Japanese immersion, a third for questions, and so on.
His Discord server gives AJATT devotees a place to learn from Matt and each other, but how do they join? And how does Matt make a living? The answer to both questions is Patreon.
Patreon as an income stream
Patreon is Matt’s main revenue provider, and he has a higher-than-average ratio of viewers to supporters. That’s because Matt uses Patreon’s tier system to give real value. Here’s how it works:
Tier One ($1): join the Discord group and watch the conversation.
It’s easy to pay just $1 per month, so this is the level which brings in many beginners. They get real value from seeing the conversations between Matt and higher tier supporters, but they can’t participate themselves.
Tier Two ($5): Weekly Q&A videos.
Patrons pose questions, and others can upvote them so that Matt knows which are the most popular. His hyper-detailed video answers are valuable but take a relatively short time to make.
Tier Three ($10): Become a participant.
Only the most enthusiastic patrons are willing to pay $10 per month, so this automatically restricts the number of contributors to a manageable level. That’s important because at this level you’re invited to give quality input to the conversation. It provides a massive benefit to you, as the contributor, and to those who are following along.
Tier Four ($15): Get your name in the video credits.
There may be only a few supporters at this level, but they have the satisfaction of seeing their names as loyal fans at the end of Matt’s YouTube videos.
Matt’s account on Patreon
Patreon Pros and Cons
‘’I am providing value by creating the space where people with common interests can come together, but it doesn’t take that much of my time and energy’’
Compared to the energy that goes into making a quality YouTube video, it takes a relatively small amount for Matt to engage with his Patreon supporters each week.
Immersion learning can be a lonely process; not many outsiders understand what you’re attempting. Matt’s group gives learners a chance to meet and get support from each other as well as from Matt.
The individual monthly dollars per person are small, but with more patrons signing up every day, it adds up to a significant chunk of Matt’s income.
Patreon is the opposite of passive income. Patrons support you for your future videos, not for the ones you’ve already put out, so there’s a lot of pressure to keep delivering.
And of course, there’s a cost to use the Patreon platform. Currently, it takes around 10% of Matt’s income in fees.
Should I stick to coaching or create a course?
Matt also offers one-to-one coaching for immersion language learners. It is not so much teaching as a conversation about learning techniques and helping students out of difficulties. With that format the sessions are one-offs and people book as and when they need them. Some are content with just one; others come back regularly.
Of course, individual coaching isn’t cheap, and it takes time and energy. Matt raised his prices until he was only doing the ideal number of calls each week.
But coaching calls still have a limit, and they don’t create a passive income, so should Matt create a course?
He worries that it will disrupt the immersion learning movement he’s created, especially as all his content is currently free on YouTube. But, other ideas could include making a coaching package or group coaching as well as taking a group through a pre-made course.
Matt’s tips for Langpreneurs
Focus on your key audience.
Stand out by giving them a place to congregate.
Be careful how you broaden your scope – make sure you take your fans along with you.
Put out unique content. E.g. Matt’s video on the five stages of language learning, from beginner to expert.
Raise your prices to reflect your time.
Individual coaching can give you insights into people’s struggles which will translate into ways to help a wider audience.
Be passionate about what you do and stick to your values. Keep going, and your audience will grow.
Use the tiers on Patreon. Don’t just make the rewards pleasant to have, make them valuable, so patrons want to join and keep coming back for more.
Look for ways to help people who aren’t served by the mainstream channels, e.g. high-level learners.
There are many ways for Matt to grow and develop his language business. Will he start a course? Develop his coaching classes or take another route entirely? One thing’s for sure – Matt’s future business journey will be a blast.