Help me brainstorm creating Greek and Latin language learning videos
May 26, 2021 11:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm a classicist with lots of experience teaching Latin and ancient Greek at university level. I'm thinking about starting a series of videos aimed at intermediate learners, partly because I miss teaching languages and partly in the hope of eventually building a follower base which might bring in a bit of extra income though donations or subscriptions. Help me think about format, platform, how to get the word out etc.! More generally, if you know something about monetizing very niche subjects online, I'd love to hear non-classics-specific advice too.

The idea I'm toying with is to start with a few medium-length (say 20 min) videos, each going through a passage from a well-known text -- say the first 50 lines of the Iliad or the first couple of chapters of Herodotus -- reading, translating and explaining points of grammar, vocabulary etc. as I go. The target audience would be students who've had the equivalent of first-year Greek or Latin but don't necessarily have much reading experience. Basically it would be the video equivalent of an undergraduate reading class, which are my favorite classes to teach but which I haven't had the chance to teach in a while.

The model I have in my head is agadmator's chess channel on YouTube, where he goes through chess games and explains each move, and takes game requests from his followers. Obviously I'm not going to get a million subscribers -- I'm under no illusion that this could ever replace my day job given that the potential audience is so small. But if I could build up to a couple hundred regular viewers for a weekly video, that might make it a rewarding hobby at least in terms of community and maybe also in terms of some side income through donations/subscriptions. (I think I'd enjoy doing this even if it never brings in any money, but it would be discouraging to go to the effort of making a video and only ever have it get half a dozen views.)

I don't have much experience with content creation online and there seems to be a bewildering array of platforms and models out there. How does one start building a follower base? Should I go with a subscription model or a donation model? What site should I use? YouTube? Patreon? Skillshare? Ko-fi? How do I attract viewers once I have a few videos up? In short, any practical advice on reaching an audience with this kind of very niche content would be welcome.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t have much advice for you - I only have three followers on Twitter - but I’m letting you know that I’m very much interested in being your first subscriber.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:36 AM on May 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is a great idea! I think agadmator is a good example for you and that YouTube plus Twitter is probably the best way to start. On Twitter, you might want to start following people like Mary Beard and Shadi Bartsch with strong, somewhat unconventional presences and gradually work your way into their audiences. Put your videos up periodically, let everyone know on Twitter and keep tweeting in between to remind people you are there. Tweet when it's Exelauno Day or the Ides of March or whatever.

Most people whose YouTubes I follow have a fairly ebullient personality. (None of these people are classicists; they are gamers giving strategy advice, or people who do art or readings of children's books.) Personally I would hold off on the heavy grammar and paragraphs of prose and pick something with a big kick, like an erotic or invective poem. Then when you have them you can get into something advanced. In my experience, people just love weird little technical things about Greek and Latin but you should try to present them with a Mythbusters sort of attitude.

Good luck!
posted by BibiRose at 4:54 AM on May 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think BibiRose has it where you need to highlight things other than the passage itself. The passage needs to, e.g., be illustrative of some odd grammatical trick, and you need to have layers to peel back -- here's the direct translation, here's a cool grammatical thing that's happening, here's some cool historical/etymological context for what we're reading, here's how commonplace this form of writing was.

There's a decently sized resurgence in popularity of stoic thinkers, and I think you could grow outside of pure language audiences by hitting the Enchyridion or Meditations and weaving some philosophy in with the Greek.

If kevinbelt is your first subscriber, I'd love to be number two. I still hold it against my high school that they killed the Latin program after my junior year.

And, wishlist, pair up with an ancient military history buff and do History of the Peloponnesian!
posted by bfranklin at 5:51 AM on May 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Much as I dislike reddit, there are subreddits for ancient greek, latin, and language learning in general, and you might get some traction posting there occasionally (I'd lurk first to get a sense of what attitudes toward self-posting are).

Also, have you looked around to see what other people are doing on youtube etc. in those areas?

I think advice for ebullience and sexy texts is probably good if you're looking for really large audiences, but if that's not your natural style and you'd be fine with smaller audiences too (on the order of hundreds rather than tens or hundreds of thousands), I think you'll be fine either way - I'm often surprised by how many viewers there are on even badly or boringly presented videos on niche topics. I think youtube's algorithms play a big part in channeling viewers, and also a lot of people just really do want to learn stuff. Personally, for some subjects I really prefer videos that focus on thoroughness over sparkliness.

That said, occasional zeitgeisty stuff could help pull in viewers to your other work. For example, you might do a video on a scene from some movie that's in Latin (say, comparing the Latin in this movie to later forms). Possibly consider experimenting with minute-long/bite-sized videos for TikTok or twitter - who knows, maybe ClassicsTikTok could strike a chord somewhere. In general, social media video seems like a nice medium in which to experiment with different teaching approaches and styles.

If the university department(s) you've been affiliated with have any sorts of resources pages for students studying classics, maybe you could get yourself added there, or let old colleagues know you're putting this stuff up and it might be useful to their students.

Make sure the sound quality is good. Consider whether you want to be visible in the video (supposedly that increases viewer engagement by a lot, lord knows why). Video might let you bring in some resources that you might not regularly use in reading classes, like pictures of contemporary art or items, clips of movies or dramatic representations of the text, and so on.

I don't know either language in question, but I really like the idea and am going to look around for similar resources in other languages I'm interested in.
posted by trig at 6:00 AM on May 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

No advice here either, but I have an example of someone successfully doing something similar: Jackson Crawford (website, youtube, patreon). He is an Old Norse expert and does a fair amount of instructional videos along the lines you're thinking of. As I understand it he has managed to make it his primary source of income. No affiliation other than being a devoted follower!
posted by Signy at 6:44 AM on May 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

Don't do it for money! Do it for yourself. To the nearest whole percent, nobody makes money on this sort of thing: not even enough to cover the costs. It's very satisfying to produce quality product; but I find that having an audience imposes discipline and regularity on the process. There are billions of people out there, enough to fill a room at any quality channel, no matter how niche.
You don't mention podcast: that's another medium where you can be erudite. I follow Lingthusiasm which is a two-hander about language and grammar. I really like the to-fro.
Could we have one on speared through the nipple all the deaths in the Iliad? I'll be your 3000th subscriber!
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:26 AM on May 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

My ex boyfriend had to study ancient Greek as a Ph.D student specializing in Greek philosophy. He had a terrible time finding someone to tutor him, and I'm sure he would have been your second (or third?) subscriber had you done this while he was in school. From his experience, I extrapolate that you might consider sourcing academic philosophy societies and such-like to see if there's any way of getting the word out.
posted by Violet Blue at 9:08 AM on May 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

So...I would think you'd want to choose popular texts, because independent students are usually most motivated by the desire to read some well-known text in the original (source: have taken continuing-ed Greek classes at two different universities (*)). But I think some of the advice above reflects a lack of awareness that ancient Greek is an order of magnitude harder for the average Western learner than any modern Western language, and of what the process of breaking into the first 50 lines of the Iliad actually looks like. If the class is to be technically useful, it's not going to be a "hey! here are five WILD things about ancient Greek!" format. I mean, we're talking small audiences in both cases; there may well be as much of an audience for the first as for the second (I've definitely read texts talking at a very high level of abstraction about languages I don't read at all); but they're different things, and it sounds like you're interested in doing the former.

Could we have one on speared through the nipple all the deaths in the Iliad?

Just FYI, Alice Oswald, Memorial, covers this nicely.

(*) Five to six people in NYC were willing to pay $750 for in-person continuing-ed instruction, and six to eight in Cambridge, $1500. The latter was taught by a Harvard tenured prof, but the former was "just" a woman who used to teach it in a local private school. If that gives you an idea of audience.
posted by praemunire at 10:58 AM on May 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

(I'm sure you know of this already, but I'd post at places like Textkit to announce.)
posted by praemunire at 11:03 AM on May 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'd try to get hooked up in the already existing Latin & Greek youtube community. The big name I think is Luke Ranieri (with accompanying discord).

Much non-academic classical language learning is based around oral, living language approaches, so I think there might be room for a more academic, traditional channel. Your proposed approach sounds most similar to me to 'Daily Dose of Greek,' which is a daily parsing of a single sentence of the NT aimed at pastors.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:03 AM on May 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just a thought - I read about this new Greek lexicon today, and it sounds like revisiting passages that are ambiguous or bowdlerized could be an interesting way to turn a few heads. Surely there are a few parts where the most common three translations say "ease" but the muse said "shit."
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:37 PM on May 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm an undergraduate-level student interested in ancient philosophy who lacks the time and resources to properly study a classical language.

If you made videos covering ancient philosophy, especially ones taking the time to convey the sense of key philosophical terms, I think you'd garner an audience. There are many philosophy students looking for online resources these days.

The Stoics, especially, seem to be having a revival in popularity among people outside the academy and especially online, so perhaps that's a good place to start and a good community to promote your content within
posted by davedave at 2:52 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

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