Friday, February 7, 2020

Learning Twitch is Like Learning a New Language

Starting on Twitch is a very humbling experience. In the process of growing your channel, there will be times when you feel like you don't know how any behind-the-scenes stuff works, you'll make a fool of yourself while talking on camera, and technical glitches will be a constant. But as I've mentioned in countless entries before, all these experiences are necessary if you want to become better and maintain consistency. I recently had an experience which took me back to when I was learning the ropes of Twitch: For about eight months in preparation for my trip to Tokyo last year, I tirelessly studied Japanese. And after working incredibly hard at this, I found that learning Twitch is a lot like learning a new language.

In the following three examples, I will tie my off-stream experiences in speaking Japanese to my early journey in becoming a better Twitch streamer. I had embarrassing moments, I forced myself to make the best of my existing tools, and I made many mistakes. Though the language anecdotes may not apply to you, the overarching lessons can apply to anybody. So try to keep an open mind before dismissing these experiences, and think about how you can apply them to your channel.


If you go to that camera store, please apologize
to the staff for me.
When my brother and I went through security for our flight to Tokyo, a specific rechargeable battery adapter I use was held at the gate and not allowed to travel with me. Naturally, as soon as we landed we made a stop at the electronics store to replace the part. As you may know from previous entries, I can converse in Japanese. But that doesn't mean I know every word in the dictionary, and it doesn't mean my grammar or pronunciation are spot-on either. Language learning is a life-long process, and nothing made that clearer than when I was trying to ask for a new battery adapter from the very polite employees at this giant Tokyo camera store. Not knowing the word for the type of adapter I needed in Japanese, I pointed to two ports on my equipment and said the Japanese equivalent of, "I need to transform this into this." I repeated the phrase to the few clerks who helped me, proud of myself for coming up with such a workable substitute sentence. It wasn't until I was leaving the store that I realized I was pronouncing the Japanese word for 'transform' similar to the Japanese word for 'idiot.' This meant that the whole time, it sounded like I was smiling and saying to these people, "I need this and this, you idiot."

Despite the error, I had done my best, and the clerks understood enough to direct me toward what I was looking for. They probably laughed to themselves after I left, but I accomplished my goal, even if it was sloppy. The point is, you need to get out there and make a fool of yourself. Think about your Twitch channel: just because you've been thinking about streaming, or making graphics for your stream, or practicing for the eventual day when you plan to stream, none of that will make you a better streamer. The clock only starts once you start streaming. Remember the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams, where I spoke about needing to do ten full broadcasts before you can even consider yourself to have started as a Twitch streamer? Don't give up on that mindset once you hit ten. You're building an entirely new skill, and it's being built from scratch. If you're learning Japanese, you're going to say a hundred embarrassing things before you can trust yourself to speak in mixed company, and if you're learning Twitch you're going to embarrass yourself a hundred times in front of your viewers. But if you're not out there gaining actual experience, you'll just be sitting on the sidelines forever, wondering what it could have been like if you only had the guts.


I could always use more vocabulary, but I didn't wait to start.
At a small Tokyo convenience store, I needed to buy Q-tips, but of course I didn't know the exact Japanese word for this item. The worst thing to do when trying to learn a language is to resort to speaking your mother tongue, or falling back on Google to get your idea across. So I forced myself to use only the vocabulary I knew in order to ask for this simple item. The following is the sentence I asked a clerk in Japanese, "Do you have those long white things for your ears?" After the clerk's initial confusion, they directed me to the Q-tips and even taught me the Japanese word to use next time. Yes, of course I could come up with the English word for this common item in a millisecond, but it wouldn't help me learn like actually solving problems with the tools I had available to me.

On Twitch, everyone likes to think that they're better than the hardware they have. It's easy to see your stream underperforming, and think to yourself that if you only had that expensive camera, or fancy mic, or new capture card, that you'd be set. These things won't make you a better streamer. It's best to start simple- the fewest pieces of equipment possible. Get good at making a great show using only your limited stream 'vocabulary', in the same way that I forced myself to use the most basic Japanese vocabulary to ask about Q-Tips. You'll be surprised how far your mind can take you, once you allow yourself to use it.


Then there's the classic mistake that any foreigner makes when speaking another language: ordering the wrong item at a restaurant. In Japan, one of the most popular foods are small, tapas-style skewers which cost the equivalent of roughly $1 American each, and you might order a dozen or more of these very cheap items for your table. You can imagine then, how easy it would be for me to order one of those dozen items incorrectly over the course of a dinner. Whether because I didn't understand a certain word, misread it from the menu or mispronounced it, we'd typically have at least one unexpected food in front of us, out of the dozen we ordered. This wasn't a cause of concern for my brother and I however- we'd simply take it as an opportunity to try these new foods we didn't think to order ourselves.

Sometimes the wrong food is the best food!
You're going to make mistakes on stream in the same way. Every time you go live, there are a dozen or more little categories you could accidentally botch. Before you're experienced, it's only a matter of time before you fall into one or more of these traps. Forgetting to turn on your mic, camera positioned wrong, stream settings too high or low, graphics settings being off, missing your going-live Tweet, and using the wrong sound output from your computer are only a few examples. You're going to make all of these mistakes, and countless more. You can't get discouraged when these happen though- just take a deep breath, fix the problems whenever you catch them, and learn for next time. You may even come up with your best ideas by making mistakes, the same way that my brother and I discovered some of our favorite dishes in Tokyo by accidentally ordering them. Embrace every mistake you make on stream, and let it teach you rather than bring you down.


Anyone who has already gone through the process of learning to speak and think in another language already knows the feeling: that special kind of embarrassment when you have a thought in your head, but it's trapped behind a language barrier. I might have been able to say something a thousand different ways in my native tongue, but in this new language it could only escape my lips in coarse, ugly barks that made me sound like a child. I truly felt 'dumber' because I didn't have the vocabulary to express what was really going through my head. But I kept going out there, every day, and kept speaking like a kindergartener. We all took years as children to learn our first languages, and it takes over a decade afterward to become truly eloquent. My Japanese self was less than a year old, so why should I expect to be as smart as an adult after so little time?

On Twitch, you're not going to be good from the word 'go.' In fact, you're going to be embarrassingly bad. But that's what you need. You're not going to get where you want by thinking about doing it, you're going to get there by doing it. And doing it a lot. Winston Churchill once said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." If you want to learn the language of Twitch, get out there and fail as many times as you can!


  1. Great podcasts. I got em all from Podbean. I'm new to Twitch, about to stream soon. Your info helped a lot! - J