This is a little bit of a departure from my usual posts, but some specific events over the last several months have made me reflect on whether I want to continue with this whole blogging thing. I focus a lot on the process of language learning, but this is also a personal blog. For better or worse, I called this site “Language Surfer” and not “Language Surfing,” so I think it’s fair to talk about the blogger behind the blog.
The site’s readership has grown quite a bit over the last year. I’m on track for hitting 700,000 site visitors in 2015. My books continue to sell on Amazon, and I’ve hit the top seller spot in my category a few times. That’s all very exciting, and I hope LS keeps growing.
I owe the recent bump in readers to time, collaborating with the very talented language learners and bloggers at The Digital Language Collective, and Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months being kind enough to share a few of my posts with his sizable readership.
Before Language Surfer, I wrote for a very popular humor website. A few of my articles there went viral, each grabbing over 75,000 views in 24 hours. Compared to the kind of traffic I get here on LS…well, there’s no comparison.
Overall, I liked the work I was doing there, and I love writing jokes and making people laugh. But I wasn’t always proud of some of the articles I put out. Every writer tries to play to the audience. However–and I realize this sounds cliche but it’s the best way to explain it–there came a point where I wasn’t staying true to myself. Instead, I was writing to please the crowd. I anticipated what the audience wanted and then delivered, regardless of whether that was what I wanted to say.
Here at LS, I’m working very, very hard not to repeat that situation. I do anticipate readers’ needs and wants, but I also try to make sure I’m staying genuine in everything I put out.
Genuine or not, though, one of the problems of becoming more successful is that you become increasingly open to criticism. And critics–there’s often at least a shred of truth in what they’re saying. So when you write an article as honestly and carefully as you can, and an applied linguistics professor posts said article on her professional Facebook page, calls it garbage, and says she’s going to use that article as an example in a presentation of how NOT to learn a language, you can’t help but take a deep sigh and feel a lump in your throat. This isn’t an Internet troll saying you suck. It’s someone with letters after her name. The only solace you take is that people with letters after their name argue with each other all the time.
Also, I suppose it’s human nature to dwell on the negative. For instance, I get plenty of four and five star reviews on my books. I’ll be feeling great about those and then out of nowhere get a one-star review. Guess which one gets my attention?
Criticism is inevitable. I’m far from perfect, everyone comes in with their own perspective, and argument is the lifeblood of the Internet. Sort-of-old joke: How do you get into an argument on the Internet? Say something.
But there are a few things I can say I have going for me. (This is a fine line, by the way. If you talk about your virtues too much, people are put off by your bragging. If you don’t talk about them enough, people assume you don’t know what you’re doing.)
First, I’m honest. What you’re getting on this site is what I really believe and what has really worked for me in my own language learning. Some of my specific opinions may be tweaked over the years, but the core–advocating a well-balanced program combining acquisition, communicative, and traditional strategies executed persistently over time, with special attention paid to listening–remains consistent.
Second, I’m a pretty decent language learner. In language school, I finished second in my Arabic class out of 30 students. When I started working, one year I had the highest proficiency scores out of the hundred or so translators I worked with. I also passed regular performance evals and received awards and letters of appreciation. In college, I won my department’s award for English scholarship, out of a few hundred English majors. And I also taught myself Spanish and German over the last few years, which I’m pretty stoked about. So I think I do have some things to say about language learning that are informed and can be of use to people.
Third, I can communicate complex ideas well. My day job is technical writing and instructional design. I’m pretty well versed at using all the tools at my disposal–plain language, text signaling, separating information by type, basic rhetorical theory, etc.–to get the ideas to you guys clearly and in a way that is useful.
So why am I bringing all this up?
Well, as I hinted earlier, as the site gets more popular, even though the vast, vast majority of comments and interaction I get from you guys is positive, some of the negativity is starting to creep in. And if the site gains more visibility, this is only going to increase. Constructive criticism and differences of opinion are always welcome, but some people just want to bash. “I disagree” is fine. “I disagree because…” is better. “I disagree and you don’t know what you’re talking about and you change your story more than a Michael Brown eyewitness” is insanity. (Yes, someone once said words to that effect to me in the comments because he took exception to my old Rosetta Stone review.)
Also, someone nominated me for this year’s Top 100 Language Lovers contest. (Thank you very much to whoever did that.) This is a great contest that gives language bloggers a lot of publicity. Last year I was also nominated, but I didn’t make it to the Top 25.
But the truth is, while I was pretty excited about the contest in the past, I’m starting to make an effort not to place too much stock in either criticism or praise. This includes not paying too much attention to how I place in a contest. There are plenty of great language bloggers out there. I don’t think I’m better or worse than any of them–just different. I have my own way of doing things and my own things to say, which some people like and some people don’t care for.
Ultimately, I really believe in this site and the work I’m doing here. I’m proud to put Language Surfer on a resume and tell my parents about it and mention it to people I meet. It reflects who I am and what I’m about.
And yes, I will always pay attention to page views and book sales. This site is the front end of a (very small) business, and I’ll always treat it as such. But come on. There are easier ways to make money than blogging about language.That’s not the main reason I’m doing this.
No, what keeps me going is meeting and forming actual relationships with like-minded language lovers, both in the blogging community and in the comments section; helping people who are having trouble figuring out this language puzzle; learning new strategies from you guys; having some accountability for my own language projects; and getting to write and share things that are straight from the gut.
So thank you, everyone, for reading the site, commenting, asking questions, and sharing your stories and perspectives. It would be lame if I didn’t have anyone to talk to. There will come a time when I stop blogging, but now is not that time.