Essay: A Reflection on Whether I Should Continue Blogging

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.

  • Owain Clarke

    There’s a story in one of the Eastern mystical traditions. A monk was on a journey when he came to a lake. There was a small island on the lake and he could hear someone chanting on the island, and the chant was wrong. He saw a boat and he rowed out and told this person their mistake. They thanked him and started chanting just as he told them to. But as he rowed back he could hear the chant returning to its original, incorrect form. As he tied up the boat he looked round and saw the man walking towards him across the water, calling out “Excuse me – I’ve forgotten it. Please tell me what I should be doing.”

    The point is, Ron, that if what you are doing is effective then it really doesn’t matter whether other people criticise you or not. Just get on with walking on water and leave the rowing boat to critics!

    • Ron G.

      LOL, that is an awesome story! Thanks for the perspective and the encouragement, Owain. (I know I don’t walk on water, though. …unless language “surfing” counts…hmm.)

  • Roman Shinkarenko

    The worst part with criticism is when you feel it’s justified, so you have no right to make any comeback at all. It’s a very ego-destroying experience. I wish you (and me, and others) to have less such experiences in the future.

    • Ron G.

      Absolutely! I’m wrong all the time. And sometimes, especially when it comes to theory or gray areas, there are times when “right” and “wrong” are up for debate. When my position gets annihilated, I’m like, okay, why am I doing this again? hahaha

      • Roman Shinkarenko

        “A very popular humor website”.
        I hope not the one I’m thinking about, because that one is very obscene.

        • Ron G.

          I doubt it, but I told my share of dirty jokes. Yo, I was a sailor, after all. LOL. But that’s one reason why I keep my language and subject matter in check here–because I want as many people as possible to feel welcome and language learning is a positive thing in my life, and I want that positivity to be reflected in the site.

  • Hitrizie

    Keep blogging Ron…

    • Ron G.

      Thanks, Hitri!

  • Bryan

    In my experience, at least in the engineering field, people with letters after their names tend to over think things. Generally, if it doesn’t conform to what they have learned from a text book, then it can’t be right. Based on your language learning background, I wouldn’t worry too much about what she said. Keep sharing what you know works for you, many of us here find it very useful.

    Did she at least offer reasons why she disagreed with your approach to language learning?

    • Ron G.

      Thanks, Bryan, I appreciate it. She did, and her reasoning was pretty sound (which, as Roman pointed out, is the worst, lol).

      With that particular case, it really felt like a matter of which Kool-Aid you were drinking. The attitude reminded me of people who get *really* caught up in fitness or nutrition trends. “Program [X] is better and these studies/anecdotes prove it, and how could you think otherwise?”

      Part of this is making sure I keep my attitude right as I go forward. My first and only creative writing class in college was workshop-based, in the tradition of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It was immensely useful to be critiqued by 20 or so people all semester, and I undoubtedly improved. But a little of that goes a long way. Once you start trying to head off all criticism, you stop writing true.

  • Red/

    I got to know your blog only a few months ago, and it became one of my favourite 5 that I check every week regularly. :)
    I believe the fact of referring from your point of view, how learning language is affected by your everyday life, commitments, etc. it makes more realistic and human the process of practice something (a skill or whatever). It’s a plus.

    I fear those with letters after their names, saying there is only one correct procedure, it does remind me public administration mindset: “the only effective way”… … :-(

    • Ron G.

      I appreciate it, Red, and I’m really glad you’re finding the site useful.

      I feel like that too. I’m always excited to try new ideas, even if they sound wacky. I’m a lot more interested in trying things out and discussing the pros and cons of the experience rather than trying to find the “one way.”

  • Agnieszka Karch

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ron. It’s a shame that some people out there are so eager to criticise just for the sake of criticising. I wonder whether they would do that offline/in a lecture theatre full of other people. Probably not!

    I love your blog. I’ve always come here to read original, thoughtful, funny and engaging stuff about the passion we, language geeks, share. I’ve shared your blog posts with my followers because I think they’re valuable for anyone looking for tips and encouragement in pursuing their language dream. So, haters gonna hate, as they say, but you should keep on blogging, Ron – you’re doing a great job! Take care :)

    • Ron G.

      Thank you, Agnieszka! I really appreciate it. :)

  • mark Novak

    I have been learning French without taking a formal class, so I look to the internet for answers. Your outline on how to learn is close to what other people I respect suggest (with some small differences). What I like about your short book is that you give reasonable explainations and outlines on how to follow a process to learn. I think learning a language requires finding a plan of action you like and sticking it (like yours). Similar to learning how to Nordic ski fast, there are several ways to go about it and not one way is the ‘best’. What does matter is that you believe in the plan and stay with it. I happen to think that your ideas will work (I have reviewed other such plans) and I will be sticking with your suggestions. Thank you for helping me out.

    • Ron G.

      Thank you, Mark, for the feedback and I’m really glad the book is helping. I love the skiing example. I like to look at athletics myself, because as you pointed out, different coaches and athletes have different approaches, each of which has its pros and cons.

      Good luck with your French! If you need help with tweaking your routine, even just to brainstorm ideas, feel free to contact me at

  • James Hall

    Ron, please don’t focus on the critics. It’s really just part of success. Your blog and insights are truly amazing — Keep pumping it up and do not let them win.

    • Ron G.

      Appreciate it, James. I’m going to take your advice and keep the energy high going forward. 😀

  • Chiara Grandola

    Ron, that’s such a beautiful, honest and heartfelt essay.

    I’m always looking forward to your posts and, when I read the title of this one, I got kinda scared.

    Your blog is authentic, you share real life experiences and in-depth articles. You’re doing an incredible and impressive work. You’re passionate about what you do and it shows.

    I love the fact that you’re so open and genuine with your readers. I appreciate you even more for that.

    It’s human nature to dwell on the negative, like you said. It happens to me a lot.
    Critiques are a natural consequence of success, though. That’s why you should just focus on how popular your blog is getting. You inspire people to keep on learning languages and you offer valuable and useful tips, resources and techniques.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing. You rock!

    “There will come a time when I stop blogging, but now is not that time.” *sigh of relief*

    • Ron G.

      Didn’t mean to leave you in that much suspense! :)

      Thanks, Claire, I really appreciate the kind words and the support. Part of this is just me getting over it and steeling myself for being…not a public figure, but someone who puts himself out there. It can be scary at times, honestly.

      When I hear that people think I’m doing good work and providing a useful service, I feel like I’m not just being delusional or overconfident. Makes it worth it, yes.

      Thank you!

  • Natalie

    Oh my, woe is me for not reading this post earlier! (I didn’t get a chance to go through my RSS reader until tonight.) Please DON’T quit blogging. I love your entries, I like hearing tips and advice, and I like the personality you put into your posts. Oh, and that guest post I wrote for you was one of the most fun things I’ve written in a long time.

    There was a small linguistics program at the university I went to. I met the professor in charge of it once—a friend introduced us because he speaks Russian and obviously I do, too. We talked for a while about the subject, which is one I’m still not an expert in. One thing he said stuck in my mind: that linguists study languages themselves, NOT how to learn them, and often they don’t really speak that many languages. He was the exception, as he spoke four fluently enough to teach and publish articles in and a couple others well enough to have conversations with random strangers. He lamented that the linguistics field is the way it is: he said he wished more linguistics professors actually learned some foreign languages to fluency.

    My point is: don’t despair at what that rude professor said. How many languages does she speak fluently? Are they as varied as the languages you know? (Seriously, you have a language from most of the major language families, minus Slavic, which means I must slowly convert you to the idea of learning Russian, but that’s a discussion for another time, haha.) My guess is the answers to my questions are “1 or 2” and “definitely not,” respectively.

    • Ron G.

      Thank you, Natalie. :)

      “Rude” is a fair word. That comment (and a dozen or so more, both on and off my site) made me double-down on my own Internet citizenry. When I started out with blogging, I tested the waters with some negative comments, and I felt gross about it, so I cleaned up. But this is a good reminder to me to do my best not to bash other people’s work. I only have one excessively negative review on the site, which is a discussion for another day, but it’s been on my mind with all this reflection.

      Slavic languages are intimidating to me! Sound fun though. :) I take that big test in a couple weeks, but after that I’m thinking a 100-day Tagalog experiment. Really, really need to get that monkey off my back.

      • Natalie

        Yeah, the internet is so full of negativity. I do my best not to contribute to it. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with another person’s language learning method. Heck, I do that all the time! For example, some people swear by parallel texts. I can’t stand them. Some people don’t like flashcards, but they’ve helped me immensely over the years.

        I guess I’m just trying to say that some people can be so nasty online and I’ve never understood why they’re like that.

  • Jorge Sivit

    Hey, Ron, you scared me with that title!

    How to deal with non-constructive criticism? My go-to when I can’t understand something and I need to deal with it is gratitude. Just become as humble as I can bear and try to see what I can learn from it and be thankful for it (easier said than done). As you wrote in one comment, it may be a good reminder to you to do your best not to bash other people’s work. Or, even if the way someone criticised you was rude, you can still learn the good ideas it may contain.

    For me reading about that concrete critic reminds me of how lucky we are nowadays, because we can easily get information from people “with no letters after their name”. I can’t imagine if I had to wait for you and other bold bloggers to acquire titles to be eligible to write in a specialised magazine I may not even know about… But I can understand this may upset people who have been studying just to get those letters and the rights they think come with them. They may be jealous. Just don’t let them stop you!

    I like the way you talk about language learning on Language Surfer. And I can’t tell why, but your posts exhale honesty and authenticity. And as far as I have read, you speak about your virtues, but you explain your problems and what didn’t work for you too. Thank you!
    I hope you keep on blogging for many years!

    Do you know this quote (by Theodore Roosevelt):
    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    • Ron G.

      Hi Jorge, thanks for your thoughts and the compliments. I think you’re right–there’s usually *something* you can get out of criticism that will help you improve, somehow. I’ll try to find that.

      It’s a tough balancing act. It takes a certain ego to be a writer and more of the same to brush off criticism. But I never want to ignore criticism altogether, because I *know* I have a lot to learn from other people.

      Back on the grind. :)

  • Aaron O

    I have not written a comment before, but I’ve been an avid reader for about a year and a half. I started studying Spanish nearly two years ago completely on my own, and have reached B2/C1 proficiency and am hoping to take the DELE C1 exam this year. Despite what some “expert” might say, I can confirm that I’ve used the same methods you espouse, and can write professional papers, sit and chat with natives, or listen to audiobook novels quite comfortably. I check in multiple times a week (and noticed most new posts are on Sunday), and have always enjoyed your articles.

    YOU are part of what makes language learning fun for me and keeps me motivated. You are, of course, not receiving anything from me to do the work you do, but I should tell you that you are one of the motivating factors for at least one language learner out there. After reading an article, I just want to jump back in twice as hard with my learning. I really appreciate the effort you put into this blog, and I’m sorry for not leaving a comment sooner to say that.

    • Ron G.

      Aaron, I really appreciate you stopping by, and I’m very glad to hear the site helps motivate you.

      Something I didn’t bring up earlier…the site isn’t everyone’s cup of tea–which is fine! I totally understand. It’s geared more at serious language learners, people who make this a lifestyle. But at the same time, it’s not heavy on linguistics, polyglotism, or any particular theory, so some of the serious language learners aren’t interested either.

      I still figured that there are people out there who are like me, and reading your post makes me realize there are. When I hear that the site helps people in any way, it does make this worth it.
      Good luck on your exam! Please let me know how it goes.

  • Shannon Kennedy

    I love this post. Thank you for opening up about your process here and your honest experiences with criticism. It’s a very real part of being a part of any public forum and I appreciate your sharing your positive and negative experiences. I enjoy reading your language learning posts and discovering what works for other language learners. I am glad you’ve decided to continue blogging.

    • Ron G.

      Hi Shannon! Thanks for the kind words and the support. It’s really appreciated. :)

  • Phil

    I don’t know how I missed this when it was posted, but the title grabbed my attention and I read it almost as quickly as I’ve been reading posts from various Game of Thrones bloggers about last night’s finale.

    Anyway, I figured you had decided to continue, since you’re still at it, but I was still glad to read that you don’t intend to stop. Again, after last night’s GOT finale, I can only take so many surprise endings at a time lol.

    I enjoy studying both languages and linguistics, so I’ve read a fair amount of books and articles by and for linguists. Here’s my take: I think it’s a fascinating field (or I wouldn’t choose to read about it), but linguists approach languages very differently from the way language learners (and good language teachers) approach languages. That isn’t a criticism, it’s just a fact. Does that mean that a linguist cannot be a highly capable language instructor? Of course not, but that really isn’t their speciality.

    I see linguists as more theoretical and analytic, while language learners and teachers are more practical. I value both, I have learned a great deal from both, but if one wants to learn a language, one does *not* need to be a linguist, and theories that various linguists have about language acquisition are interesting, but not necessarily relevant to someone who wants to learn a language.

    I think I’ve told you this before, but I’m going to repeat it. I have studied a variety of foreign languages since I was a kid, using a variety of programs and approaches, including courses in middle and high school and at the university level, audio programs, self-teaching books, Duolingo, apps, etc. In all of that time, I have never encountered anything that came close to the comprehensive and direct approach that you offer language learners. I saw bits and pieces resembling it here and there, but nobody else put it together the way that you did. I’m not saying it’s never been done, I’m just saying I never came across it, and when I saw what you had done, I was blown away. It just makes sense and my own experiences as a language learner are highly consistent with what you have written about the way language learning *really* happens.

    Your flexible approach to fluency is both intelligent and liberating, and it removes the intimidation factor that blocks so many people from even trying. Your ideas and suggestions for supplementing a basic language course are all very well-chosen and designed to encourage learners and keep them motivated.

    If a “professional” linguist found all of this so threatening that she felt compelled to post it as the way *not* to learn a language, I wouldn’t be too worried about. If she’s got the silver bullet herself, she should put it out there and we could all learn from it, but of course there is no silver bullet, and you’ve never once claimed that you have all the answers.

    Sorry this is so long, but you are doing a hell of a service to the language learning community and while nobody is perfect, there is more than one way for someone to express their questions or disagreements. Just keep doing what you’re doing, knowing that so many of us are constantly learning from you and having fun doing it!

    • Ron G.

      Phil, that’s incredibly nice of you to say and I’m really blown away by the compliment. Thank you very much.

      I really do try to be flexible with all this because I’ve seen different things work with different people, and I’m trying to make sense of all this as much as anyone else. When I take an authoritative tone, it’s because it makes for better writing, not because I have any delusions. lol

      I’m so glad you’re having fun with the site. I cover a lot of the boring stuff that doesn’t appeal to casual learners, but a lot of this stuff is fun to me. Nice to know I’m not alone. Really, meeting so many like-minded people, such as yourself, has been an unexpected benefit to blogging.

    • Ron G.

      Hey, Phil, I’m starting a testimonials page for the site. Would you mind if I quoted some of what you wrote above?

      • Phil

        I’d be honored. Feel free to use whatever you’d like!