Languages, Writing and Blogging: 2014 in Review

The new year means new beginnings.

The new year means new beginnings.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about finding my path. I’ve been obsessed with language learning for a decade and a half, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always been consistent about language learning, nor does it mean that I have my life figured out in other ways.

Luckily, it turns out that most people don’t feel like they have it “together,” at least as far as I can gather. Nonetheless, I’ve been trying to get it ‘more’ together, and in that spirit, I’ve decided to do an annual review. In this post, I’ve going to discuss the things that went well – and not so well – as related to my writing projects, language learning and developing this whole blog project.


The most obvious thing that went well in the language arena was that I spent five months doing a language course in China, from last March through July. I took a class that was extremely challenging, and I made a lot of progress, especially in my ability to write characters. From a cultural perspective, I learned a bit about Chinese cooking and a lot about Chinese tea. My trips to a Chinese tea house were the highlights of my weeks in China, and I had plenty of opportunities to speak with people and practice Chinese.

On the other hand, I didn’t learn nearly as many characters as I had hoped to learn. I wanted to have learned the 3000 most common characters by the end of 2014, and I’ve failed to do so. My failure to learn the characters can be boiled down to a difficulty with consistent study. I seem to be able to study characters consistently for about a week, and then a fall off the wagon. Consistency really matters in language learning (like learning everything else) and I’ve been struggling to be consistent, especially when there isn’t an external force (aka a teacher) forcing (or shaming) me into constant improvement.

Lastly, I haven’t made any progress in Arabic in 2014. This is something that MUST change in 2015. In 2013 I met with a language partner to practice Arabic every week, but in 2014 I was focusing exclusively on Chinese and let Arabic slip through the cracks.


In addition to this blog, I work as a freelance journalist, and I’ve had some great successes as a journalist this year. First of all, a series that I produced in the fall of 2013 was nominated in the Newspaper Awards, which was incredibly cool. I also wrote a fabulous article about Westerners and Chinese names, which was published in an on-line magazine about language and linguistics called Schwa Fire. I also wrote a short blog post for The Guardian about choosing a Chinese name, which had more practical advice while the Schwa Fire piece was more about storytelling.

I’ve been continuing my work with Worldcrunch, translating the world press (mostly Russian) into English. Because I mostly translate articles from Russian into English, and this year was extremely eventful in the Russian-speaking world, I did more work for Worldcrunch than last year. Also, since October I’ve been writing a weekly newsletter about urbanism around the world, and that has been extremely rewarding.

On the not-so-well side, I did not do a good job pitching stories from China, and I did not do a good job of following up with stories when I pitched them and didn’t get a prompt response. I also didn’t pitch enough stories, in general.

I also continue to lack confidence in my writing. The best way to combat that is to do more writing, so in this next year I’m going to focus on doing as much writing as possible.

The Babel Times

Since starting The Babel Times project, I’ve changed directions many times and, again, struggled to articulate exactly what I wanted from the project. I’ve found more focus in recent months, and I’ve also had a number of successes.

First of all, I recently published an ebook about language learning, that offers a step-by-step approach to language learning that I think many readers will find interesting. Writing this ebook was a big project and it took much longer than I was expecting. But I’m happy with the end product, and ultimately that’s the important thing!

I also moved the whole blog to WordPress. I had been running the site with Drupal, and had been having increasing frustrations. Drupal is a really powerful content management system, but because it has more moving parts and is generally used by more professional developers, I was spending a lot of time on the web development aspects. I had been thinking about moving to WordPress for a while when I discovered that my site had been hacked and I would need to delete everything and start from scratch and/or from a backup. I decided to use the opportunity to move the site to WordPress and redesign the look, and I’m quite happy I did so, although it was a huge pain in the neck.

However, I did have a couple projects that didn’t go so well. I started a book club for foreign language books using, and it was not a success. First of all, there just aren’t enough people who want to meet and talk about foreign language books. Second of all, I wasn’t able to do all the reading, because I had unrealistic expectations about how much reading I would do. I’m going to discontinue the meet ups and call it a learning experience.

I also haven’t had much success increasing traffic to the blog. I struggle with using social media and marketing in general. The good news is I’m paying more attention to my traffic numbers and to marketing in general. The bad news is that I haven’t been able to convert that into better traffic results.

I have a lot of success to celebrate, but also a lot of things to work on in the next year. I’ll be writing more about my concrete goals in a blog post next week, so stay tuned!

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt