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Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

I know just enough Japanese and Spanish to get myself in trouble online.

Sometimes, I practice my language skills by surfing the web, looking for education blogs or articles in my weak languages. Finding them isn’t that hard. Navigating from the first page is where I get into trouble. There’s a visual aspect to web literacy that I don’t really have outside of my native English. I’m never sure if links will take me to another page, or to a totally unrelated site (via ads that come with “free” blogs) or to a check out page for something I unintentionally put in my cart.

Clearly, I’m not the audience for these sites, and that’s OK. I don’t expect blogs written by native speakers for other native speakers to be easy for me (a very non-native speaker). But, when I find sites that seem to be aimed at foreign language learners, with the same minefield of outside links to dating services, product sales, and goodness-knows-what-else, I have to wonder–who do those authors think they’re talking to?

All communication consists of a speaker, a message, and an audience. Teachers juggle these three points of the communication triangle every time we plan a class. We choose the part of our experience (teaching skills) and knowledge (subject) that best enables our message (the point of a lesson–whether determined by learner or teacher choice) to reach our audience (students). For example, a lesson about making requests would probably look quite different with a class of businessmen than with a class of elementary school children.

When I started Teaching Village, I asked myself the same question–who do I think I’m talking to? 

My primary audience is non-native English teachers of young learners. There are already plenty of excellent education blogs written by native speakers for other native speakers. However, most of the teachers I’ve met in my travels over the past 20 years are non-native speakers of English. Most teachers of young learners around the world are non-native speakers of English. Some are more skilled in English than I am, but many are not.

This doesn’t really affect my message. I write about what interests me as a teacher (professional development, social networking, and teaching) and hope that it interests other teachers as well (whether English is their first, second, or other language). I imagine my message will evolve as I grow, since I’m as much a work in progress as my blog.

It does affect my layout. I want to keep my blog a “safe” place for teachers who might not be any better with visual web literacy in English than I am in languages other than English. So, no ads. No shopping carts to accidently stumble into. 

I try to limit the number of links and widgets in my sidebar, to keep the pages easy to navigate.I try to list blogs in my blogroll that are also safe (no ads, or few and not prominent). Currently, I separate the blogs into two categories–English as a Foreign Language (EFL) blogs (written by teachers of young learners) and professional development (written by educators who may not teach young learners, but still offer useful information).

How about you? If you blog, who are you trying to talk to? Do you do anything to make it easier for your message to reach your audience?

If your blog fits my criteria (you blog about teaching EFL to young learners or about EFL in general, and have few or no advertisements) please contact me with a link to your blog so I can consider adding it to my blogroll.

Oh, and if you happen to know non-native English teachers who might like to read about education topics in English, but are nervous about English language web browsing, feel free to send them my way. I’d love to meet them, and promise not to set them up with a blind date or sell them anything.

6 Comments

  1. ShellTerrell says:

    Barbara,
    Another great post with practical advice for new bloggers. I have been contemplating the ads myself after having some people tell me that my recent numbers would be great for it! I have weighed the costs/ benefits and purpose of my blog which is for professional development. To this end I will keep my blogs Ad Free as well! Not even a SecondLife blind date? LOL!

  2. Very interesting post, Barbara and enjoyed reading your viewpoint.

    I do fall into the category of those with some ads on my page. I try to keep them all towards one end of the page and via my content, pray that no dating ads show up!

    Unfortunately it’s all down to google and what you write about re what shows up on the page.

    Placing ads on my site is actually part of a strategy, regarding your “who are you talking to?” question you asked – I have had a number of (too many) e-learning/technology companies who have approached me with requests to have links on my blog.

    HOWEVER they want to have this advertising space without paying for the privilege!

    This annoys me hugely as the blog is an enormous part of my life and an uncountable number of hours go into it.

    So even though I write the blog out of pleasure, aiming at teachers -therefore 99% of my blog is related to only teaching issues and provides other useful links on TEFL, I decided to send a very clear message to those companies looking for a place to advertise their work – that simply just because I’m a language teacher doesn’t mean that I’m an idiot who would give away the cow for free ;-).

    If they do have a product or service aimed at our industry, I have no objections to placing their banner – but they should pay for it, just like they do to have an ad in a magazine or newsletter.

    Well, I’ve been rambling on – hope that’s a slight explanation regarding the route some bloggers take regarding advertising on their pages!

    Karenne

  3. Ozge Karaoglu says:

    You have mentioned really good and important points on your blog, Barbara. I like widgets and a crowded blogroll but I still try to keep everything look neat and clean =)
    BTW, Your post has also reminded me the ads on my blog. I should be a edublog supporter very soon =)

  4. Barbara says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments Shelly, Karenne, and Ozge. I’m not actually against ads on blogs, perse. I just think whether or not to include them should be part of a conscious consideration of the people we hope to reach with our blogs. Clearly, Karenne, including ads is an active part of your strategy, so has obviously been thought through.

    If I limited my blogroll only to blogs that didn’t include ads, it would be a much shorter list, and I’d be eliminating some of my favorite blogs (the three of you included!). So, it’s not an all or nothing situation for me, either.

    But, I would probably not link to a blog whose main aim was to sell materials or subscriptions–as much as I respect the person maintaining the website, or as good as the materials may be. That one was a hard decision, as there are some very good sites that either sell materials directly, or depend on ad revenue to provide lesson materials. But, I just have to remember the feeling I had on similar sites in my weak languages and I feel better about the choices I’ve made :-)

  5. Hi Barbara,

    I find myself in agreement with a lot of what you have to say here.

    We tried using ads on our lesson blog for a while, but decided to pull them at the beginning of the month because we weren’t happy with some of the ads that were being displayed, and blogger didn’t allow us enough control over the process to weed out the irrelevant/inappropriate ones out.

    I’d pretty much decided that having ads on the blog wasn’t working before reading your post, but it’s always good to get another perspective and it did help confirm that we’d made the right decision, so thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. :-)

    Sue

  6. Barbara says:

    Thanks, Sue. Inappropriate (or embarrassing) ads were a big reason I decided to purchase a domain. I didn’t want anyone to think I endorsed some of the things being sold. But, I know that having free blog hosting makes it possible for more teachers to share their thoughts, and the ads are a fair enough trade off. There’s no simple answer–just a process of continually evaluating our audience and aims, I guess.