In the world of language learning, there are literally tons of books devoted the subject, as well as countless web sites and blogs. There are, however, almost no magazines covering the subject. Rather than complaining about it and wishing there was one, I decided to start my own.
Many years ago, I had started a very basic magazine for UniLang which I called Babel Babble. It was really just a few short articles with news items, poorly laid out on some web pages. This is before blogs became popular with all their slick layouts. Since I was collecting or writing everything in it, creating it took a lot of my time, and I ended it after 8 issues.
The magazine was revived a few years later, with a more formal layout and it had more members contributing. I stayed out of it, wanting it to be a project of the members, but after a year, they were ready to end it because it was too much of an effort to keep running. I took it over and managed to keep it in publication for another ten months, but at that point, I was writing most of the articles for it and I couldn’t continue it and keep working on the website.
Running a Magazine
Indeed, the biggest problem with producing a magazine is the constant need to build more content while sticking to a deadline. With blogs, the author can post anything they want at any time. They don’t need to stick to a fixed deadline if they don’t wish to. However, a magazine is a “periodical”, which means it needs to come out at regular intervals. It also needs to contain a minimum number of articles.
Reaching the quota of articles for a single issue can be a difficult and often frustrating problem for any magazine, whether it is professionally made or done as a hobby. The pattern I’ve seen is that people love the idea of making a magazine. You can get people very excited with the concept, and have lots of people promise they will write articles for it “some time”. Actually collecting those articles is like recovering the Holy Grail, though, for while people make many promises, they also tend to have even more excuses of why they can’t get it for you “this time”. But, they assure you, they will have something for you “next time”.
This didn’t just happen with Babel Babble. I found an attempt of many years before on the site “How To Learn Any Language” in which they were planning to start a language newsletter. Several people expressed excitement at this, and a few promised they would write articles for it. The post ended with the announcement that they didn’t get enough articles to make it happen. (I am drawing this from memory, since a search of HTLAL for this topic now is turning up nothing).
I saw this happen again, this time in UniLang, just before I started Parrot Time. Someone posted that they had the idea to start a language magazine, and a few members told them that such a magazine had been created before, and “failed”. I posted about both versions of it, and gave them some advice based upon what we had done for the previous versions, like where to find free images and how to set up a hidden forum for people to discuss the issues while they were being written.
The three people behind doing the new magazine posted a deadline of one month for people to submit articles. After a month, they revealed they hadn’t received enough articles, so they were extending the deadline for another month. Six weeks after that, they said there would be no magazine because they didn’t get enough submissions for even a first issue.
Why Does This Happen?
Frankly, I don’t understand the logic. I understand that most people really aren’t into writing, and they convince themselves they can’t. What I don’t understand is the people who announce that, sure, they will write an article, but then when the deadline comes up, they have an excuse as to why they can’t. Perhaps they really did plan to, yet couldn’t find the time, but I can’t believe that every single person that promised an article suddenly found out at the end that they couldn’t do it. Moreover, often these same people make another promise to write an article, either for the next issue or for “in the future”, yet still never produce anything. Do they make these promises because they get caught up in the excitement of the project and don’t truly consider the effort it will take? Do they fully intend to write one, or are they simply being deceitful so they can, for a moment, appear to be great helpers, making a promise they know they won’t fulfil?
I would like to think that it is just well intentioned enthusiasm that gets replaced by reality, but I have found at least two instances of flat out lying. One was when, for another magazine I did, one person promised an article. Just before the deadline, they told me that their entire hard drive had crashed, completely destroying all three articles they had written for me.
Now, I can’t prove it was a lie, but the timing of a crash just as a deadline came wasn’t likely. Second, if the person had not just one but three articles, why hadn’t they sent me at least the first two when they were completed? Finally, for those of you that have written articles for anything before, you know that doing the initial writing is the hardest part. Once you have thought it all out and put it into text, you can pretty easily rewrite the basics of it. Yet this person didn’t even attempt to rewrite, giving me some excuse about how they couldn’t remember them, and also never offered another article to me again. It was all very strange, and I never really understood the reasons behind it.
A second time that I found someone being less than honest was with the new UniLang magazine. One person I talked to said they had written an article for it, and now it would never be published. I told the person he could give the article to me, and I would publish it in my new magazine (which had already actually produced two entire issues by this time, so it wasn’t a false promise). He said he would have to find it again, so I waited a few days. When I asked him about it again, he said he couldn’t find it, so I suggested he just check the email he used to send it. That’s when he admitted he had never actually submitted the article. I stopped asking at the point, knowing that there was no article. Since they had extended the deadline for an extra month, then even waited two more weeks after that to announce they wouldn’t be doing the magazine, this guy should have submitted it to them, trying to match the deadline. Knowing he never submitted anything told me there was never anything to submit. So why tell me he had written anything in the first place?
So, if all of what had previously happened pointed to the likelihood that I wasn’t going to get more people writing for a new magazine, and I would end up writing almost everything by myself, again, why would I wish to take on such a task?
First, I was in a better emotional space now. I wasn’t having conflicts with other people about what to build or how to run the site. I also had gained more confidence in my writing abilities, so I knew I could produce better work in a shorter amount of time. Lastly, I started designing the magazine around certain column types that I could easily write for, being things I could research or topics I could write on straight from my head. I always wanted these to be things that weren’t the normal material, like a language or alphabet of the month.
The initial columns I envisioned covered a some areas of my personal interests as well as some that we had used in Babel Babble. One aspect of languages that few people seem aware of are the strange historical artifacts. While few language enthusiast know what the Rosetta Stone is, beyond an expensive piece of software, not as many have heard of the Voynich Script, Linear A and B, and Rongorongo. I decided I could explore some of those. For the linguist side, I wanted to look at some famous linguists, their lives, and their work. Cultural interests could be met with articles on various celebrations around the world. Entertainment would be addressed with language related film reviews. Pure language interests would have a column on some of the endangered languages of the world. Literature would have its place in a column on famous authors that were used in street names for the Parleremo site. For the travellers, a simple contest in which a reader had to guess the city and country depicted in a picture and described in a few paragraphs. I also had a series of articles in my head that I wanted to write on the different language learning methods. These were all topics which could be used every month.
With this list in mind, I started writing.