Is there an easy way to blog in a different language?

March 16, 2009 4 comments

Last week I wrote a post for Darren Rowse’s Problogger site on How to Blog for a Global Audience. There were a lot of good comments which you can read on the post, if you’re interested.

The part which provoked the most discussion was on how to make your blog available in different languages. Many of you are interested in being able to blog in different languages and it makes sense. If you blog in English, around 30% of the online population can understand what you write. If you blog in English, Spanish and Chinese, you reach over half of the online world.

So how can you publish your blog in different languages? Especially if you don’t happen to know Spanish or Chinese? (since you’re reading this I’m assuming you know English). In the post I suggest that if you have not got another option then using a translation plugin or widget on your site could be something to consider.

A lot of commentors quite rightly pointed out that machine translation is no substitute for either blogging directly into another language, or using a professional translator. A machine translation will help you to understand what an article is about, but you will need perseverance, imagination and a lot of patience to decipher some of the finer points. It’s useful if there is no other option but can only really be counted as a last resort.

As far as using a professional translator goes, for a commercial website this is a must. But if we are talking about making your blog available in many different languages is it really practical? Professional translation costs money, and let’s face it, most blogs don’t make enough to pay for those services. Some blogs rely on volunteer translators – Global Voices Online has a large network of volunteers who translate posts into different languages. But I guess most blogs just don’t have access to this kind of service.

Some bloggers do blog directly in different languages. Collazo Projects publishes most posts in both English and Spanish (it helps that they are a US/Cuban husband and wife team) and Benny Lewis (who calls himself the Irish Polyglot) makes 7 versions of each post in his videoblog in 7 different languages! Of course for this you have to know a different language well enough to be able to blog in it, and you can only blog in languages you know. I’m guessing there are very few people in the world who happen to be able to write in all 3 of the top Internet languages.

So what is the solution? There are many different languages around on the Internet, and only a few polyglot people can pass between these different ‘worlds’. How can we help these different worlds to talk to each other?

On PocketCultures we wrote recently about an interesting project in China where a group of volunteers translate The Economist magazine into Chinese every week.

Are these kind of projects the way forward? Is there a better solution? What do you think?

Read more:
The world’s most difficult languages
How difficult is Chinese?
World language families

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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  • JoAnne

    I think the best way is to write the blog in the language yourself…not only will it be beneficial and attract more readers, but it will help you improve your own language skills. So it’s a win-win situation.

  • Blogging in two languages (English & Spanish) has been so beneficial to us for many reasons. First, from a strictly quantitative perspective, bilingual (or multilingual blogs) attract a broader audience. But beyond the quantitative value is the true value– with the expanded readership comes more diversity of experience and a richer conversation, which is what our blog is all about: starting and sustaining conversations.

    It’s also the most authentic form of conversation and communication for us. We’re a fully bilingual couple, but Francisco prefers to write in Spanish and I prefer to write in English– so we’re capturing the true spirit of our thoughts in our first languages, then working together to translate that same spirit into the other language.

    A friend has recommended a plug-in, but as a translator, I know that something would inevitably get lost in translation.

    Thanks for this conversation!

  • Hey – thanks for mentioning my blog :)
    I wish I was “bilingual” in each of those languages, but I use my website to keep my level up and maintain fluency. People send me corrections all the time and I run the script of non-English videos through native speakers before publishing them (since that is uneditable later). So I always encourage people to try blogging in multiple languages to try to practise them. I also twitter in 7 languages (a different account for each language; otherwise people would get annoyed and I’d have no followers!)
    Instead of hiring a professional translator (outside of most people’s budget), you can collaborate with a native Spanish/French etc. speaker. They can maintain a somewhat separate site based on translations of your posts, or you can give them editing access to your site, and I’m sure payment that both parties are happy with can easily be reached. Professional translators are required for publishing official documents (that’s what I get paid for), but easy-to-read blogs are something that a non-professional can produce a good translation of as long as they have good working knowledge of English. Just note that it should be a native of the language they are writing whenever possible.
    I recommend the plug-in gengo for WordPress-based blogs. It has NOTHING to do with automatic translation, but makes managing a multilingual blog so easy, and completely transparent to the user (i.e. if you type my blog’s base address into a browser, you will see the entire site just in your browser’s default language if it is available, no language selection necessary). It’s very easy to manage, and would be ideal for multiple authors writing in multiple languages.

    The biggest advantage has been in terms of SEO. For example, if you search for “Burning Man” in Google Spain, my documentary about it is on page one! That’s quite a position for the “3rd biggest Internet language” as you put it, for an important search term (Burning Man is a festival in the states). I didn’t even do much work to get it there. Getting that kind of position in English is so much harder, but the audience for Spanish etc. is still huge. This means that a great amount of traffic to my site is from non-English Google searches (even more impressive when you consider that my site does not actually have a lot of word-based content).
    I even got on the front page of meneame, the Spanish version of Digg. It’s a lot easier to get on that front page than Digg, and you still get thousands of views for the hours that it’s on the front page.

    By the way, today (St. Patrick’s Day) is also Lá na Gaeilge (Day of the Irish language). To commemorate it, I’ve posted a video I already made in other languages about what RSS is, in Irish Gaelic; with English subtitles! Check it out if you like, and see how Dotsub, the video hosting site, lets you add in selectable subtitles within the embedded video. It’s a much easier solution for video bloggers if they wish to show one video in multiple languages. You upload it once, add (English) subtitles and then the community (or you) can add translation subtitles, which are selected within that window.
    Thanks again for starting this interesting discussion on both Problogger and on your site!

  • Thanks all for joining the conversation – some interesting points.

    JoAnne – I agree, blogging is an ideal way to practise your language skills and this is a great way to look at it. I think you and Irish Polyglot agree on this :) I think native English speakers especially are timid about this – we are not used to using foreign languages as much as non-native speakers have to, and so fear that we have to be perfect before trying to blog in another language.

    Julie – thanks for sharing your experience. Hopefully blogs like yours can help to bridge the gaps between the different ‘Internet worlds’. What a great way to explore each other’s language too. My husband and I have different mother tongues (English and Italian). It amazes me how many nuances there are, even when you know a language well!

    IP – some great practical tips here. I hope people like you will encourage more to try using different languages. I especially like the idea of collaborating with native speakers of other languages – we’re hoping to do something similar with PocketCultures in the future. Happy St Patricks day!