Yesterday, I wrote an analogy of comparing blogging to dancing, and how it helps to know the steps, but I also addressed the issue of blogging in your native language compared to blogging in English.
Words carry a responsibility. They convey meaning. They reek with intent. Change a word and you change the meaning.
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. While teaching English to a doctor in Israel, we practiced how to ask for directions on the street. After many attempts to stop a passerby, he came up with, “Excuse me, can you please help me?”
In the execution, as I “passed by” in the imaginary street of my apartment, map in hand he called out, “Excuse me, can you please me?”
One word, or the lack thereof, changed the whole intent. Such is the risk one takes when they write in a language in which they lack the appropriate fluency.
A person writing in a language that is not their own, especially when those words are published for all to read, may bear a responsibility to their readers to disclose that the language in the blog is not their native language, thus, giving readers a chance to forgive them before they correct them. Once we know, we are a very forgiving lot. If we don’t know, we can be a vicious gang with our attacks.
Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.
Do you blog in your non-native language? How fluent are you really? Should you disclose your fluency level to your readers, just in case you say “can you please me” when you mean “can you please help me”?
Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day.
Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.
I love word games and playing with words, such as Discworld author, Terry Pratchett, is famous for in his books. Language is an art form, allowing us to whip and whirl words around on paper or screens, conveying the same message with a thousand different words.
With all the magic familiarity with a language can bring, what does a blogger lose by not blogging in their native language?
Struggling With a Language That Is Not Your Own
If a blogger blogs not in their own native language, they may be blogging to an audience outside of the country, not within. Is this a loss? Maybe.
When you blog to your community, in their language, you can use colloquial phrases that brings familiarity and even respect. You know what you are talking about, and you are talking to your neighbors and fellow citizens in terms and phrases familiar and natural.
There is an ease in communicating with familiar words, instinctively playing around with the language. An Israeli actress friend of mine, who often puts on performances for children, adores coming up with phrases that express the poetry of sounds with words in Hebrew. My earlier phrase “whip and whirl words” would be a prize example of the sounds moving the words around as well as the words moving. Only long experience with phrasing and expertise with a language brings such expressive displays.
It’s easier to blog in your own language. You don’t have to struggle to think of the words, or say 20 words to make your point because you don’t know the three words that would sum up the point concisely. When you really get stuck on a word, you end up in the dictionary, and your choices aren’t always the best.
My English student was working on translating a recipe as part of his homework and instead of “sliced carrots”, he wrote “slaughtered carrots”. While technically the words mean the same, they imply dramatically different acts with a knife. When you are dependent upon a dictionary, or even a thesaurus, you may not make the best choice without consulting someone more familiar with the nuances of the language.
Disconnecting From Your Community
You may also be one of the few blogging on this subject in your language. Don’t your fellow citizens deserve access to your expertise in their language?
At WordCamp Israel, many told me they wanted to blog in English to reach the global community. I asked a few if there was someone blogging on this subject in Hebrew. One person made a joke and said, “No one in Israel is interested in this.” I took it seriously. “How do you know for sure?”
If someone is interested in your blogging subject outside of your country, then the odds are someone needs the information in your country.
When exploring your market and blogging niche, how many in your country/language are blogging on your subject matter?
I meet a brilliant potter and blogger from the Botz Pottery who told me that he is only one of three potters in the entire country with a blog. I was astounded. There are many potteries in Israel. I’ve crawled through many, sifting through their wares and spending all my money on their lovely pieces I treasure. I even took a pottery class once. It never occurred to me that there wouldn’t be blogging potters. It’s a very tiny niche – and very valuable one.
Anyone searching in Hebrew for information on pottery would only have three choices for quality information, but which one would be actually blogging about making pottery, not selling it? Which ones would be educating others about the skill of pottery? That would further shrink the field, wouldn’t it?
When you take your blogging outside of your community, you risk losing an opportunity to become the local expert. By being a local expert, you can grow your expertise globally, but if you are an expert globally, it’s hard to shrink back into a small community.
Getting No Respect Back Home
Such was the lesson learned by a dear friend of mine, an Israeli citizen with dual citizenship in the United States. His great-grandfather and grandfather helped start what is now a large town in Israel, so his connections and support of his home country are vast. A child prodigy, he stopped his international classical piano concert career to join the US Army in World War II from Israel, defending the country from the German invasion, then returned to the piano as a professor and international performer. While living and working in the United States, he was accused of shipping arms to Israel during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, which was true, even though the charges were eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence.
After years of familial and international effort to support his homeland, when he retired back to Israel, even though he had taught by invitation in Israel and was still teaching and consulting internationally, he was refused permission to work in Israel. They told him “Isn’t it enough you had a famous international career outside of Israel? Why do you want to work here? Do it for free.” He told them he still needed to eat. They denied him permission and continue to do so, even though he is now a permanent resident, supporting the arts silently instead of publicly.
As the saying goes, you get no respect in your home town. Unless you give to them first, and put them first, before you head out for wider territories.
When you blog in a language that is not your own, are you willing to take these risks?