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Blogging Outside of Your Community By Not Blogging in Your Native Tongue

Blogging Outside of Your Community By Not Blogging in Your Native Tongue

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.
~Oscar Wilde

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.
~Terry Pratchett

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?”

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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?

View Comments (14)
  • That’s a great post, Lorelle. Incidentally, I’m blogging and writing in English, while Swedish is my native language. Overall, I must say that most readers are supportive, and should I do a “can you please me” mistake (which I might have done already, who knows?), I’m sure most of them would be understanding.

    It’s an interesting topic, I can’t wait to hear what others have to say about it.

  • Lorelle, I “stumbled” upon your blog just now, and was very impressed with this post. I often find blogs like you describe here, and although I’m initially interested in their blog posts, it is very disappointing to have to sometimes try to interpret their meaning. Whether it be by spelling errors, or as you mentioned, various grammar mistakes, good posts can turn into ones that cause readers to quickly leave and never return. Thanks for this great post.

  • This is an interesting topic indeed. My native language is Dutch yet I chose to blog in English. Why?
    – The New Media Theory “niche” is small, thus by blogging in Dutch I would narrow down my potential audience to only a handful of people.
    – I attend and cover a lot of conferences which are usually in English and I take my notes in English.
    – Almost everything I read, write and discuss at the University and in my professional field is in English.

    While initially it would seem that “It’s easier to blog in your own language” I am currently experiencing it is not that easy. I recently blogged about a Dutch publication on New Media Culture in the Netherlands and I was struggling to find the right words in my native language.

    I was recently asked to guest blog on a Dutch blog which I am really looking forward to, but blogging in Dutch feels so odd. I am still discovering my personal blogging voice in English but I haven’t had any practice in Dutch yet.

    I feel the same way as Thord about blogging in a different language than my native language. I feel rather comfortable writing in English but odd translations and/or errors might slip in now and then. I also hope that my readers will understand and help me by pointing out mistakes. I once received an email from a reader that pointed out a mistake, I thought that was really thoughtful and helpful.

  • I am glad I did not see this post before I started blogging. My native language is Finnish but the reason I started my blog was a company named Conceptispuzzles in Israel. I have been their great fan for almost three years and during this time contributed to their forums where English is the natural language to use. I had many enjoyable e-mail conversations with the staff and the members of the community all over the world. After I visited the people in Israel Gil Galanti, the Marketing Manager of Conceptis, encouraged me to start blogging about the same things I had written earlier in my e-mails and forum posts. My first reaction was to turn down the whole idea and the reason for that was my Finnish teacher in high school who had told me that my text is too boring to read.

    However I took the risk and found out that writing can actually be fun. Gil was my advisor in technical details and he will always remember how he turned a reluctant writer to a successful blogger.

    In addition of this puzzling hobby I have continued my post master studies in mathematics and the language of advanced courses is also English. Both of these worlds contain very many words which have never been translated to Finnish.

    I think that people accept my errors knowing my background. It would be much worse blogging in Finnish. There are very few people who can write without making mistakes even with their native language and those mistakes are considered unforgivable. This is causing me constant distress; you are judged very hard when using bad Finnish but speaking rubbish concerning mathematics is totally understandable!

    The culture between Israel and Finland is huge. The Israeli people are very friendly and polite. The Finnish habit is mostly criticising. People would not comment on blogs thanking for good stories but when they would disagree with me the comments could be very rude.

    I also blog in Finnish to my students but writing in Finnish is very much harder than using English. I don’t even expect any other people than my students to read that blog and thus I don’t have to worry so much about the attraction of the blog.

    Finland has the population of 5.2 million people and too few of them are interested in Japanese puzzles, not to mention mathematics. My only chance to interact with people with the same interests is using English.

  • Hey folks,
    I also came across with your post about blogging in a language that differs from your mother tongue.

    Here is my point: I have been trying to blog in German and English.

    In general, I decide the language, either German or English, considering the audience I want to reach out. Having that in mind, I make the right decision, because various topics address to a rather international level.

    Sometimes, I do compare German and English sayings. So here I provide both, German and English speakers, with information that is fairly interesting for both sides.

    Finally, I wouldn’t say that it should be up to the blogger what language they use for their entries. I like your approach and I will most definitely consider it. I might even blog about it. What language, oh I don’t know yet.

  • Interesting point. Especially, because I changed from English back to German about a year ago and to be honest, it was a bad decision and I am still suffering from this decision.

    The main problem, I think, is the topics! If you are into blogging, blogs, web 2.0, and all the fancy stuff out there, you automatically have a need to write in English. Take my homecountry for example: You can find information about services like flickr, tumblr, general news about blogs and so on now – and it’s November 2007! So there is a problem with writing in your own language, because sometimes the English-language-world is already far away from specific topics when other languages arrive there.

  • An interesting article.

    Part of the issue I feel is that the Web seems very English-centric, although I might be blinkered because of my preferred language. Indeed English is for the time being the global Lingua Franca.
    Blogging software (and urls,– oh for human intelligible extended characters!) are essentially English despite the large efforts of translation teams.

    Rather than a monolingual blog maybe a bilingual blog is more achievable. Although potentially twice the work.

    A possible solution is to twin your blog with someone who blogs about similar areas in your target language. Then you could proofread each others second language posts. And expand each others readership in the process.
    Maybe bilingualism lessens the risk of rejection in your own community although I wonder if that is a real risk. I suppose if you blog exclusively in another language you are adopting that culture. Do you make your own communities independent of physical location and birth culture when the Web becomes a primary mode of expression?

    My main blog has some bilingual aspects as it’s about my language learning efforts but I mainly confine my 2nd language attempts to a Japanese social network site called mixi, where my main reason is language acquisition and practice rather than blogging. (My audience is tiny there as well, but very sympathetic to my efforts). It is a huge effort to blog in a second language especially when you aren’t proficient in it.

    When reading non-native English I’m fairly forgiving I think. I appreciate the large effort needed to learn English and am very glad of their efforts to accommodate me.

  • “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.”

    Actually the only difference is that animals are slaughtered not vegetables. It isn’t really that dramatic a difference unless you belong to PETA.

  • Interesting topic indeed. My native language is French, and I blog both in French and English, depending on the subject and the target. I will blog in French on my family blogs, but prefer English for my professional blog, mainly because I work in an English speaking country and English tends to be the global language when it comes to tech field.

    I know my English is not perfect and hope my readers may forgive me. The truth is I’m glad to have the opportunity to communicate with smart people from all over the world thanks to English.

  • Thank you for the article and some very interesting viewpoints in the comments: blogging + languages is a constant debate for those of us who speak several languages.

    I think the internet allows us to work more within global language communities than geography-based communities who happen to speak that language. Here in Spain for example there are millions of English and Arab speaking immigrants who have very low levels of competency in Spanish and with the Hebrew example in the article, I imagine there is a relatively large Hebrew speaking Jewish diaspora living in other countries that might enjoy reading things in Hebrew even though they live in the US or Russia.

    It’s not as clear cut a decision as just blogging in your local language because you can, as some of you have rightly pointed out. I guess in the end it all seems to depend on who you want your readers to be and what objectives you have for your blog.

    I think those of who speak several languages and enjoy blogging have a wonderful opportunity – by translating our posts we can reach out to more readers – one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about speaking languages is being able to listen to many more and more varied points of view and conversations.

    As for me, I’m a Spanish translator and the Managing Director of a small languages company and I’ve been wrestling with this problem for the last couple of months as I’ve set up my new blog and our company websites.

    In the end on my own blog I’m going to do two translation related subdomains – one in English and one in Spanish – and the main www about business topics and the stories about my company’s growth. What I haven’t decided yet is whether to also do Spanish and English (and possibly French!!) translations of the business posts on the main domain.

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