BlogCamp: Multilingual Blogging Session [en]

[fr] Mise par écrit des notes de préparation pour ma présentation hier au sujet des blogs multilingues, lors du BlogCamp à Zürich. En deux mots: il faut des gens pour faire le pont entre les îles linguistiques sur internet, et la façon dont sont conçus nos outils n'encourage pas les gens à être multingues sur leurs blogs. C'est pourtant à mon avis la formule la plus viable pour avoir de bons ponts.

I presented a session about multilingual blogging at BlogCamp yesterday in Zürich. Thanks to all of you who attended (particularly as I was competing with Xing’s Nicolas Berg!) and wrote about the session (Bruno of course, Sarah, Sandra, Maira, Jens-Rainer, Waltraut, Jokerine, Antoine…let me know if I need to add you here), and to Greg in particular for filming the session.

Although I’m rather used to giving talks, this was the first time my audience was a bloggy-geek crowd, so it was particularly exciting for me. I prepared my talk on the train between Lausanne and Bern, and unfortunately prepared way too many notes (I’m used to talking with next to no notes), so I got a bit confused at times during my presentation — and, of course, left stuff out. Here’s a rough transcript of what I prepared. Oh, and don’t forget to look at this photo of my cat Bagha from time to time to get the whole “experience”.

Steph giving her talk.
Photo by Henning

Talk notes

In the beginning there was the Big Bang. Space, time and matter came to exist. (Physicists in the audience, please forgive me for this.) We know it might end with a Big Crunch. Internet looks a bit like this Big Crunch, because it gets rid of space. With the right link to click on, the right URI, anybody can be anywhere at any time.

However, we often perceive the internet as a kind of “space”, or at least as having some sort of organisation or structure that we tend to translate into spatial terms or sensations. One way in which the internet is organised (and if you’re a good 2.0 person you’re acutely aware of this) is communities.

Communities are like gravity wells: people tend to stay “in” them. It very easy to be completely oblivious to what is going on in other communities. Barrier to entry: culture. Language is part of a culture, and even worse, it’s the vehicle for communication.

What is going on in the other languageospheres? I know almost nothing of what’s going on in the German-speaking blogosphere. The borders on the internet are linguistic. How do we travel? There is no digital equivalent of walking around town in a foreign country without understanding a word people say. Note: cultural divides are a general problem — I’m trying to focus here on one of the components of the cultural divide: language.

Who speaks more than one language? In the audience, (almost) everyone. This is doubly not surprising:

  • Switzerland is a multilingual country
  • this is the “online” crowd (cosmopolitan, highly educated, English-speaking — though English is not a national language here)

Two episodes that made me aware of how strong language barriers can be online, and how important it is to encourage people to bridge the language barriers:

  • launching because at the time of the browser upgrade initiative I realised that many French-speaking people didn’t have access to all the material that was available in Anglophonia, because they just didn’t understand English well enough;
  • the very different feelings bloggers had about Loïc Le Meur when he first started being active in the blogosphere, depending on if they were French- or English-speaking, particularly around the time of the Ublog story.

A few questions I asked the audience (mini-survey):

  • who reads blogs in more than one language? (nearly everyone)
  • who blogs in more than one language?
  • who has different blogs for different languages?
  • who has one blog with translated content in both languages? (two courageous people)
  • who has one blog with posts in various languages, mixed? (half a dozen people if my memory serves me right)
  • who feels they act as a bridge between languages?

So, let’s have a look at a few multilingual blogging issues (from the perspective of a biased bilingual person). Despite the large number of people out there who are comfortable writing in more than one language (and the even larger number who are more or less comfortable reading in more than one language), and the importance of bridging cultural/linguistic gaps, blogging tools still assume you are going to be blogging in one language (even though it is now accepted that this language may not be English).

What strategies are there for using more than one language on a blog, or being a good bridge? Concentrate first on strategy and then worry about technical issues. Usage is our best hope to make tool development evolve, here.

A. Two (or more) separate blogs

  • not truly “multilingual blogging”, it’s “monolingual blogging” twice
  • caters well to monolingual audiences
  • not so hot for multilingual audiences: must follow multiple blogs, with unpredictable duplication of content

B. Total translation

  • a lot of work! goes against the “low activation energy for publiction” thing that makes blogging work (=> less blogging)
  • good for multilingual and monolingual audiences
  • technical issues with non-monolingual page (a web page is assumed to be in a single language…)

C. Machine translation!

  • getting rid of the “effort” that makes B. fail as a large-scale solution, but retaining the benefiits!
  • problem: machine translation sucks
  • too imprecise, we don’t want more misunderstanding

D. A single blog, more than one language (my solution)

  • easy for the blogger, who just chooses the language to blog in depending on mood, bridge requirements, etc.
  • good for the right multilingual audience
  • technical issues with non-monolingual pages
  • how do you take care of monolingual audiences? provide a summary in the non-post language

“Monolingual” audiences are often not 100% monolingual. If the number of people who are perfectly comfortable writing in more than one language is indeed rather small, many people have some “understanding” skills in languages other than their mother tongue. Important to reach out to these skills.

For example, I’ve studied German at school, but I’m not comfortable enough with it to read German-language blogs. However, if I know that a particular post is going to be really interesting to me, I might go through the trouble of reading it, maybe with the help of some machine translation, or by asking a German-speaking friend.

A summary of the post in the language it is not written in can help the reader decide if it’s worth the trouble. Writing in a simple language will help non-native speakers understand. Making sure the number of typos and grammar mistakes are minimal will help machine translation be helpful. And machine translation, though it is often comical, can help one get the gist of what the post is about.

Even if the reader is totally helpless with the language at hand, the summary will help him know what he’s missing. Less frustrating. And if it’s too frustrating, then might give motivation to hunt down a native speaker or do what’s required to understand what the post is about.

Other bridging ideas:

  • translation networks (translate a post or two a month from other bloggers in the network, into your native language)
  • translation portal (“news of the world” with editorial and translation work done) — check out Blogamundo

Problem I see: bloggers aren’t translators. Bloggers like writing about their own ideas, they’re creative people. Translating is boring — and a difficult task.

Some more techy thoughts:

  • use the lang= attribute, particularly when mixing languages on a web page (and maybe someday tools will start parsing that)
  • CSS selectors to make different languages look different (FR=pink, EN=blue for example)
  • language needs to be a post (or even post element) attribute in blogging tools
  • WordPress plugins: language picker Polyglot and Basic Bilingual
  • excerpt in another language: what status in RSS/atom? Part of the post content or not? Can RSS/atom deal with more than one language in a feed, or do they assume “monolingualism”?
  • indicating the language of the destination page a link points to

Extra reading

The nice thing about having a blog is that you can dive back into time and watch your thinking evolve or take place. Here is a collection of posts which gravitate around language issues (in a “multilingual” sense). The Languages/Linguistics category is a bit wider than that, however.

Blogging in more than one language:

About the importance of language, etc.:

28 thoughts on “BlogCamp: Multilingual Blogging Session [en]

  1. Pingback: Vitamina B
  2. Well that just about covers most of it when it comes to bridging the language gap, and as far as I can see this is one element of communication. People do want to communicate with others even when languag is a bridge that needs to be crossed.

  3. Hi Stephanie

    This is a really good topic to discuss and I am sure lot of people must have agreed at the Blogcamp. I was thinking and discussing about same a few days back with some of my friends. India being a country with vast cultures and more than 26 languages, the question of multilingual arises here as a very obvious problem. I think this will make a good topic to think about and discuss at the Blogcamp which I am organizing in India in Pune (

    I would like to discuss it with further but may be over email.

    Tarun Chandel

  4. I’m one of the courageous twos 🙂

    nice blog entry. I might blog about this… when I get around to it 🙂

  5. Manual trackback: Today on Blogwiese:

    Sorry, but it is all in German.. CU, Jens

    “Stephanie Booth aus Lausanne referierte ihre Gedanken über das Problem mehrsprachiger Blogs.
    Sie ist selbst bilingual und bloggt auf Französisch und Englisch. Einen wirklich zweisprachigen Blog zu führen ist schon rein technisch gesehen eine Herausforderung. Es gibt kaum Plattformen, die Zweisprachigkeit anbieten. Suchmaschinen spielen verrückt, wenn sie zweisprachige Texte indizieren sollen. “

  6. Another strategy would be to ask the nice readers 🙂 to translate the blog entries and send them back to you.

    This is the strategy used by the joelonsoftware blog ( but is also a strategy used by many companies like netvibes, google, … to have a multilingual site.

    It may or may not work, YMMV.

  7. I guess that might work if you have a wildly popular blog.

    Anybody want to translate some of my posts? 🙂

  8. Pingback: Gedankenblitze
  9. Stephanie,

    Nice post. You should go to

    We have a simple solution to publishing in many languages. As a publisher, you register your RSS feed. We create wiki pages for each new document you publish and each target language. You encourage your readers to help translate your articles, which are then re-published as HTML or RSS.

    The key insight with this technique is that any site with more than about 50-100 repeat readers will have bilingual readers, some of whom will be happy to translate, especially if you make it easy for them to do so. Once a publication is translated, it will become searchable, and therefore visible in many language domains.

    The demo is online now. It is simple, we will add more features soon, but it works. This is an open source project. Our agenda is to demonstrate a reference design, and to show how to embed this in other systems (e.g blog hosting systems, CMSs, etc). The goal is to make this standard practice, and to make publishing in many languages simple. You’ll just write, your audience will translate, and who knows how many languages your original words will be tranformed to.

  10. Hi
    Just read and commented your reboot 9 suggestion
    But as some French may say :
    Le français éclaire le monde, c’est “by far” la plus belle langue. Une langue porteuse de libertée, de culture, d’amour, … . La solution évidente semble donc de ne plus accepter que le français comme langue sur le web.
    Just kidding of course
    (U don’t have to publish that, it’s just to say Hi)

  11. Just a silly question: why the french language should be in pink, since we are “Les Bleus”? Ben oui, on appelle l’équipe nationale de foot, ” Les Bleus”. Mmm…je me demande pourquoi! We should put the english language in pink and the french language in blue, yessss!
    Es mi humilde opinión.
    Yes, I was just kidding!

  12. LingoTip ( just came out with a new tool for multilgual blogging. You can write your text in one language and then indicate that you will translate. LingoTip then provides you with the text (code) to replace in your original blog.

  13. Hi Stephanie,

    In the past I tried to go the A-route, but it’s too much work to maintain two blogs. One of the twi was akways going to be my “main” site and the other suffered and was neglected as a result. So I have decided to migrate to the D-option, using your BB-plugin. Since I would only be adding a few posts in the second language, it fits the bill nicely.

    I was wondering though what your thoughts are on things like tags and categories, how to deal with them in a multi-language environment. Should I duplicate the current category-tree in the alternative language? What would be the best way to go about this?

    Perhaps you have already written about this on your blog, if so, you can ignore the question. I will keep digging into the archives!

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