Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

Blogging in an imperfectly multilingual world

I was at WordCamp Switzerland 2014 last weekend; a WordPress conference aimed at both content creators and developers. One of the many interesting talks on the day was by Stephanie Booth on the subject of blogging in a multilingual world.

The premise of many (even most) websites is that there should be a clear separation of content: the English section, the German section, and so on. Stephanie’s talk went into more detail about why this may often be contra-productive, as many people are familiar with more than one language.

The biggest hurdles of running a classically multilingual site are the technology and the requirement to translate each and every article. Both of these are very time-consuming and either lead to long delays in publishing, or the avoidance of multilingualism altogether. That’s one of the main reasons why my own website has never been online as a dual English/German format, as both technical and editorial concerns have continually led me to put such plans on the back-burner.

The fact that so many people speak or understand more than one language is especially true here in Switzerland, where there are four national languages and where most people speak at least two of them to some extent. The case was made that most people will battle though a blog post or article in a second language if they know what it’s about, and they know that the information is worth the battle.

In the room at the conference, not one single person in attendance understood only one language: a telling sign that it’s OK to blog in two or more languages, with each article being in the most appropriate language for the subject.

Stephanie’s own blog is a good example of this: the general setup of the site is in English, but she writes in both English and French. Where one language is used, a short introduction to the post is included in the other language. That helps those of us who understand less of one language than another to know what the post is about, and whether to bother battling through.

Stephanie’s own WordPress plugin Basic Bilingual to allow for these excerpts is available from the WordPress plugin repository and the slides of her talk are on Blogging in an Imperfectly Multilingual World.