When you want to create a multilingual blog, we have normally two solutions. First is to have separated folders on our site, second it to create differences blogs, one for each languages.
We will discover in this post that a third solution exists, mix up your blog. If at the first seen it can looks strange, the WordCamp’s video of Stephanie Booth completely change my mind on it.
In this post, I’ll present to you the video, do a transcription of this presentation, and introduce some personal thoughts.
What we’ll see in this post is not specially for WordPress users, and can be done on every types of blogging / websites, even we will see a WordPress’ plugin develops to helps you in this tasks.
WTF is going on Insidedaweb.com ?
If you’re used to follow Insidedaweb.com from the starts, in 2009, you know that we practice blogging in French since the beginning. So why this blog post is in English ? Is Insidedaweb.com switch forever in English ?
For the reason why this blog post is in English, well I hope that in this post you’ll found the reason by yourself. Personally, even if I think I’m not perfectly bilingual, I speak English all the day with my team, read English all the day cause WordPress resources are mainly in English. But open a new site, or translate everything I post on Insidedaweb.com was out of question. I don’t have time for it, and not enough energy. Stéphanie’s video was like a revelation for me, and how to proceed.
And no, Insidedaweb.com won’t switch totally in English. First reason is that at the beginning, this website was opened to translate English WordPress resources to none english readers, from the French « world ». If in 2009 lakes of French contents about WordPress was obvious, today it tents to be less and less true. Second, my natural language is French, and for some content, writing in French is easiest for me, as for some content it’s easiest to write in English. So sometimes my posts will be in English, sometime it will be in French. If you don’t read English (or French) stay tuned to the next post, it will be certainly in a language you can read.
Before really starting to speak about how to work in a multilingual blogging system such as WordPress. I want to thanks FX Benard. Few days ago, I have integrated one of his projects, calls WP-Translations.org. The goals of this project is to provide translated content of free plugins and themes. In a forum’s thread, FX shared with us the video we’ll see in details in this post. Thanks FX, with this simple shares, you change my vision of how to blog. This is the true power of the Free and Open Source community.
By the way, if you have some ease on another language than English, and wanted to help the WordPress community by providing some translation, WP-Translations.org will welcomes you with open arms.
The Presentation Video
In this video, you’ll see how Stéphanie speaks about the way to use multilingual in your blog. her goals was to convince us that mixing languages on a page is not dirty. Well Stéphanie, you have perfectly convince me !
We Don’t Live in a Monolingual Silos !
The first parts of the Stéphanie presentation is focus on made us understand that we are leaving in a monolingual silos. Take WordPress, it’s available on English, French, German, Serbian and whatever language you can imagine. But the problem is that each of those languages are available at one language at a time. We provide it like this, cause we tent to believe that people are monolingual. But in fact, that false, bilingual and multilingual peoples are in majority. To support this assertion, Stéphanie quotes François Grosjean that saids :
Whenever I give a talk on bilingualism, I surprise my audience with the following estimate: more than half of the world’s population uses two or more languages (or dialects) in everyday life. Bilingualism is present on all continents, in all classes of society, in all age groups.
We know, for example, that in Asia and Africa, many people are bi- or multilingual although precise figures are often lacking. In Europe, a bit more than half of the population is at least bilingual. Smaller countries such as Luxembourg, Switzerland, and The Netherlands house many bilinguals whereas larger countries such as Great Britain and France have fewer of them.
Full article can be found here.
Even if this sentence is certainly true, what I can’t verify by myself, I have to admit that for many peoples, speaking a dialect is not really what we thought when we speak about being multilingual. But in fact, if we consider that be a multilingual people is just being able to speak two languages, yes, this is true. In majority, people aren’t purely monolingual.
By my own experience, I have to said that I’m in touch with a lot of people that aren’t purely monolingual. My wife have Serbian origins, speaks and write perfectly Serbian, French and English. If I take my daughter, it’s the same for Serbian, French, English, and even German. And for me, well, I don’t speak yet Serbian :)
So why continue to leave our digital life as if people were able to speak just one language at a time ?
Is French People Different from the Rest of the World ?
During her presentation, we discover that Stéphanie is born and grown up in Switzerland. That’s not so much a surprised when we know that this video is taken from the Switzerland WordCamp. What I know from this country, is that for a small country, a lot of different languages are used. To be precise (if I don’t do a mistake), 4 languages are used. So it’s not so much surprising that for her, multilingualism is natural.
But what about a country such as France ? In France, we speak only one language, French. Well, some people will kills me to saying that, cause it’s not really true :) We have 22 different dialects (or even pure language, if we takes language as Kanak or Tahitian). And even more if we takes immigrant languages. But I think we can’t compare this to the Switzerland case, cause most of the dialects used in France are available only on small area of France, compare to German or Italian that are speak by millions of people around the world.
But my purpose here is more about how we lean foreign languages in France, and how we use it. I don’t know how it is on other countries, but languages learning in France is very scholar. I remember perfectly the fact that after more than 10 years of English learning, I wasn’t able to speak English. Oh yes, for sure I have some vocabulary, grammar basis, but we never use it at school. We learn it. I wasn’t able to understand a movie in English, and worst, I wasn’t able to speak with another one in English. Why I’m speaking about my private life here ? Just because I’ve the sensation, during many years, that I was a purely monolingual person. And due to this, I was thinking that it was the case for most of the French people. That’s sure completely false. Even my grandfather was speaking at least two languages, second was a very small dialect of the center of the France. But I never saw this as to be a multilingual person. And I was wrong.
About how we learn foreign language, I hope, and I guess, that this situation have changed. And even if it doesn’t really change, no, French people aren’t different of the rest of the world. Maybe some are too shy to use it, but sure most of us are not purely monolingual person.
Internet Change Everything
Before the age of Internet, be a monolingual person was not a problem – not really. But with the age of Internet, everything change. Why ? For two main reasons :
- With the creation of community project like WordPress, people are mix up with other people that don’t necessary speaks the same primary language as us. Use of a common language starts to be necessary to exchange together. That obliges us to came out our language silos.
- Internet crunch space. Today, literally, everyone is accessible to one simple clicks. And the only thing that tents to separate us is language.
Stéphanie saids one thing I’m very agree with her. Today, linguistics borders are much more a problem than political borders when we speak about digital life. Creating different Internet such as Francophonia Internet and Anglophonia Internet. Person able to create multilingual bridge are important to connect those Internets. And in fact, those peoples are very common as the biggest parts of the world population speaking at least two languages.
Multilingual Bridging Strategies
For Stéphanie, 3 different strategies exist to create bridges strategies. Here are the firs two, and the problem they triggered :
- Translate each post : The first problem with this strategy is that to be multilingual is not to be a translator. And I can just be agree with her. As I said before, Insidedaweb.com was born with the idea to provide English WordPress content to the French people. And honestly, it’s a very hard work, and not very funny. It takes a lot of time, and at the end, I’m not very satisfy of the result. The article created like this was not really fluid and easy to read. and I realized that be able to understand another language perfectly, doesn’t mean you are a translator. Specially with such a specialized domains as WordPress and the Internet. I also remember, when I was at school, that I was with a friend speaking English at home. He was a perfect bilingual person. One day, I ask him to translate a song for me. How much I was surprise to see he wasn’t able to do it, even if he understood all the song. How this is possible to understand something, and not been able to translate it ? So no, being bilingual doesn’t means you are a translator. But here, we aren’t really speaking about the fact to translate every contents of your site on another language, even if we understand that it won’t be as easy as we can think, cause translation is a pure job. Another point to illustrate how much this strategy goes to failed, is by remembering why blogging made things easiest for all of us. We have an idea, we write it, we post it, and it’s done ! Blogging is a very impulsive thing, specially for personal blogs. And more, system as WordPress lower the barriers to publication by creation an intuitive tool for posting content. Add translation on this completely defeat the purpose, and you go to fail. For sure, some peoples will manage it, but most of them will failed cause it’s too much bloody works.
- Separate blogs : Second strategy came from the idea that translate every posts of his blog is too hard. So why not create separated blogs for every languages ? This idea seems interesting at first glance. But it creates many problems. First is that you’ll split your readership. Because you think that one of your blog is more read than the other one, you’ll be tented to publish twice an article that seems to you very important. But this is not counting on the fact that you have certainly readers that speak the same languages as you, and follow both blogs. Writing two times the same kind of posts isn’t really fair for them. Second point is about what she calls bilingual brain drain. And she takes an example I found funny, because I have been face to it two days before I watch this video. Take the WordPress support forum. If you have a very technical question, do you’ll use the French support forum, or the English one ? If you are able to describe your problem in English, you’ll certainly use the English one, as we do. Why ? Because in the English one, the world can respond to it, unlike the French one that is only visits by French peoples. This will conducts to brain drain. Regarding your blog, we all know that blogging are for ourself, not the others. But what is also true, is that we do appreciate recognition. And if one blog starts to be more successful than the other one (certainly the English one) we will stop blogging in the less successful one, and this blog will dies.
The third solution is obviously the good one, the magical one ;)
Mix up every languages in your blog
Here again, the first point Stéphanie speaks about mades me laugh, cause it was exactly the same kind of reaction I have.
Are you crazy, do you want to kill my SEO ?
Stéphanie saids a very interesting thing. Google will cares about and honestly, who cares if it’s not perfectly optimized ? Well, on this particular point, I have to said I’m not 100% ok with it. Most of the time, SEO tricks I’ve been reading said it was one of the baddest thing to do, it will confuse search engines. It’s why plugins such as WPML create separated folders for specifics languages. But here, using such as plugin won’t be the solution as we have decided to mix up our languages. So what to do ?
As it’s completely new for me, and I don’t found very good topics on how to optimized SEO for mix up language site, here are few tracks I think we need to use :
- Create a comprehensive new category in your WordPress blog for the new language you’ll use. For example, you can see that this blog post is in the category « English -> WordPress ». Why ? Because we all know that Google and Co are used to have specialized repertories for languages. WPML shows it up perfectly.
- Have a perfect page translated in the language you are working on. What does it means ? If I take this site as an example, normally on the sidebar their is a lot of contents. By using a plugin such as Customer Sidebar, we can at least try to minimized this mix up between others languages of your site. As you can notice, it’s not 100 % perfect, but at least, we have minimized the French on this page.
- Install the plugin provide by Stéphanie, calls Basic Bilingual. I have to install it, and I’ll do a comments on it lately to see how it good it is for SEO.
As I said, it’s the first time we post in English on this blog (but certainly not the last). So we don’t have enough experience to know exactly the pros and the cons. We will do point on it in some month to know how much it have affect our SEO, and if it was in the good way or in the bad way. Stay tuned.
Second point raised by Stéphanie is about monolingual people who reads your blog. In order to demonstrate that it’s a false issue, she asks to the people on the room how many speak only one language. The result was… no one. And for sure, she is speaking in English, on a country that English is not an official language. So how can it be different ? But what is certain, is that yes, monolingual people exists, but blogging some times in another language is not insult our readers.
And other point, if someone is really interesting by your article, he will try to understand it, read it, or try to translate it with such automatic translation tools as Google Translate for example. Sure it won’t be perfect, but at least he will get the point of what you are explaining. In order to help peoples that don’t speak the language in which you are posting on, here is come the really utility of Basic Bilingual. It will let you permit to create an excerpt of the text, in another language (for example a French excerpt on English post) to let know to your other readers what this article is about.
Want to see a blog that is used to mix up language from a while ? Just check the climptothestars‘ stéphanie blog.
I’m go to leave you with one song, that I think it’s the perfect example of how mix up language can create huge success.