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Blog for Foreigners Without Getting Lost in Translation

This guest post is by Regina Scharf of Deep Brazil.

Have you ever considered blogging in a language other than your own? You definitely should.

One year ago, when I started Deep Brazil, a blog that shows aspects of my country that are seldom in the media, I had a problem: there was no point in publishing it in my native language, Portuguese. A foreigner who can read Portuguese has access to millions of websites, magazines, and books about the country, right? So, it had to be in English.

Why not French, my other native language? Or Spanish, a language I’m fluent in? Because half a billion internet users—one in every 14 people in the planet—utilize English to surf the Web. It would be silly not target the biggest crowd.

The logic was good, but writing in English was a drag. Portuguese is my main professional tool, since I have been a journalist for over 25 years. I could do a killer job in Portuguese. Now, even if I am proficient in English, I definitely cannot write with the same spark in this language.

Despite this challenge, my decision proved right: exchanging Portuguese for English allowed me to stand out from the crowd and occupy a niche that was under-explored.

Should you considered blogging in any other language than English? Why would you even bother to talk to those who don’t read in your own language? I will give you four good reasons:

  • They will rule: English is the dominant language of the Internet, but it will be beaten by Chinese in the next few years. Today, around 537 million people have English as their primary language for web navigation and 444 million internet users prefer Chinese. But, according to recent forecasts by The Next Web, the Internet is growing so fast in China that that country’s users will soon overtake the English-speaking community.
  • It is less crowded: There is an overwhelming volume of information published in English. Because of that, several blogging niches are close to saturation. If you decide to start a blog on technology or food, for instance, your chances of succeeding are fairly small. Now, this is not true for most of the other languages of the wide, wide Web. Take my native Portuguese as an example. It is the fifth most popular language on the web, ahead of German, Arab, French, and Russian. It is the language favored by over 82 million Internet users. Despite being so widespread, its presence in the Web is somewhat shy. Let’s analyze, for instance, the websites listed on Google for the hottest keyword of last year: iPad.  There are 767 million websites in English that mention the tablet computer—and only 9 million sites in Portuguese. See my point?
  • It is easier to find a good domain: All the good domains in English seem to be already taken, while lots of good domains in other languages and countries are still waiting for some clever blogger to acquire them.
  • It is challenging: Blogging is about testing your own limits, your capacity for uncovering amazing facts or feelings, creating beautiful style, and captivating the masses. What’s more challenging than trying to seduce an audience with different language, background, and values than yours?

Now, the key word here is challenge. Don’t let me fool you: blogging in a foreign language is not piece of cake. But it is definitely worth the effort.

Here I gathered a few tips and tactics that can help you succeed when writing for foreigners:

  • Know yourself: Do some serious self-examination to evaluate your knowledge of the language you are going to write in. Remember: you can go a long way with translation software, but the final product will still be imperfect. You don’t have to be a native speaker, but you have to be fluent to deliver a decent content.  If that’s not the case…
  • Consider hiring a translator or proofreader: If your budget allows it, hire professional help. If that’s not possible…
  • Consider having a native partner: Building an alliance with someone from the group you want to speak to can be a clever move. Suppose you are building a blog about Japan-Britain relations. It would be considerably enriched if a Japanese counterpart could write replica posts from the Japanese point of view of the matters. Your partner could also polish your writing, to make it more palatable to native Japanese speakers.
  • Know your public: Who’s the audience you intend to reach? If you are building a high-quality news blog targeting Arabs, you should know that it might be a good idea to use green in your design, because the color is widely associated with Islam. On the other hand, you might want to avoid an all-white design in a blog that targets Chinese, Koreans, and other Eastern communities that see this color as a reminder of death.
  • Be respectful: Humans are prone to defend their own clans. It is easy to fall in the trap of favoring your own culture and values and disrespecting those of your audience. Remember: readers won’t respect you if you don’t respect them first.
  • Be universal: Spanish is spoken by some 500 million people in 20 countries where it is the official language, and in dozens of other countries where there are considerable Hispanic populations. If you want to dialog with this crowd you will have to choose carefully your vocabulary and your topics in order to make your blog as universal as possible. After all, some words that are totally innocent in Spain can be very offensive in Mexico. And vice-versa.

Anybody out there have a similar experience to share? Do you have any tips to add?

Regina Scharf is a Brazilian journalist who blogs about her country at Deep Brazil. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. English is a globally used lang. I don’t think it will be beaten that quickly. How many popular sites use chinese as their primary lang ?

  2. Rui Nunes says:

    I understand the point. It’s not that Portuguese, Spanish or Chinese will overcome English. Is the less crowded content providers for niches that in fact can have millions as an audience.
    I tried in English and Spanish for a while but it’s challenging indeed. Because it takes much more time and effort to ship content.

  3. alamin says:

    Hy Regina Scharf , Nice post. Thanks but I have no intention to create a blog on other language.

  4. Raul Colon says:

    This is some great advice. I have been thinking of returning to write in spanish because most of my readers are in english.

    In my case I have better grammatical skills in English than in Spanish.

    This post really made me think the opportunity to return to my native language.

  5. zammax says:

    I have blogged in my second language as English is not my native. I am Indonesian. I have to learn not only my blog’s topic but also how to make a good English content. I realize that it is not quite good for now but I hope that I can make necessary improvements in the future.. hoping your suggestion please..

  6. Diego Manzur says:

    It’s true. I have a group of web pages in English and Spanish. I recently started with those in English, but the competition is stronger. However, the persistence means I’m starting to see results. I had not considered the idea of writing in Chinese, sounds interesting.

    Something that is essential is to master another language at least to medium, to check the grammar and the real meaning of what one writes. A good tool to clear doubts is the translator of Google.

  7. Monja Wessel says:

    Writing in another Language than yours is challenging – but when i started my Mac Blog i felt it would Be more popular in english. Still, i am always afraid not to get to the Point or say something Offensive i didn’t want to

  8. Marija says:

    I’m from Serbia and I’ve been blogging in English for four years already. Not only did I perfect my writing and reading skills, but my confidence has boomed because my English seems to be better than what I had expected.

    Not to mention the audience reach which is far greater for English blogs, and other obvious facts, like sponsors and stuff. Personally, whenever I use the Internet I search in English, and most people in Serbia do, I believe.

    If you can, blog in English, that’s my piece of advice!

    • Well, something I could have mentioned in my post is that both Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad only obtained international fame when they mastered English and published in this language. But I think all blogers should at least play with the idea of exploring the parallel universe of other cultures and tongues.

  9. Stefano says:

    Hi Regina, you totally get the point I had in mind when I have started my blog two months ago. I plainly cut&paste from my “Topics” page: “One final note on the use of the English language. I’m Italian and although I can speak a pretty fluent English, I’m aware my writing skills need to improve a lot; nevertheless, I decided to build this blog in English for a series of reasons, the main being the wish to reach a broader audience and the opportunity to improve my own writing skills.”

    Sometimes it takes me two hours to write a post I could write in half an hour using my native language (Italian), however, for the same reasons you mention in your post, I choose English and I’m happy of this choiche (my Google Analytics say that the readers from outside Italy are yet more than my italian followers …).

    I can’t clearly understand if you suggest that non-english-speaking bloggers should blog in English (as in the first part of your post and as I do), or that english-speaking should consider other languages (as in the latter part of your post). Probably both, as your general first line states.

    Thanks!
    Stefano.

    • Ciao, Stefano. My point is: be open and cosmopolitan, and your possibilities will multiply. If we, as bloggers, look a little outside our boxes, we will find unexpected opportunities. In my specific case, the movement was towards the English speaking audiences, but it definitely applies to those that have English as a first language but might find their possibilities limited.

  10. Sem says:

    Blogging in a language that is not your native is a pretty darn challenge. And you know what is a bigger challenge? Running a bilingual blog!

    I’m doing this on my main blog but my foreign language is English (I’m a French native speaker). So every day I see my English content getting lost in the information flow though the guitar blogs niche is not really saturated. I mean it’s a busy niche but it didn’t reach saturation yet!

    Despite this the English version of my blog is starting to get some attention in this niche… I think that blogging in a foreign language is also the occasion to have a unique voice, and stand out a little from the crowd. Obviously, I mean that as proud as I am of my English skills (compared to my fellow French people) it is still obvious that I’m not a native speaker! :-) But I most certainly mean that as my cultural background is slightly different than my overseas audience, I do have something unique to share with them!

    Anyway… Blogging in a foreign language is cool! I don’t regret it though it is challenging to do this on a regular basis (which I do)!

    Thanks for this post :)

  11. Manuel says:

    If everyone has a blog about making money online, and they are all written in english, why can’t I have one written in German…Cool

  12. Maaike Quinn says:

    I’m Dutch :)

  13. I don’t agree with point#1. English can never be outnumbered by Chinese. By 2015, Statistics projects the number of Internet users in India will increase to almost 5 fold…[Source: McKinsey Quarterly – Sept 2010] It simply means almost 5 fold increase in web user who will prefer English…Have you considered this factor while writing point # 1…

  14. I have thought about this question, but blogging in my second language (Serbian) just isn’t that worthwhile for me. If you want the honest, bottom-line truth, the market just isn’t financially viable. Or maybe I just haven’t thought of a way to monetise my knowledge in this relatively poor East European country. Perhaps that sounds cynical, and if I was going to do it as a hobby that would be different, but I have too many ‘hobby blogs’ already!

    Now, if I started a blog around my Serbian-English translation business that would make some sense but honestly, seeing people like Darren in action puts me off, because I see just how much time and effort goes into a blog – it’s not something to be stepped into lightly, in any language!

  15. Catherine says:

    Thanks Regina for this useful post. I’m a freelance French to English translator. I blog in English, my native language, and sometimes write guest posts in French. I’ve still got a long way to go but I’m determined to pursue this since I need to reach out to French clients.

    Some additional advice:
    1) Write directly in the foreign language. Do not write in your own language and then translate it.
    2) Have two or three native speakers edit and proofread your post before publishing it.
    3) If you’re submitting an article as a guest blogger, make sure you can trust the blog owner to do proper editing and proofing before publication.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Catherine. I wish I had number 2, and definitely practice 1 and 3. I think finding native speakers willing to read all your posts might be a challenge, unless they are your blogging partners or employees.

  16. Cristina says:

    Great article.
    Not so long ago I read about a romanian guy who blogs in English despite his second language -the one he learnt in College- was French.
    A Canadian girl found his blog and offered him to proofread his articles. Now his English level is really good and he is making a lot of money every month.

    Wish I could remember the name of the guy or his blog. Sorry.

    Cristina

  17. suzeric says:

    Hi Regina,

    this is a topic I too have been pondering about. I totally agree with your observation that the non-English landscape is less crowded, hence could provide more opportunity.

    But it is not just a language/ trabslation issue.

    Networking: I take most of my inspriation from English speaking resources, and leave comments there. Most likely these authors can hardly comment back on my German blog (which is in its infancy anyway). Building momentum is a bit more of a challenge.

    Monetisation: There is lots of information on monetising in English langauge (Ad programs, content platforms, ebook platforms etc). Some of them are transferable but quite a lot are not. So extra research is needed which can be time consuming. Especially if you are not that much connected to your second langauge blogoshpere.

    My personal challenge is that I think/ feel differently in English than in German, so the choice of words becomes a bit akward. And – as in Spanish, German has a formal and an informal equivalent of YOU. I’m still struggeling nwhich form to use in my blog. A big decission from day one: is it a personal or a profesional writing. To me the English languae leaves it to the reader, not the author, to define this relationship.

    And finally an idea:
    Perhaps the Copybloggers could provide some room for localisation – resources, translation help/ partnerships as suggested?

    suzeric

  18. As a belgian I first blogged in my native language, flemish, but had only one or two readers. Now that I blog in english i have more readers and commenters. So my switch to english language helped me to get more readers but my posts were better written in flemish then I ever can in english.

  19. Elja Trum says:

    I’ve just started blogging in English two months ago after building a succesful blog in my native language (Dutch). Don’t know what it will bring me just yet, but I do see the potential in the bigger audience.

    In the Netherlands I’ve got the biggest blog in my niche (photography) with about 3.000 visitors a day. When I compare these numbers to other English photography blogs my Dutch blog is extremely small. I could be the English photography niche is already to crowded, but it’s worth a shot! :)

  20. Duncan Riley says:

    I have problem with the headline: presuming people who don’t speak your language are foreign is more than a little bizarre and somewhat xenophobic. Even in the United States, lots of locals don’t speak English for example.

  21. Javier says:

    Very interesting. I will try to write about my country (Peru) in a few months , I think I have to improve my english a lot . Thanks Regina!

  22. Jimmy says:

    You have some valid points but I simply don’t think that Chinese language will become the dominant language of the web. There are much more reasons for English being the dominant language. Nice post overall.

  23. I guess it all depends on who you are trying to talk to. I’m a Spanish native speaker, but I write my blog in English. I am writing for business people (doing business in China) and English is the international business language.
    It is takes a lot more effort to do it this way, but I think I addressing the people I want to talk to.

  24. Lea Sadler says:

    English is the most commonly accepted “official” language because it is supposed to be more precise – which is a huge bonus when it comes to discussions about mathematics and science.

  25. Nathan says:

    I have been blogging in English for what, 5 years already? My native language is Polish, but English niche is much more attractive.

  26. I’ll try to blog in another language soon. I’ll update you all

  27. mark ways says:

    Knowing a second language is simply awesome, and it’s something you can stick to for the rest of your life. Writing in another language than your own is weird, but it forces you to think, try and learn. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to blog in two languages. It somehow gives me the feeling to do everything twice. So, what are doing with your top stories? Will you translate them into Portuguese or English, or do your write new posts from the scratch? Thanks Mark

    • I tend to think in the language I am working with at that moment. I never translate, very bad habit in my opinion. Just write it, doing the best I can, and correct the orthography, knowing that some small grammar mistakes will occurr once in a while – but they will be less and less frequent. I try to excel in other departments, such as investigation, fact checking and design, so I hope my readers will be forgiving.

  28. Dave Virdee says:

    Is there no application that can be added to automatically translate your blog from one language to another? If not it would sell like hot cake if someone were to develop it.

    If there is one available please let me know as I would definitely go for it. I do believe you can connect better with your readers if you talk their language.

    Cheers!

    Dave Virdee

  29. Neil Warner says:

    I can’t believe that you are proposing people to undertake the hassle of blogging in a second language without asking the why. Why would you do it? To reach an audience? To sell some product? Where is the market research here?
    I have had blogs in Spanish oh, first as pages since 1996, now as blogs for more than 5 years….I have my blogs in English for the same time. Guess what?
    Concerning my business: writing and selling personal development ebooks, there is no comparison! My blogs sell in English; they don’t sell even if written in Spanish; don’t get downloaded even if freebies!
    Aspects that you ignore: the financial capacity of people in Latin America; their access to internet; their access to Paypal and their willingness to buy on internet ALL need development! Besides, products sold online are still suspicious of being a scam!
    As a result, my blogs in Spanish are hobbies that I play with when I have time to spare and feel inclined to give the audience some advice or content. I do it knowing that it will not produce hits, or sales or high rankings for the blog involved.
    You forget that blogging is work, with all its expenses (time, server, technical supplies, etc);; that it needs to be organized with a direct objective linked to a business plan, and that finally is the market who tells you if you are reaching out and producing some ROI for your efforts or having a nice hobby instead.

  30. As a Brazilian journalist too, I really liked it ;)

    Great post and great blog, Regina!

  31. Elizabeth says:

    I wish there were more articles on this subject. I chose to blog in Danish because I knew that my competition would be very limited. But I often wonder if I should switch to English as it’s proving difficult to get sponsors. Thanks for listing the pros and cons, which I will keep in mind while I consider.

  32. Kimberly says:

    As Duncan says, how do you know they are ‘foreigners’?

    As to writing a controversial post you have done your job. It would be a great challenge, being sure to understand other cultures’ color preferences, dialoging subtleties, yet somehow offending them anyway because I didn’t get the latest sensitivity memo…? Ouch

    Maybe best left to multilingual folks like yourself -

  33. anton gunasingam says:

    Good post, but from what I have heard, in Two Thousand Something, it will be compulsory for Chinese school children to learn English. This is supposedly a Government directive. So that changes things, doesn’t it?

  34. Prevodilac says:

    It is always good to present yourself to bigger and wider audiences. English speaking market is the biggest so it is not surprising it is so dominant. We all write in English and in our native language.

  35. ken hill says:

    Great post! Much food for thought! Looking forward to future posts.

    Thanks
    Ken

  36. Mike Lopez says:

    I am Filipino and I’ve always been considering translating my blog to Filipino as well. While majority of Filipinos are fluent in English, I still believe that a local translation will captivate more readers. The only problem I have now is that I am better writing stuff in English than in Filipino.

  37. Ricardo says:

    I started blogging in spanish (1st language) and english, 2 blogs almost at the same time because I wasn’t sure in what language I wanted to blog. I ended up blogging more in spanish because I found my voice and I was able to write more often and better. Now I have 2 blogs in spanish and I’m ready to have 3. I just got good at it.

    My advice to everyone is that you should find your voice in that language. That could take 3 to 4 months of blogging. Just blog, get use to it and never give your stuff to a translator unless you know the language. Translators do a horrible job at keeping the flow of your writing.

  38. Chakie says:

    I started blogging in my native language, but in my country internet is not stil popular, but i think soon here the number of the interenet users will increase rapidly, and i m thinking to start blogging in my native language. Anyway, compliments for this article, but i think that english will be the main language in interenet business for next 50 years.

  39. Ritournelle says:

    I blog in English and in French, my native language. Because of that, it does take much more time for me to write posts than the average blogger and I have considered switching to English only, but my readers asked me to keep on writing in French. Since my niche in fashion and art seen from a French perspective, it’s obvious that writing in French adds to the personality of the blog. And I’ve had the feedback of a few readers who appreciate my blog because it allows them to practice their French by reading the same text in both languages.

  40. Giovanni says:

    Thanks to all for the great comments

    I’m actually in the final steps of launching spanish blogs, as is my native language. However, all the information I found on the web regarding affiliate marketing, blogging and so is in English, as expected. Now I’m wondering about writing in english only, and try to correct grammar and spelling as it goes.

    I agree with Nathan .. the english niche is much more lucrative. However, I believe I will eventually write in spanish .. it seems to me that there is a substantial lack of quality content in other languages besides English. My idea is to fill this gap.

    Any comments would be appreciated,

  41. Jerrick Yeoh says:

    thing you need to worry to target in foreign country,
    1st will be your target market behavioral which you need to understand them before you write something relate to them.
    Second will be languages problem, but this issues been reduce while there are lot of expert translate tool around and even browser such as google chrome do have an effective google translate which able to translate the whole page as you like and it able to provide up to 90 percent translate correctly.
    its quite challenging to blog in foreign country but you can taking advantage as what you said. For the domain name, maybe you may take advantage in their country domain name but if with .com. I think most of it also been taken .

  42. Hello Regina,

    I see that you wrote your post in the beginning of March, but I just found it today and would like to share with you my story. I am originally from Russia and have been living in Canada for over 10 years now, so English is my second language.

    I always wanted to have a blog, but wasn’t sure if I would be able to write compelling posts in English on the regular basis. I am a wellness coach, so about a year ago, I started a cooking blog to share some information about healthy cooking. It turned out to be a fun idea and I got very much into blogging. In January of this year, I started a new project – a blog/community for women immigrants. I decided that posts for this blog will only be written by women immigrants or about women immigrants.

    Here in Canada, there are so many people whose first language isn’t English and I thought that having a blog for them will give them some confidence. My blog is very new, but I have big plans for developing the blog and the community around it.

    Going back to my cooking blog, about 2 weeks ago, I found out (totally by accident) that some guy who is also a wellness coach teaching similar nutrition approach that I do, stole a post from my cooking blog and posted it to his blog without editing one single bit of it. I did contact him and he apologized and removed the post, said he didn’t know blogging rules etc. But this is not the point, the point is that he is a native English speaker, who took a post written by a non English speaker and presented it as his own. I considered it as a complement ;).

    To conclude, I would like to encourage everyone who is thinking about blogging in a foreign language to just do it, as a minimum you will improve your language skills.

    All the best,
    Maria