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?