How To Blog for International Audiences

The global web

The Web, by its very definition, is global – which means anyone from Boston to Beijing could access your carefully crafted web pages. Nothing new there then.

But the ever-increasing globality of the internet raises an interesting question for the millions of bloggers out there. As online populations grow at a much greater rate in developing countries than in, say, North America and Western Europe, there’s a mounting case for making blogs available in multiple languages.

Whether that involves using automated ‘machine’ translation or a good old-fashioned humanoid is up for debate. But regardless of what markets you’re planning on targeting or the mechanisms that will help you achieve it, there are a number of steps you can take to make the conversion process a whole lot easier further down the line.

Language length

One of the main issues thrown up when working between languages is text-length – a French text is on average a third longer than the equivalent text in English. And German too tends to dwarf its English counterparts – Büstenhalter is ‘bra’ and Geschwindigkeitsüberschreitung is ‘speeding’.

Conversely, many Asian languages require less space than English to convey a message. By way of example, the word ‘information’ requires a mere two characters in Japanese.

What this all means for you, the blogger, is that you may have to adapt the space to fit the translated text.

The easiest way of doing this is to ensure your content and design is kept separate. So, without meaning to get too technical, don’t hard-code widths to elements that hold text – you should allow the words to flow, expand and contract as required by the language. Cascading style sheets (CSS) ultimately keep content and design apart, which means each translated page won’t have to be re-designed from scratch.

Design considerations

Language aside, there are a number of other considerations you can make early on that will make converting your blog for other cultures a breeze.

For instance, don’t insert text within an image, as it will be necessary to reconstruct the image for the target language later on. By keeping graphics text-free, you will save yourself a headache.

Also, it’s worth remembering that many countries across the world still aren’t hooked up to high-speed internet. This means that Flash animations and other bandwidth sapping graphics can take forever to load – so you may want to consider offering a ‘bells and whistles’ version of your blog and a text-only version to give users the choice.

Going local

The way you write your blog really affects who wants to read it. Even if you’re only targeting English-speaking audiences, i.e. the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand, there are enough differences in dialects and colloquialisms to mean you should try and write for as broad an audience as possible. This may just mean limiting references to local TV celebrities in your area or any other localized reference points that may amuse a reader in Los Angeles, but confuse someone in London.

Now, in terms of translation, some European blogs offer side-by-side translations of its content – one in the native language and one in the world’s most widely spoken second language – English. You must ask yourself if a similar set-up would benefit your blog?

But the practicalities of multilingual blogging may put you off. Even if you are a skilled linguist and are fluent in two or more tongues, do you really have the time to translate all your content?

The rise of the machines

The likes of Google Translate can actually be quite good for getting the general gist of a message and, if you’re not too fussy about offering 100% grammatically correct posts in multiple languages, this could be a viable option.

However, to increase your chances of hitting a passable machine translation, you must consider how you write your text in the first place. Google Translate isn’t smart enough to figure out slang words and jargon – so rather than having a ‘swell’ time you’re probably best having a ‘good’ time. And don’t eat ‘chow’ – have some ‘food’ instead.

English often uses a multitude of words to describe the same thing. For example, ‘hound’, ‘mutt’ and ‘dog’. Moreover, verbs can also be used as nouns…even in the same sentence:

“I’m going to race in a race” or “I will hammer the hammer”.

The point is, if you control your language and make sure you avoid any potentially ambiguous phrasing (and ensure one word only ever means one thing) you can learn what words machine translation tools like…and what they don’t.

If you do go down the machine translation route, you have a number of options. WordPress and other common blogging tools have translation plug-ins readily available which, when clicked by the user, translates the text into the reader’s language.

However, this option may not give you the most control. If you would prefer to pre-machine translate your blog, then it may be worth using the services of a native translator to edit/proofread the text. They can check for errors and help prevent any potentially embarrassing translations.

In effect, this method helps you preserve the creativity of your English blog, whilst also ensuring any colloquialisms or turns of phrase are suitably localized for your target market.

And there you have it – blogging for international audiences!

Christian Arno is founder of localization and language services company Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has 130 employees working on three continents and clients in over sixty countries, drawing in revenue of over $6m USD.


46 thoughts on “How To Blog for International Audiences”

  1. Hi Christian,

    Having a blog in a foreign language is something I won’t be considering for a while.

    You post points out the many challenges that would involve.

    I speak more than one language and I know that no machine translations are adequate.

    Having to hire native speakers to actually write the blog means other complications.

    Who would be writing and replying to comments? That too would have to be outsourced.

    Vance

    1. One thing to consider is to writing a niche bog / website in your own language if your mother tongue is different to English, the competition is far less in other languages, even for such competitive keywords as ‘make money online’ plus answering to comments shouldn’t be a problem in this case, SY

      1. That is a good point SY. It does apply to a very small number of people though.

        I know some people whose native language is not English but they cannot read and write in that language as they only learned how to speak it but went to school in English.

        Also the language has to be widespread one a major language that a lot of people use.

        1. Just do a country / language adjusted search for the niche in question in the Google Adwords Tool, and check the competition for it, you might be surprised by the result. I have good success with niche websites in German 😉 SY

          1. PPC Ian says:

            SY, I like your point. Other markets are indeed less competitive, especially within pay per click.

          2. Also when it comes to SEO competition and niche saturation. Even MMO variations are astonishingly low cowered in some other languages. And the audience is normally far more click happy and not so ad-tired / ad-blind! SY

          3. Thanks SY, I never concentrate on my local language which has far less competition. Going for it in some of my post might help my blog to grow.

          4. I think you’ve started a tidal wave of ideas with what you wrote
            .

          5. d3so says:

            Targeting internationally is effective and cheaper.

    2. I agree with you. There is a potential to reach other readers in the world however, if you don’t know how to write an article in terms of their understanding then you shouldn’t try because in the long run it may have negative effects.

      1. Abhik says:

        You can always have a translator plugin for other languages

    3. I won’t be trying this soon either but it is a good idea. It would be challenging though. But with the low level of competition, it probably wouldn’t be so difficult to get comments that you would need to outsource.

    4. Alex Dumitru says:

      I wouldn’t make a blog in my native language either, because the audience is low and so are the internet revenues too.

    5. Alquma says:

      I agree with most of what has been posted so far. I would recommend two separate blogs. Topics that are relevant to both audiences could be translated (by enlisting a professional translator experienced with both blogging and the hotel industry). Or, you might want to consider parallel writing, by hiring a writer for each language, having them work together on the brief and on developing topic ideas. They could then approach the posts from angles that are appropriate for the different readerships (and not necessarily the same). This is an approach I sometimes use for marketing communications (as opposed to straightforward translations) and it is very effective.

    6. ibnujusup says:

      you are right …:-) maybe we should take a course on third language…. 🙂 that would make blogging and commenting easier…

  2. Being one of these quoted ‘international blog readers’ (A German living in the Czech Republic), I really appreciate this insight, Christian! One thing I never considered was to create my blog design so that it adapts well to the expand and contraction of the amount of translated text. Some of the other points, like writing a more international version of English (including avoiding local references) I have already adapted, hopefully. Now I have to have a close look at my other language blogs and see how they could be improved to appeal to a more international readership. Thanks again, SY

    1. ibnujusup says:

      wow… you must have a lot of blog then… 🙂 looking forward to learn from you…

  3. Mike CJ says:

    I love that you managed to use an adjective as a noun in this piece with “Globality.” 🙂

    1. Well observed, fellow linguist! SY

    2. Is globality even a word? I don’t think it’s a good idea to make up words to gain credibility.

      1. Eddie Gear says:

        Its like in the Movie Fan Boys. 🙂

        1. ibnujusup says:

          you rocks abhik… 🙂 wikipedia is still the best dictionary

      2. Paul says:

        Of course globality is a word – I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to question someone’s use of the English language if you can’t even take a second to ‘Google’ a word to check: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/globality. Have a nice day!

    3. Paul says:

      Gotta love some of the comments on here. Further down someone is questioning whether globality is a word, now someone is stating an adjective was being used as a noun? The word ‘internet’ is a noun. ‘Globality’ is not a noun and it wasn’t used as a noun in this piece. As you no doubt know, an adjective modifies the noun, giving further descriptive information ‘globality’ of the internet does just that. Sheesh… 😉

  4. Motivatory says:

    This is such a great post and a lot to learn from. One of those posts i love to print and keep for further revisions.

    I hope to see a follow up on this articles. Great Work!

    1. I agree, it’s well written and very informative; however, some of the points can be argued because going more broad in your writing can have negative effects. Check out my comment below.

  5. You have to realize that once you choose your diction based on the area you take an important factor away from your article. When you go local you add personality to your post. If you compare UK English with US English there is a great difference in the diction. Personality of the article is what attracts readers and this what makes the article interesting. Now if you go more broad then you have to take away the personality of the article.

    1. Or you have develop a more global-international personality 😉 SY

  6. PPC Ian says:

    It’s really cool to hear that the author’s business has 130 employees. Not bad at all! I can see why: This stuff is difficult for sure.

    1. d3so says:

      They seem to be doing good. I wonder if they make 6 million annually or if that’s how much they’ve made so far.

      1. ibnujusup says:

        6 million…. wow, realistically speaking, i need 2 lifetime to achieve this… 🙂

  7. d3so says:

    Very interesting. I track my visitors daily and notice it gets visited from people all over the world. According to Alexa, I rank top 1000 in Nepal.
    I don’t plan to monetize my blog for international readers though. Not yet, atleast.

  8. Marita says:

    Nice post! One thing I’ve found useful is to start a list of words that mean the same thing in many languages, or are usually used in their English form in other languages. That way regardless if machine translation is used, or no translation at all, the correct meaning comes across.

    For example, when writing about websites, always use the word ‘websites’ and not ‘web sites’ or just ‘sites’. Separately the words ‘web’ and ‘sites’ have lots of different meanings: ‘web’ can mean network, net, mesh, trap, snare. ‘Sites’ can mean building site, stage, locality, grounds and so on. But used as ‘websites’ it is usually translated or simply understood as ‘website’.

    But if you’re seriously targeting customers in other countries, you’ll have to do a lot more than tweaking your website copy.

  9. Tadonku says:

    Hello JC, this was a great post, it helps me to understand about globally and online marketing

  10. Recky Nunez says:

    Hi JC,

    Excellent post and some really good points pointed out.

    Recky

  11. Thanks for the post christian. But I guess I will go for English for now but not my local languages.

    Malaysian Government itself is promoting English throughout the country and telling the citizens to learn this worldwide language. Plus most of the time I am using simple English so there is no need to write in my language.

    But in the future writing in my own language for Google SEO would be something I will consider. And again thanks for the post.

    1. d3so says:

      Yeah, I’m sticking with English as well. Isn’t it considered the universal language now?

      1. Yes, it is the universal language and most country prefer English more than their own language. Plus my books also in english 🙂

    2. ibnujusup says:

      wow. another Malaysia… greeting shally martin… 🙂 wish you a good luck…:-)

  12. Karier Bagus says:

    Good Idea, i want to apply at my blog, thank very much

  13. This post is great for those whose first language is not English like me.

    Does anyone know about a WordPress plugin that allows internationalization easily?

    ~~Juan~~

    1. I don’t think a plugin is going to do it for you. I think that when it is obvious that English is not your first language, those of us who are native speakers are prepared to accept the fact in your writing, so long as it is not really bad.

      If you are concerned about the quality of the English in your blog, for instance, why not pay someone to check it for you? The problem here though, is that lots of people who have English as their first language both speak it and write it very badly, especially in UK.

      On second thoughts, take a course or just do your own thing. Content is King

  14. Abhik says:

    I also think English is the language to blog in.

  15. Balt34 says:

    From personal experience I write all of my blogs in English. I do know that there are translation plug-ins for many of the web browsers out there that can take the content on a web site and translate it to another language if you do not speak English or vice versa.

    But for business sake, just make it English. It just makes things easier on your readers.

  16. The rise of machine that one is interesting heading.

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