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.