Image: Kuli, CC0
This is a rant. And a whiny one at that. With the internet so free and international as it is, there is one problem it hasn’t solved: the language barrier. Sure, computer translators like Google Translate do an okay job at translating the gist of foreign websites, but they will never give you the real experience of reading something in a language you actually understand. They still produce too much gibberish for someone to actually enjoy an article written by someone in a language that’s foreign to the reader.
Which puts people like me in a strange predicament: What language should I use for publishing on the internet?
I can only work from my own example here, because I have not heard anyone else complain about the topic so far, but I am sure there must be others that feel the same way. Having studied the language in college and spending some time abroad, I think that I speak and write English well enough for others to understand me and for me to be able to express even slightly complex thoughts in it. Since English is the language understood by most people around the world, the logical conclusion should be to keep my writings in English. This way, I will reach more people, right?
However, my native language is German, and I know that not only can I express myself better in German, I also have a different style in each language. When I write in English, I can also never be absolutely sure that what I am writing sounds “natural” and not like a foreigner who is trying to impress native speakers with his English. (I recall giving one of my essay papers for proofreading to my English flatmate in Edinburgh. He started reading it and then stopped, unnerved. “I don’t know what to say”, he said, “nothing you wrote is actually wrong, but it just doesn’t feel like something a native speaker would write.”)
While I have been writing mostly about films recently, I started this blog while I was still working full-time as a media journalist. And there’s a lot of topics where I just doesn’t make sense to write in English, because they concern the German media landscape or debates going on in the German blogosphere which concerns itself a lot with developments in media and the internet (and not much else).
Okay, you might say, write in German, then. Do what you do best, link to the rest.
Really? But Germany has no real movieblogging scene to speak of. Most of the people blogging about movies in Germany either just review what they last watched, link to the newest trailers or translate news from English movieblogs. Almost no one in Germany just writes about the stuff that interests them in that half-academic, half-nerdy way that is so popular (and often so good) on British and American blogs. Why would I want to alienate these people that I admire and miss the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with them. “Great post, here’s my thoughts on the topic translated into English by Google. Nevermind that most of it doesn’t make any sense this way.”
Right, then. Blog in both English and German, depending on the topic.
That’s what I am doing at the moment. Stuff that concerns only Germany, I write in German. Everything else, I write in English (although sometimes, I wish I could just write it in German because it’s so much less of an effort [told you, I’d be whining]). I’ve also switched my Twitter account to be (almost) exclusively English, because most of the people I follow speak English.
This solution, however, is adequate at best, neither fish nor fowl at its worst. If what you read is true, a personal Internet “brand” is at its strongest when it is at its most recognizable. Bilinguality does not help. If I was a reader of, say, a blog written by a Spaniard, I would regret every post she writes in Spanish, because I don’t understand Spanish. On Twitter, there is some German topics I would really like to write about sometimes, but I would feel silly writing them in English (especially when replying to a German tweet) and I don’t want to “break character” by writing in German.
The only “real” solution, I guess, would be to split my online persona, have an English blog and a German blog, an English Twitter and a German Twitter. But with my output as irregular as it is, I feel it would be very stupid to not put everything in one place. I could also code this blog into parallel sites in English and German, but with only 25 hits a day, I don’t think it would be worth the effort. And it still wouldn’t solve the Twitter problem, because unlike Facebook or Google+, Twitter doesn’t allow you to sort your followers into groups or circles and broadcast only to some of them.
Whichever way you look at it, one thing or another always looks askew. I have no solution. Which is probably why I am so frustrated. If you have a solution, or a comment, please post it in the comments. In any language you choose.