The native English-speakers have it easy online. English is the "universal" language on the Internet and those speaking other languages have to adapt.
Many English natives take so many things for granted, that I wanted to share some of the challenges we "foreigners" phase online, running our blogs and building our presence in the social media.
I also talk about the different choices a non-native English speaking people have to make online, whether it's how we use social media or run our Internet businesses.
If you are a native English-speaker, you don't have to do any of this, you just go with it. But many who are not, struggle with certain things that everyone should understand.
Especially those who coach and give advice online need to understand that not everyone of us live in the US or UK, not all of us have the obvious choice to start blogging in English and many have hard time deciding should they do their updates on Facebook in English or their own language.
I wrote this article to both raise awareness about this fact and also to help those who are not native English speakers to decide whether they should "go English" or stick to their mother tongue.
Being a Non-Native English Speaker Online
I'm an alien,
I'm a legal alien;
I'm a Non-Englishman in the net.
I'm an alien,
I'm a legal alien;
I'm an Non-Englishman in the net.
In social networks, like Twitter or Facebook, non-native English speakers have to decide whether or not they go with multiple languages or do they stick with one.
Being a non-native English speaker, living in a country where majority of the people know English, but it's not an official language by any means, decisions on the language to use must be made when we go online.
Let me give you a little background about me and where I'm coming from.
I'm a blogger. I'm from Finland, so Finnish is my native language. I speak and write English fluently (or I think I do).
I blog mainly in English, but I do have blogs in Finnish as well.
I'm using my personal Facebook profile to follow my friends and family, in Finnish. I have a couple of non-Finnish friends there that have little to no clue about most of my updates.
On Twitter, I'm using English, apart from very rare updates in Finnish. If I'd use Finnish more, the majority of my followers wouldn't understand what I say, so it wouldn't make much sense to fill their feed with characters their computers would struggle displaying and only a handful of people would understand.
These were all choices I had to make. I had to choose whether or not to go with English on this blog. I had to choose to keep my Facebook in Finnish, not English.
Blogging in English. Or Not?
For blogging, I made the choice because I want to reach a wide, global audience, but also because using English makes things a lot easier in many ways.
Let's take different blog promotions tactics for example, like article marketing or social networking.
The major article directories only accept articles in English. Again, the non-English websites have to find other means for promotion or use less authoritative services instead.
Many social bookmarking sites don't accept submissions in a "foreign" languages and non-English blogs have to rely on smaller, not widely used, social networking sites to promote their sites.
Also, search engines have hard time understanding these "foreign" languages. Getting a non-English site properly indexed and optimized properly for search engines is hard. It is a lot harder than optimizing English sites for search engines.
It's like this for the minor languages, like Finnish which I have the most experience in. It's hard to do keyword research for example, when you're only getting enough data for single keywords. When more specific phrases show no statistics or search volume – you’re out of luck.
Think of it like getting your blog indexed and ranked high for "money", because that is the only word you get statistics for. For related keywords and phrases, you would be guessing and build upon experience, not tools.
I assume it's a lot easier with more widely used non-English languages, but this is my experience.
As the potential traffic is much smaller and I'd have to work twice as hard to get it, it made my choice very easy.
Your mileage may vary.
Another interesting aspect is localization. Whether or not to do it, and how to do it. Should you first build your blog, business and products in English? And then translate or localize them later. Or should you do it the other way around?
This depends on the main language you choose, based on the target market you have.
But remember, if you do localization or translations, you have to do them well. Just like non-native English blogger needs to write proper English (which I hopefully manage already), turning your English eBook into Spanish yourself, when you've learned your Spanish by watching telemundos is probably a bad idea.
Either way, first concentrate on getting it right in one language. Worry about translations and such later, and get a professional to do them.
The same goes for moving from another language to English.
Lost in Translation
For global businesses, the first language of choice is always English, all other languages are localization.
The larger companies offer their services in multiple languages, as for some languages, like Spanish, Chinese or even French, there are plenty of people who understand and speak the language and it makes sense to offer services in these languages.
But for tiny countries and languages like Finland and Finnish, the maximum audience we can reach is really limited. Businesses offering local services in Finland go with Finnish of course, but for global businesses there's very little ROI from localizing to non-major languages.
As a result, many services try localization through automated translations.
And fail miserably.
In Finland, large majority of the people speak English, some say that even more than our secondary language, Swedish. Because of this, the Finnish are used to use global services and use mainly English online.
Now I speak for myself, but for non-local businesses, I want to use them in English. I want to see what others are seeing, not some poorly translated and localized offering.
It annoys me to run into sites that are perfect in English, but based on location recognition, the site decides that I need the site in my own language.
The automatic translations are posted to various humour / "fail" sites, which probably isn't the desired outcome of their translation work.
In short, forced translations are bad. Let the visitor, reader or customer CHOOSE what language she wants to use.
Even Google gets it wrong.
The search engine tries to deliver localized results even if I most of the time want to do a global search.
I have to use Firefox addons to keep Google from redirecting me to the Finnish mirror to be able to use the global search.
Some services give me so badly translated user interface in Finnish, that I'm having hard time finding how to switch the language.
So what do you do as a non-native English speaker when you want to make it online?
Perhaps you're just getting started, considering to start a blog, and on your way to become more active in the social networks.
Maybe you want to start an Internet business. Or start promoting your existing business online.
It comes down to what are you trying to achieve and what market or niche you choose to focus on. Only a handful of languages are spoken around the world, even to a small degree, namely Spanish and of course English. Other languages are more local.
In most cases, the market potential is a lot bigger when choosing English, as it is the most global language. In small countries, and small languages, the market is local.
- If you want a global audience and market potential, choose English.
- If you want more focused market, choose some other language.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some things that will be harder if you don't choose English, but on the other hand the competition might be much less fierce in the non-English markets.
So, you have to make choices...
- Go local or target global, international market?
- Should you use both languages, perhaps even run two different sites around the same topic?
- Will you use social networks in English, or your mother tongue, or both?
- Should you have separate accounts for your own language and another for English?
- Do you keep Facebook for personal contacts, family and friends, in your native language like I did?
You have to make these choices, depending on your goals.
- If you're targeting a global audience, choose English, for everything; the blog, social networks.
- If your topic or business is local, go with the local language.
Do note that in the Internet, local means everyone speaking that language, so the "local" market is a whole different thing in China for example, than it is in Finland for example.
If you end up choosing to go with English, you got to get good with it.
Choosing whether you blog and use social networks in English or some other language is one thing, but for some, it's also a matter of learning English, getting better at writing in English and so on.
If you feel uncomfortable with your English skills, but would like to start a blog in English, I recommend that you start reading a lot of blogs (in English).
Start reading books and magazines in English. Watch TV without subtitles or with English audio if you usually watch them dubbed.
And start writing! And write a lot. You don't have to publish them at this point, but write, write and then write some more. Start a practice blog in a free service and write your thoughts about things you're interested in. Get connected with native speakers and ask for their feedback.
If you're basic English skills need improvement, consider enrolling into an English class either online or offline.
While you're improving your English skills, you can start blogging in your native language, to get the feel for blogging.
Engage in conversations in the social networks and forums, again in English, to practice your English even more.
Keep doing this. Read, write, practice, have conversations.
That's what I've been doing. I read, write and talk in English whenever possible. I keep writing in English and improve my skills constantly. That's the only way to make it, as a non-native English speaker, writer and a blogger.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope you enjoyed the read. And thank you to Johan (@maresjohan on Twitter) from for asking the question and suggesting this topic in the "ask Zemalf" post.
Do you have similar experiences like me?
Do you have a non-English blog? What have been the biggest challenges for you?
I'd be very interested in hearing your opinion on this so please, join the discussion on the comments below.