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Summary:

Whenever I use social media tools, I find myself communicating in two languages: English and Tagalog. I use the former to talk to international contacts, and the latter for local contacts. It’s not a strict rule, since I prefer to use English, but there are some […]

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Whenever I use social media tools, I find myself communicating in two languages: English and Tagalog. I use the former to talk to international contacts, and the latter for local contacts. It’s not a strict rule, since I prefer to use English, but there are some cases where sending updates in Tagalog is preferable or unavoidable.

For bilingual web workers, social networking can be a juggling act. How can we interact in one language without alienating part of our audience?

Consider your readers. While most of my English-speaking contacts ignore my Tagalog updates, not all of them easily let it go. From time to time, I receive messages saying “Translation please!” when I write something in Tagalog. It doesn’t matter if I’m just referring to my breakfast or something my cat did — people who aren’t familiar with the language might be curious about your message.

I don’t seem to have that problem when writing in English, since most Filipinos are fluent in the language. But there are times when writing in English feels unnatural, so I go with my gut and write something the way I would say it.

The primary thing we should think about, then, is our audience. Who are your contacts and how intent are they on reading what you write? Who do you want to engage in conversation?

Keep in mind, though, that you can’t please everybody. Just do what feels right for you and your most valued contacts.

Use different accounts for personal and professional interaction. Since most of my Filipino contacts are friends and relatives, I usually make separate accounts — or use different social media tools entirely — to communicate with them. Having different accounts makes it easier to have complete separation of your work and your social contacts. The disadvantage of doing this is that you have more social media channels that you need to keep up with, but with a good aggregator you can keep everything in one interface.

Take advantage of groups and filtering. An alternative to the above technique is to group your contacts and filter your outgoing updates based on these groups. Still, not all social networks have robust filtering features for your outgoing messages. Facebook, for example, only allows you to filter based on content type. You can customize which groups can see your status updates in general, but you can’t do this for each specific status update. Twitter has even more basic filtering: you can only choose between public or private updates.

I found an interesting workaround to bilingual Twittering from MMMotion. Basically, the trick is to create a separate account for updates in your local language and take advantage of the reply feature. Read the blog post for more details.

I realized that it’s also useful to start each Tagalog update with a phrase like “For my Filipino clients” or “Question for Filipino Web Workers.” A technique like this lets everyone know who the update is for.

Translate your input. You can also translate non-English updates so that your international contacts feel included in some way. You can start with basic greetings like “Good morning!” and “Have a nice day!” Alternatively, you can type local aphorisms and their translations to give your international contacts a peek at your culture. It might not be practical to translate long posts or updates, but the effort to reach out in this way will always be appreciated.

While bilingual social networking has some challenges, it’s still possible to generate engaging discussions without making your profile page look like the Rosetta Stone.

Are you a bilingual web worker? How does this affect the way you use social networking tools?

Image by nookiez from sxc.hu

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  1. Thanks for this insightful article! Just today I was thinking about two things you mentioned: whether I should have separate personal and business accounts, and how to deal with my multilingual posts (mostly English, but also German and sometimes Dutch).

    Of course, with English being my native language, it is more natural (and quicker) for me to write in English. On the other hand, I am located in Germany and have many contacts who – though they speak proficient to (very) good English – also appreciate the ease of reading updates in their native language.

    At the moment, I haven’t come up with a solution that feels right for me and my circumstances just yet. Your tips, however, have given me some valuable food for thought.

    Thanks again!

  2. Good point – I’m still not sure how to handle this myself.

    Right now about 95% of my updates are in english even though I’m german. So far it works very well because most of my followers are web designers or international clients so it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

    However, more and more local clients and friends start using Twitter too and for those it might be strange if I write or reply in a foreign language.

    Various accounts are not really an option for me now because keeping up with all of those social media streams today already requires a lot of time and so I try to limit it to the most important services.

  3. My twittering in Spanish is in the low, very low percentages. I think out of my hundreds of updates there are maybe a handful that have been purely Spanish and have been mostly replies to someone that either did not know English or where the message would have been lost in translation.

    My blog Spanish posts are ALWAYS translated. I do not want to ever alienate my audience by posting only for Spanish speakers since the vast majority of my readers either can or only speak English.

    I am not sure why, but my wife and her French speaking friends do enjoy leaving everyone behind and twitter in French sometimes, but that might be a completely Quebequoi thing.

    Interesting topic.

  4. I am Spanish speaking and would really like to address the Spanish speaking social media crowd. Unfortunate, because of the difficulties you mentioned above I tend to shy away and just converse with my English speaking followers.

    Thanks for the information.

  5. If you write something in Tagalog then you could just put a link to Google Translate at the bottom of that update. If an non-Tagalog person wants to desperately know what you said they can just copy and paste your text. Maybe not the most user friendly but considering your Tagalog comment was not intended for everyone in the first place I don’t think its that bad of an idea.

  6. Google Wave has the answer with its Rosy bot

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