Bilingual Social Networking: How to Interact in More than One Language


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?

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