Blogging in a multi-lingual world (or lack thereof)

An issue I knew coming in to this was the challenge of having a global oriented blog that was authored and distributed purely in English. From a few of the comments left here, and my general browsing of like minded blogs this is an issue that many are facing (whether they’ve acknowledged it or not).

I’d love to be able to blame the challenge on technology, but it’s really only a small portion of the problem – still, none of the blogging packages I’ve looked at are all that multi-lingual friendly. Many will let you author in multiple languages but I haven’t come across any that seem to support any sort of translation workflow, or even, at the very least, support having multiple versions of the same post in different languages.

Through some workarounds, I’m sure someone could make it work. For example you could use a blog package that supports categorization. For each post you make in your source language you add an “English” category tag to it. Then as you get your blog translated you tag each subsequent post with it’s language name (i.e. “Francais”). Then you modify your site so it hardcodes a Tag filter in by language. So users coming to the home page would, by default, only see posts with “English” category tags. When I click “Francais” it will only show me posts in French.

This system would take some other “hacks” for searching etc. but for the most part it would likely work okay. But there’s still one huge step missing – who’s doing the translation?

Having lived in Belgium for a spell as a child and being in the Canadian education system for the rest of that time I speak and understand some French – but, admittedly, I couldn’t translate my posts in to French if my life depended on it. I think this is the challenge that faces many blogger – many of us think and encourage others to think globally but we can only share that message in our own mother tongue.

As it stands right now my options are limited – I could pay someone to translate my content for me (which would limit me to about one post a year) or I could pump my content through one of the many free machine translation services out there.

Unfortunately machine translation is probably a good representation of what early teleportation experiments will be like in the future.

“I’m pretty sure that’s Joe, his eyes are the same but I’m not sure why the machine put them on his knees, or for that matter why his knees are at the end of his arms”.

Source: Some researcher in the future

Everyone admits machine translation isn’t ready for prime-time quite yet, especially mass-consumption machine tranlations through the various free sites. Personally, and I’m sure this will come back to haunt me one day, I’m not so sure Machine Translations will ever be good enough so as to entirely remove humans from the process.

So what’s a blogger to do? I’ve got some ideas – and this week I’ll lay them out for you. As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

– Ryan

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