Read on Medium.
English is not my native language, so, when I started blogging, the multilingualism dilemma was one of the elephants in the room. If English is not your native or local language, that’s an additional challenge to the blogging venture.
Over the years, I experimented with different solutions and, as you can imagine, one size doesn’t fit all. But some criteria can help you decide.
Without entering the controversy of going for a niche or not (spoiler: like it or not, you need at least one), you certainly need to be aware of your online identity – or identities -, meaning that you need to know what you like and want to write about, what readers expect from you, what kind of your content makes synergy and what conflicts, and, of course, what’s your purpose.
Getting results has everything to do with your knowing what you’re doing. The blogging world is crowded, and writing and promoting can be massively time-consuming. So, you must knowingly focus your efforts, or your energies will just be dilapidated and your posts flushed away by the massive online turnover.
That’s why deciding to go multilingual is not a detail.
Also, maybe the multilingualism dilemma makes sense for one of your identities and not for the others. Going multilingual is likely a decision to be made for each of your identities separately.
Local or global
When it comes to multilingualism, the first question is quite obvious: do you want to appeal to a local audience or a global one?
If your writing is related to a local business, you already have your answer. You must write in the local language. A second language is optional, depending on how much it’s needed in your case, but it likely is a waste of effort.
Pay attention that local may differ from native.
If you want to appeal to a global audience, instead, English is quite mandatory – at least in the western world and considering that it’s a common second language. It may make sense to add your local/native language, but only if it can add significant results.
In the case of widespread languages, like Chinese or Spanish, using your native language may already cross the borders of your country, by far, and be a good solution for many. But global still means English.
Between two extremes of English and local/native, how to navigate the decision?
Command of English
If English is a significant option, your fluency in it matters.
If you’re fluent in it, you can consider starting writing in English only, and think about adding your native language – or even more translations – only when things start to skyrocket (don’t judge me pessimistic, but it might not happen as fast as you think).
But, if you’re still learning the ropes with English, it’s likely that you often write in your native language, because you’re way more expressive, efficient, and effective with it. It would be a pity to force you into English, expecting no results anytime soon. Multilingualism can be reasonable in this case, even if your audience is still tiny, because you can express yourself and find a minimal audience in your native language while experimenting with English. Writing in your language is essential to unleashing your creativity but, at the same time, if English is in your plans, you must start gaining experience with it.
But, of course, the main problem is numbers. Multilingual blogging is a considerable effort, and you’ll split yourself to appeal to two (or more) different audiences. Unless your goals are local only, the English audience will be much wider, and probably the only one that can bring you results.
Pay attention that if you write in more than one niche, you’re already splitting your online presence, willingly or not. Multilingualism is an additional split.
If English is an option for you and you have a decent command of it, to start with English only makes a lot of sense.
On the contrary, if the local language has the priority, stay with it, and resist the temptation to go English. Get results with the local language first, or you’ll just spread yourself too thin.
Unless necessary, starting with a single language is definitely preferable.
In some cases, providing two or more languages can differentiate your blog from the others, especially if you have excellent command in more than one language. But pay attention that each language usually targets a different audience. You’re still dividing your efforts in multiple streams. This kind of differentiation makes much more sense when the target audience is multilingual itself. For example, people who like to read in various languages (it could be, if you write about travels or… languages themselves) or your target audience is companies where not everybody speaks English and more languages available can be appreciated.
Differentiation may be a thing even for native English speakers. If they’re polyglots, and they’re already getting results with English, adding a language to their production may let them tap into a wider audience with clear advantages – due to their global authority – over local-only bloggers.
Social publishing platforms
If you blog on Medium, Vocal, HubPages, whatever, multilingualism is usually not an option. English is mandatory or highly recommended.
Some social publishing platforms allow the use of multiple languages. Still, the tools for categorization and discovery are usually poor, so you risk confusing your audience and building a messy profile. Better a local language only, if local is preferable for you, than a mix.
Two distinct accounts are a possibility, but you have to deal with account switching and total separation of the audiences.
In any case, never add the translation to the post itself, unless in particular cases. It would only annoy readers and confuse algorithms.
Your own blog
Multilingualism is not just adding a plugin. Trust me because I walked that path.
The bright side is that multilingualism in your own blog is in your control. It’s not only possible, but it can be done in multiple ways (a plugin, two distinct WordPress instances, etc.).
But many self-publishing platforms have the same multilingual limits as the social publishing platforms, even when they’re not apparent and multilingualism seems to be supported, up to a point. Squarespace is an example (multilingualism is “supported,” but it’s just a raw switch between two distinct blogs).
If you go with WordPress or like, it’s still necessary to be familiar with the publishing technologies. If you’re not autonomous in setting up a blog that way, I’d think twice or would even stay away from it at all.
You don’t need to be too rigid in deciding for all of your writing. Not only your possible different identities may have different multilingual needs, but you can also make different decisions for different platforms.
For example, you can decide to go English-only on Medium and native-only in your own blog. You can have different linguistic identities on different platforms. You should not worry too much about splitting your “overall” identity. A homogeneous language is clearly the best option, but different channels are mostly different audiences anyway, Google included.
Just pay attention that your linguistic presence between publishing platforms and socials must be coherent. Your blog should point to a Facebook profile in a different language, nor vice versa.
I mostly publish on Medium and my own blogs, mainly in English but also in Italian.
My writing is usually not targeted to a local audience, so English is an obvious option for me. I’m not fluent, but I can write decently enough not to annoy readers. So, I write directly in English. Sometimes, with some personal essays or poems, I need more command of the language, and I go with Italian, but it’s not frequent. In that case, I always translate (or even rewrite parts) in English.
On Medium, only English works. Stories in Italian have a few fans but are quite ignored by 99.99% of the community. I still like to publish something in Italian – just for the pieces already originally written in Italian – from time to time, but I pay attention not to annoy the English audience. I used to own and use specific publications in Italian, for the stories in this language, but it’s a dead-end anyway.
On my personal blogs – English first too -, I already added Italian on one (Vico XL) and plan to add Italian to the other (Vico notes). Of course, not all the English stories have the Italian version. I use WordPress with a custom configuration that it’s not worth mentioning, at least here. Consider that I’m a software developer, so my familiarity with those tools is an exception. But traffic on Italian articles is quite non-existent. The stories are there for my own sake of having a portfolio in my own language in the long run. I get no audience nor money out of those posts.
I own a product website too (XPlan), but it’s intended for global customers, and that will remain English only for long.
In the past, I had a couple of blogs in Italian only. A total disaster. You might think that a local language can target a niche, but truth is that succeeding with local languages needs special conditions. Pop and country-specific topics are usually among those conditions.
Here’s a recap of the main cases:
Local/native audience = local/native language.
Global audience = English.
Massive global audience = English and, maybe, local/native language.
Global audience and poor English = native language plus English experimentation.
Of course, your needs may be specific, and multilingualism is worth it anyway in your case. Just remember the golden rule: add a second (or third language) only if you know where you’re going with your blogging. Possibly, only when you already get results with the primary chosen language.