LazyWeb Question: A Unilingual Blog on a Bilingual Site?

I’m doing a little ad hoc consulting for a Canadian company that’s implementing a blog on their high-traffic website. I’m not in a position to reveal who it is, but suffice it to say that they’re a mainstream Canadian brand who you’d all recognize. They are not Roots, but that might be an analogous example.

Like FutureShop (they are also not FutureShop), this company has their complete website in both official languages. They want to launch a blog, but it’s something of a pilot project and they don’t have the resources to launch it in both languages. There’s not only the cost and pain of translating the entries, but the dodgier issue of translating (or not translating) user-generated comments as well.

How should they deal with this issue? Launch blogs in both languages which run independent of one another? Or compromise their bilingual site, launch in English and hope there’s not a French-Canadian backlash?

UPDATE: Thanks for all the great feedback. If I’m able, I’ll eventually reveal what the blog(s) and how we came to a final decision. Darren Rowse, pro blogger extraordinaire, mentioned this post, and there’s some suggestions over on his site as well.


  1. Ask for help from their community in translating posts?

    Have a bilingual blog which is, erm, unilingual? That is, there are postings in english and french, but they are different, non-translated versions of each other? So, you can follow the english category, the french category, or both?

    It’s a tough one. And what about localization? Are they going to display the site — i.e. have a theme — in both languages?

  2. The true test of bilingualism is the ability for primary-speakers of both languages to be able to understand one another… no matter which language they are conversing in.

    In fact, you’ll find many second-language educated people able to understand or read a second language, but aren’t able to speak or write it.

    Let the two sites mash together. Don’t separate French from English. Users can respond in either language — or both if they want to retype it themselves — and leave other forum users to do the interpretation for those who can’t understand.

    If this site is particularly targetting young adults and/or teens, you’ll find that greater percentages of them than their parents have dual-language education (and a good part of those dual-languages are French and English).

    Let the users of the forum sort out what works for them — but certainly don’t separate the forum into a “French” forum and an “English” forum; that doesn’t fit all those who are able and willing to navigate in between, and just contributes to solidifying these ‘two solitudes’ as separate entities.

  3. The cost of translation should be the determining factor—through personal experience the cost is huge.

    I suggest two independent blogs, not just because of the cost but I think most French-Canadian clients want to feel the blog addresses their special needs instead of merely being a translated version of the English blog.

  4. A mainstream brand would probably provoke a backlash if they didn’t have some French on their blog. So I think having some posts in French and some in English without necessarily translating them is a reasonable compromise. Ideally there would be a summary in the other language so people would know whether to make a big effort to understand it. And maybe the first blog post is in both languages and talks about the issues and asks for input from this company’s potential customers. Make that one the endpoint of a link in an FAQ or a sidebar menu item so it’s not lost.

  5. i would love to see a blog like the one Rhiannon describes. have the two languages together and don’t make a fuss about it.

  6. As long as it’s not a federal government website (where AFAIK it is probably not quite possible to actually do this) then it’s probably appropriate to have postings “in the language of the author”, whilst having dual (french/english) interfaces.

  7. I used to manage the web team at a federal crown corporation. Even with a team of in-house translators available, we wrestled with the translation issue, particularly for news from another source being posted on the site.

    We ended up deciding that it was impractical to try instant translation, or delay the posting of information until it could be translated. Although the site is bilngual, there are many news items that appear only in one language or the other.

    I think a dual language blog would be impractical, and might be frustrating for people. A better approach might be to launch the blog in both languages (either simultaneously, or close enough that one group doesn’t feel slighted). I would suggest having the two versions operate separately, in only one language.

    Perhaps someone could do a high-level summary of representative posts that are appearing in the other language from time to time. People would know 1) the blog exists in another language, too; 2) the kinds of things being discussed; 3) that the organization is making an effort to bridge the language gap, without forcing people to wade through postings that are in a language they don’t understand.

  8. If the company can assign two people as the primary bloggers, I’d agree that one English, one French, with an easy way to get to one from the other, and no requirement that they mirror each other in any particular sense, would probably work best. But don’t let one stagnate while the other flourishes: that would be worse than not having a second blog at all.

  9. I vote for 2 writers and 2 blogs as well, for the same reasons as Derek above, but also just because it reflects a dedication to representing the difference experiences of the 2 languages.

    Some great crossover posting could also be possible, with each blog linking to good stories on the other, and riffing on the comments / contributions, much like CBC Radio 3 do with their French sibling Bande a Part. Reflect both languages and don’t ghettoize either.

    From a budgetary perspective it will be more effective to write 2 blogs in 2 languages than to write kinda 1 blog translated into 2 languages. And if you’re writing 1 blog you’re priviledging one language (the language of origin) over the other (the language of translation).

  10. I would tend to agree with the majority here and vote for two separate blogs – one in French, one in English – that don’t have the same content and are maintained independently of one another but with clear links to each other. I would also suggest that the first post on each would explain the decision (in the spirit of honesty and authenticity of the blogosphere) and point readers to the other blog in the other language. I think that while Rhiannon’s idea is an interesting one, that it would be extremely frustrating for readers who speak only one language to have to wade through posts in the language they don’t speak, and may deter some visitors from returning. I do like the idea of regular updates about what’s going on at the other blog, with links to posts of note.

  11. Posted this also at ProBlogger…
    A good solution is Expression Engine. There are many bilingual bloggers using it and several different ways to do it. The most popular as I recall is…well first you have to understand that EE allows custom fields, as many as you want, and custom categories/statuses/etc…to have ONE blog but separate field for each language you want. Then, based on what language a person selects, you serve the appropriate field. Also makes it easy for translation since all versions are within the same publish/edit window.
    There are other methods and several threads about multilingual sites on the EE forums.

  12. I have a trilingual blog myself. Russian, English and Finnish. The way I deal with it is simple: languages come one by one and people comment in their own language. If someone doesn’t understand a comment, well it’s his problem. He has to learn the language 🙂

    I’m not saying you have to use the same strategy, but that one works really well for me.

  13. Or compromise their bilingual site, launch in English and hope there’s not a French-Canadian backlash?

    If the company is Quebec-based, you’ll have a backlash if there is no French version, but if the company is ROC-based with no big Quebec business, it should go not that bad.

    Note also that Quebec’s law requires a site to have a French version if this company have more than 50 employees in Quebec.
    (Yes, the site is in French)

  14. * Have a widget (make sure it’s keyboard-accessible and -usable) to show only items in a chosen language.

    * Use correct HTML and absolutely definitely language-tag everything, even if it means adding otherwise-extraneous divs. This is rather important for screen-reader users and for correct indexing. (Do not assume Google can figure out your postings are in French.)

    * If some entries are translated, the ill-supported rel=alternate attribute on {A} and a few other elements is useful semantically.

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