WordCamp Switzerland 2014

Jenny Beaumont at WordCamp Zurich

It’s hard to believe that a month has gone by since WordCamp Switzerland. It was another amazing event in a delightful city, and even more exciting for me because I had an opportunity to speak to attendees about my recent project with Made In You and the Custom Digital Downloads plugin that I’m still currently working on with Rarst. I even remembered all of my cables.

I was able to contain my nerves enough to enjoy a number of talks – the line up of speakers was incredible as was the mixity of topics. Some of my favorites were Rarst’s “Caching small big things” (despite not quite fully understanding all the things), Adrian Zumbrunnen’s “On distraction-free reading experiences”, and once again I was mesmerized by Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine who talked to us about “Delightful UX” (I plan on implementing his tips for greats URLs on my site!). You can see the entire program here, and videos are slowly but surely being posted on WordPress.tv (including mine I hope).

The talk that inspired me the most was Stephanie Booth’s take on multilingual blogging. She has a totally different approach to the question of managing multilingual content: she says just mix it up. I work a lot with multilingual websites, and have given several talks on the subject. The classic approach is either translate, or create separate sites for culturally targeted content. This makes sense for websites that are selling products or services, and probably for most showcase websites, but blogging is a whole other arena, one that requires a certain amount of spontaneity and freedom to stay focused and motivated to write. Stephanie points out a very simple fact: the bilingual brain doesn’t translate.

It’s true. When I’m speaking – or writing – in English, I’m using my English brain. My English brain has references unique to my American upbringing and culture. When I’m speaking – or writing – in French, my French brain draws on a completely different set of references. In the early days I did do a lot of mental translating (not having grown up bilingual like Stephanie did), but these days I know enough and have enough experience to know that things aren’t said in the same way from one language to another. Translation is a bit of a farce when you think about it. Ideas can rarely be directly translated, but need to be adapted culturally and linguistically.

Stephanie also points out that just because we’re bilingual, it doesn’t make us translators. This really hit home because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across people who, because I’m bilingual and have a reputation for working with WPML, actually thought that I was a translator. The added pressure to maintain a blog in two or more languages, well, it’s a lot. It can be an obstacle, and I know it has been for me. For my personal blog I knew from the start that I was only interested in publishing in English, but my professional blog here is another matter. My clientele is primarily French, so I feel a certain obligation to provide French content. But I am simply more comfortable for the most part writing in English, and do it sparingly enough as it is.

So if not translate, then what? Just write in whatever language you feel like, your readers will figure it out! French and English on the same page, one post in this language the next in another. And to help, Stephanie devised a snazzy plugin to provide excerpts, rather than translations, to help readers decide whether or not the article might be worth the effort. Because, she says, most of us are a little multilingual anyway, right?

Although I haven’t figured out exactly how I’m going to implement this for myself, the idea is very inspiring and seems to have lifted a burden off of me. I do still want to make the effort to provide more content en français for my readers, but approaching it with the idea of writing fresh content and not just translating from English I do believe will make the task less daunting. Time will tell.

For my French-speaking readers, I had the honor to be the special guest for the 1st episode of the Very French Trip Podcast, a new francophone podcast dedicated to WordPress, WordCamps and other related web news and events, and where I talked about both WordCamp Switzerland and my Custom Digital Downloads project en français. I happen to know that they’re recording episode #2 tonight, and plan on keeping a steady rhythm of an episode every 2 weeks. Good things to come for sure!