“Does it bother or concern you that English appears to be the native tongue for the Internet.”


Rick Segal asked this question on his recent trip to good old Europe and reflects on the reactions.

It does bother me much more that I have to decide whether or not I write in English or my german tongue. The audiences are different (that helps) but some things have to go on the german blog because the cultural context is lost otherwise. Many times I end up posting in neither language – beying so annoyed about having to choose.

As with having two blogs – it is more if a choice for you the reader. English reading people do mind it if there is content which they cannot participate / read etc, which is why I keep them seperate.

Rick mentions how non english websites use tools from english site: well, why should I bother with having a lower quality german speaking service if I can have a better one in english. Which in many cases is also a tool i use for my english blogs.

Did I mention I want a working translator in all areas of our live asap? Could the guys who decide which cool feature is next please start with this one? Talk about crowdsourcing, and taking in the community of interest etc … image how that would rock if we all spoke the same language ….

Rick talks about how interesting he finds it that Estonian official websites have so much translated into English – and loyal readers will know that this is one of my standard things I tell about Germany: Most of the Germans do not have the level of english I have (and yes, as usual I consider mine far from being perfect). They just don’t.

They may have some vocabulary for the holidays, but even when travelling to the states I am amazed when walking in San Francisco how many German tourist I encounter who frequently complain about not being able to understand anything.

Which is why (and there we go back to the point at the beginning) a lot of my readers are separated into two camps: Those who read english and those who only read German. It shows not only in what they talk about but also in the topics they are interested in or what relationships they build.

It is not the language which is bothering me, but the seperation through it.

It is not fun when you want to talk about what interests you, what you are passionate about and the response is being resented – purely based on the fact that “it is in english”. While I am interested at what is happening in the Valley, most people here are absolutely not. They may be interested what is happening in Germany in some towns, but that is about it.

So of course I go where my peers are. Which means 80% of the time travelling. But then … It is not much fun when you get accused of wanting to show of when all you do is talk about what you have done in the past months or go for in the next 12. I will attend the PodcastconUK for speaking, LeWeb (when I find my Mastercard to actually be able to pay it), attend the BBC Christmas Bash and if I look at the parts I want to go for in 2007 I could use a travel agent just on how to deal with flights, hotels etc. Those are a few days out of the months to come and people act as if I am doing nothing else but running around from conference to conference.

So to answer the question “Does it bother or concern you that English appears to be the native tongue for the Internet.” I would say: It concerns me a much greater deal that people still stay in their own language and own eco system.

At the same time I see how complicated, frustrating it is for many, for them it will stay “Endstation Deutsch” because they will not be able to participate even though internet access has become so easy.

I’m drawing no conclusions as of yet, just giving you some observations about languages and the use. At a certain point, your blog, web site, web service, etc, will be impacted. It’s worth thinking about.

For the moment: If you consider selling in the German market for big time, you need to have a german website, no way around it. This comes first. Second you need to make sure that you understand cultural differences. And third – well there may be no third as there may already be a copy cat in the German market or your special service is so localized to your own market that it is not transferable at all.

And I am afraid that this will not change for a very long time. So while Estonia has embraced what the new language can bring them (as most smaller countries do) the big ones like Germany, France and Spain loose out – because they are too big.

Commenter Ed asks if we should be bothered that the language of the commercial internet is english, and I was missing a point in this post:
That the commercial internet does not understand though is the fact how much money can be made OUTSIDE the pure english speaking users. Once they get this, they may actually go and work on some better translators.

Too bad porn is basically just images and nonsense sound which does not need no translation, otherwise we would have had a working babelfish 5 years ago


2 Responses to ““Does it bother or concern you that English appears to be the native tongue for the Internet.””

  1. John says:

    Check out David Graddol’s “English Next”, a document written for the British Council. You will see that the predominance of English in the Net is shrinking.

  2. riaz says:

    I second the universal translator device – I saw someone somewhere demo the prototype of such a device witha limited vocab – it worked by having sensors attached to your throat and mouth and predicted what you are trying to say and then outputting it in the correct language. At least its instant and so not stilted like using a normal translator – but it fails when they need to understand the context of the conversation. We need a mind reading device for that :o (maybe some ethical issues here.. )