Do you speak other languages, but surf only in English?

October 17, 2008, [MD]

I have always been very interested in languages, and I am lucky enough to be able to speak a few. My mother tongue is Norwegian, but I also speak for example Italian, Spanish, Esperanto, Chinese and Indonesian. And English of course.

What language to use on the web is a tricky question. And some might consider me a bit of a hypocrite. I feel very strongly about linguistic diversity, and am all about encouraging Chinese, Hindi speakers and Norwegians to blog in their own languages, to create more web content in the languages less represented on the web. At the same time, I obviously understand the desire to reach out and be read by people all over the world. Personally, almost all my web activity is in English. I blog in English (I have had two different blogs in Chinese, but gave up when the only comment I ever got was “oh, so cute, your Chinese is really good”, and never about what I was writing about). I mostly edit English Wikipedia (although I have made contributions to the Norwegian, Indonesian and Chinese). I also do most of my reading in English (although I read some Norwegian dailies and blogs, and some Chinese). When I google for something, I always google in English - unless there is strong reason to expect there to more material in another language.

This is why a recent post on My learning journey, talking about how she had dived into the German webosphere, and found many interesting sites, resonated with me. I should probably spend more time surfing around in different linguistic blogospheres, but I feel I am already spending too much time on the net… One neat tool I came up with to encourage myself to be more linguistically diverse, is connected to Wikipedia. I usually look up a topic on English Wikipedia, because it usually has the longer, more complete articles - however I would be completely capable to check out the article in other languages. This tool automatically redirects you to the longest Wikipedia page on a given topic, given a range of languages that you speak.

Here is an example of usage:,da,sv,de,it/Democracy This url says: I speak Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, German and Italian - give me the longest article you have on what in English is called Democracy. (This might seem very inconvenient, but if you save it as a keyword in Firefox, like,da,sv,de,it/%s, you can later type something like “bigger Frankenstein”, and it automatically redirects you.

One thing I would love to find though, are good websites in these languages where people “sum up” significant developments and trends in the national blogosphere for me. Often what I find, is people summing up the debates on Slashdot or Digg for the national audience - which is the last thing I want.

By the way, I am currently looking for examples of international students or faculty being encouraged to conducted research/publish in their home languages - any sources would be very welcome.

Stian\ Thanks to Gaetan Lee @ flickr for the image, licensed under CC BY

Stian Håklev October 17, 2008 Toronto, Canada
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