Producing bilingual content for the AQ blog

People ask me all the time how AQ handles having an English blog and Japanese blog. Oh wait, they don’t… they just read articles in their language. Last year, we decided that the two language versions of the AQ site do not need to be mirrored. There can be content that exists only in one language. There can be content that’s similiar but is introduced from a different angle. And of course, there can be content that’s more or less a word for word translation.

In this article, I’ll explain the implications of this approach, at different levels of blogging.

Chris, power blogging in the darkness of the night
Chris, power blogging in the darkness of the night

At system level

This philosophy was baked in at the system level when we re-factored our website in Spring 2011. The two blogs are actually two different installations of WordPress, connected by a nifty PHP script that maps different bits of content.

If the page exists in the other language, it will show up. If not, the user will be redirected to the top page of that section, with an unobtrusive dropdown message. The mappings are added manually through a custom browser interface.

When we abandoned the idea that the two languages were two halves of a coin, we also changed the system on a fundamental level.

No longer does the site feel broken when one clicks the language switcher and is given an error page that says the page “is missing or hasn’t been translated yet”. The influence on our mindset as content producers is bigger than you would expect.

At content planning level

When someone has the idea for a blog article, we will ask “does this article work in the other language?”

If it’s a heavy duty article that takes more than a few days to draft, we definitely want it in both languages. An article that’s meant to spark the interest of our Japanese audience might become Japanese only, if it requires extensive re-writing to make it work as an English article. If we know that there will be a bigger impact if published at a certain time, we will prioritize that language.

The potential impact of the article and the availability of resources at that moment will define the how and when of content creation.

Is that the ideal approach to the planning of content creation? Of course not, but for a small company with very limited resources for blogging, it’s the realistic way. Roll with the punches, but smartly so.

At content production level

It’s usually pretty easy to tell if what you’re reading is a translation or not. For an article to feel “translated” is acceptable for a web-related opinion piece, since so much of the ideas and terminology stems from the English speaking world. For a report about one of our events to feel “foreign” is less okay.

As the one responsible for coordinating, editing and WordPressing translated content, I can tell you one thing:

It’s a much smoother process when the “translation editor” is invested in the content production.

Don’t take a conveyer belt approach to translation. It’s not the last step of content production but another beginning, and for both the writer and the translation editor to feel that way influences the quality of the article in the second language.

At content promotion level

This is an easy one. We definitely talk about the articles differently.

Different language, different audience, completely different context!

It’s only recently that we’ve begun to operate Twitter accounts in both languages, so that’s been quite the lesson in different messaging for the very different audiences.

Going back to my opening remark about people reading only reading articles in their language: That’s the way it should be, and if they never give a second thought about the other language, I’ve done my job.

Tokyo Art Beat at Pecha Kucha
Tokyo Art Beat at Pecha Kucha