In English, Please!


Every time I re-read one of my blog entries, I will notice a couple of sentences that have a rather German structure. Sometimes I sneakily rewrite them, sometimes I just stay with it. I guess that these mistakes are something you can’t avoid when you’re not a native speaker and use your mother tongue all day. OK … these days I don’t do too much talking and I spend a lot of time reading English stuff on the internet. But you get the general idea.

Similar things happen on’s main page. There are always one or two “official” sentences that sound a bit awkward. This is part of a dilemma probably shared by other websites. aims at an international audience, so we need to translate the site into a large number of languages. Until now we support seven languages, which isn’t bad for a small company as ours – but there are obvious limitations.
Most of our localized versions are one-off jobs done by trusted native speakers. This means that there is no support for features introduced after the translation has been completed, let alone newsletters, etc. For those, we have to resort to our two ‘main languages’ German and English. We could have settled for one of them, but chances for international success are clearly better if you use English and it would have been a waste of our superior German language skills not to do a German version. Also about a third of the site’s visitors are from Germany. So, yeah.

Back to the awkward English dilemma: We are trying to set up a professional website for an international audience. I would go as far as saying that we are professionals – but we’re not exactly a large team. Any resources that go into writing nice and professional English texts could also be used to improve the site design, do general administration stuff and so on. On the other hand I personally find sites that use incorrect language somewhat sketchy. So it’s either trying to balance these kinds of things or leaving the international parts of the Internet to English speakers and companies with a budget for translators.

What does everyone else think? Did you notice any irregularities at all or is this something only a blog person with too much time on their hands will notice? How would you address the dilemma mentioned above? If you are an non-native speaker of English and have a website in English, do you experience similar problems?

Of course I know that this article somewhat misses the point for a number of users. There are quite a few who do not speak English or German and either write in their own language or trust the hardly-trustworthy Google translator happily ignoring all warnings. I keep wondering how you experience the site. Do you ignore all written text or just cope with the mysterious syntax of auto-translation? If anyone of you auto-translates this article, please tell me. Probably has some advantages in that a steady number of cartoons people upload is without words. But then again any comment or questions exceeding “very good” or “*****” usually leads to either Babel-ish chaos or uncomfortable silence. The lesson to draw from this is probably that the “discursive model” of web 2.0 communication is an idealistic and, ultimately, an elitist concept. There are other factors that generate internet community. I can’t help thinking and muttering to myself, however, that my old elitist ideal is more meaningful.

Paul Hellmich

Image: London Party by Prinzparadox


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One Response to “In English, Please!”

  1. Max says:

    Good post. I hope some users will discuss Paul’s questions.

    It’s great to see how cartoons – whether just funny or political ones – can work without words. I am able to understand what an artist from Bulgaria, Mozambique or Japan wants to tell me without knowing any word of her/his language.
    The rest has to be discussed in words, and I don’t mind in what language it should be done. English is the most simple and wide-spread way for my means, though I would try to learn Esperanto or Chinese if it could help me to do my business and communicate all over the world. That’s the hard way.
    The easy way is to translate Turkish or Bulgarian comments I’m interested in with google Translations. Sometimes I see a difference in words when I re-translate it – what means that the translations can be faulty sometimes.

    We will try to include more languages in – but it won’t help the multilingual communication.


    p.s. a quick joke (mostly) for German Users: the US shirt-on-demand company with user-generated products runs the complete offer on the German site translated by the google-robot:
    “Amerika-Bumsen ja” und “Chicago saugt”

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