Blogging Across Languages? Multilingual Blogging? Multiple Single-Language Blogs?

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As we prepare for the fall’s Blogging the World project, interesting questions about writing across languages are starting to swirl about on the students’ opening posts. Grappling with the to blog-in-English or not-to-blog-in-English question shows how they are thinking about the relationship between language and culture, language and self. By extension, they are confronting the reality of being American in the wider world. Indeed, already they have introduced one of the fundamental questions for the project–how language affects experience.

Responding to my post on blogging in Argentina, Zoey, already in Germany, expresses some of the same internet cafe disorientation I did in Argentina. She writes:

Barbara, I am lost somewhere in Berlin and for the first time have accessed the internet. It was very comforting to read your post and understand the unfamiliarity with computers and your surroundings abroad. A small detail, the Z and the Y have switched places on my keyboard ahhhhh!!
I am using the internet at a cafe and all the internet users are glaring at the screens with such desperation that I am afraid one man might actualy try to climb on in.
As you said, this project is definitely going to force me to reflect on my trip…

That reading my post comforted her speaks to one of the potential benefits of this group blog experiment–that collaborative blogging across study-abroad experiences enhances the individual student’s experience by bringing along a community–not the home community but a virtual, on-the-road community.

Lizi who is immersed in Russian Summer School, in a thought-provoking post, explores the impact on self of switching languages, of becoming hyper-aware of language, writing:

We are speaking Russian, but our thoughts and are humor are directly translated from English. We are not saying things that would be interesting (or understandable) to Russians. But I am thinking of language itself differently. In this environment our expressible thoughts are so simplified that they are, I think, more honest. Without knowing the inner workings of the Russian language, and incapable of differentiating layers of meaning, we are forced into bluntness. We don�t know how to manipulate our appearances through language yet. We are exposed, and it may be why, during most of my conversations, I am either extremely agitated or extremely grateful. I read other students, and myself, much more easily.

My friend told me (only half jokingly I think) that we are better friends in Russian than in English. We do laugh more now. We are all living the exact same way here. Thinking the same things about the same people, and expressing our thoughts with the same words that we studied together the night before. Is it a surprise that suddenly everyone feels strangely connected? We have no room to become individuals.

How many twenty-year-olds are putting into words such experiences? This isn’t your how-many-bars-I’ve-visited-this-week kind of students travel blogging. For my money, this blogging experiment has already reaped significant benefits if the students find themselves trying to communicate the complexities of the experience moving between languages and cultures.

Piya, who has blogged from India, worries about what blogging in English will do to her experience in Italy, pointing out that her goal is to become fluent in Italian:

There is also the language component. I am traveling to Florence with a supposedly specific goal in mind; to become fluent in Italian. Will blogging in English interfere with this process? Unlike my journey to India, which was a mere three weeks, I will be living in Italy for six months, and not just reporting people�s stories but attempting to become a part of them and make them my own. Is it more difficult to evaluate or perhaps critique a culture and its people when you�re trying so desperately to become a part of it?

I found that as my India blog progressed there was a pattern in who was reading and commenting on my writing. Of course my close friends, family and professors were a crucial component, but another community formed; that of the Indian Diaspora. It will be fascinating, and of course, nerve-wracking in the next six months to see who, if any, will be able to relate and respond.

Another fact remains. In India I was blogging alone. I was not part of a larger community of writers and bloggers and I got used to the solitude, actually enjoyed it. In this situation I will be blogging amongst fourteen other students sharing their own international experiences. And I am sure that our writing will clash, collide, mesh, and simultaneously take on their own and unique character. But will I be able to adjust to a community again or will I be pining for my privacy, my own piece of space?

Already, before the project officially launches, these students give us a fascinating glimpse into the educational impact of the study abroad experience. Already, blogging is pushing them to consider and to communicate to a readership the often discomfitting sensations of facing the unknown, the Other. I’ll be interested to see if bloggers from their host countries will discover them and engage them in discussion about the experience of being an American living in their culture.

That they are all thinking about the impact of blogging in English and whether they should blog at least part of the time in Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese sent me off into the blogosphere to see what multilingual bloggers were doing. Last summer’s Blogtalk2 introduced me to a number of European bloggers choosing to blog in English or to keep multiple, language-specific blogs, Ton Zylstra,for example, a Dutch blogger blogging in English, or Martin Roell, a blogger from Luxembourg with multiple blogs, some in English, some in German. I went back to read Stephanie Booth’s French/English blog out of Switzerland, Climb to the Stars, and her post from a year ago about how the English-speaking blogosphere was missing the uproar among French bloggers. She blogs in both languages, interchangeably on the same blog, quite successfully. I can see some of the students choosing to do this–each post aimed at a particular subset of readers according to the language selected. Will they feel as though they have whiplash as they shift languages?

Hector Vila, who is now blogging exclusively on the collaborative Future Communities Blog coming out of his fall 2004 first-year seminar at Middlebury, (which, btw, I believe is the only blog out there that has successfully pushed course blogging beyond the semester, taking his fourteen students on a livelong learning adventure–see Emily’s inspired ongoing blogging, for example) has posted a fascinating bi-lingual entry in preparation for his trip to Argentina with two of the students from that course. He moves between Spanish and English fluidly, elegantly, and in such a way that readers without Spanish (i.e.Yours Truly) can make sense of the Spanish excerpts. He, too explores the meaning of moving between cultures, in his case as an exile:

Like Callao, I have been lost though I’ve existed in mainstream American culture; but following the actor, H�ctor Vila is a private self known only by one. The Spanish H�ctor Vila is unknown to those I know in the United States–it is nebulous to me as well. Given the personality of the Argentinean and Latin American history, this project is part of a long and arduous journey I’ve undertaken to find my way back to this exotic and romantic culture.

�Puedo crear? therefore extends itself in me: can I recreate myself, both as partially American and partially Argentinean? How do I reconcile both in the world marked by globalization? Am I a hybrid, as so many exiles have become? And can the exile enter society as an organic intellectual, contributing from a perspective that is unique, different, and often times challenging to the status quo? Will the future look like it does in Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, where some are allowed “in,” others are automatically on the margins, and the language is a stew of cultures that have effectively lost their identities, Chinese, Americans, the Spanish?

These are the kinds of blogposts I hope the students read, consider and respond to in their own blogging–will their experience in some small way echo his? Will they feel marginalized within the host culture? How will being an American have an impact on the study abroad year?

As I venture further out into the blogosphere, I’ve come across such posts as this one from Loic Le Muer blog entitled, “Four options to blog multilingual… or remain local” and a lively discussion threading through the comments weighing in on the merits of multilingual blogging.

Questions of audience, of local concerns versus global, will arise, I am certain, as the blogging-the-world project moves along. They are wondering if anyone beyond the project parameters will read the blogs and join the discussion–pre-game jitters?