The vast majority of blogs (and vlogs) are in English, even when that isn’t the authors native language. Most people seem to believe that if you want to be read, you must write in English (or at least another major language) and that writing in a minority language is a waste of time. After all, it makes sense to go to where the largest audience is right? You would think that this is especially the case for a minority language like Esperanto, a language that many people have never heard of. How could that possibly compete with English, one of the dominant languages of the world, with hundreds of millions of native speakers and over a billion people who can speak it to some degree? I think it’s very interesting to compare my experience of two similar blogs, with very different audiences.
In this post I’ll compare English with Esperanto, but I think the lesson would be the same if I had a blog in another minority language like Irish.
Number of views
Without a doubt my English language blog (Whistling In The Wind) is far more popular. It had received a total of 1,176,509 views up until the end of the year, whereas my Esperanto blog (Teo Kaj Libroj) had only received 6,631 views. However, that’s not a very fair comparison as I’ve been blogging in English for four and a half years and written a total of 350 posts, whereas I’ve only had my Esperanto blog for little over a year and have only written 20 posts (half of which were in the last four months of 2016).
In fact, what’s most interesting about comparing the two blogs is not how far apart they are, but how close many posts are in terms of views. I have translated some posts into Esperanto and some into English and what’s interesting is how the number of views is very similar. They were posted days or months apart so the comparison isn’t exactly fair, but it’s surprising that a language as small as Esperanto could compete with the colossus that is English.
In fact, if you compare my first year of blogging in English with Esperanto, the gap almost disappears. In 2012, when I created my English language blog, I got 20,000 views after writing 130 posts. That’s an average number of views of 157 compared to 382 for my Esperanto blog. Both blogs have a Facebook page and to my surprise the Esperanto one has more followers (258 to 204) despite the fact that I set up the English page six months earlier. If I put as much work into my Esperanto blog as into my English blog, it could potentially be just as successful. The beginning is always the hardest for a blog, when you have to put in a lot of effort but get little attention. My English blog has grown to such a level that I received a lot of views even if I take a break from posting, so it’s possible that the same could happen to my second blog once I build a reputation.
Community & Getting Attention
A big problem I have with my English blog is making it stand out. There’s unfortunately no equivalent to Youtube where people can subscribe and see recommended posts (technically this does exist for WordPress but few people use it). When I write a post there’s not many places I can share it, I generally have to wait for the readers to come to me. The vast majority of my views come from search engines, a source I cannot target or promote. If a write about a topic, hundreds or even thousands of articles already exist about it, so how can I make people read my post? That’s why I rarely discuss Trump despite this being a political blog, as there’s already millions of articles on the subject.
In contrast there’s almost a guaranteed audience for my Esperanto posts. So long as it’s in Esperanto, people will read it. There’s Esperanto communities on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and Lernu where any post in Esperanto is welcome. There are not that many Esperanto bloggers so it’s much easier to stand out and get noticed. So while the audience is much smaller, I have hardly any competition. Thanks to my blog, I’ve been asked to contribute to several Esperanto magazines.
There is also a huge difference in the reaction most posts get. The Esperanto community is far more positive, generally happy to see someone using the language. My English posts get a lot more negative feedback, insults etc. People are much more likely to dismiss it based on the title or if I have different opinion and many English language groups react negatively to sharing your own content. There have been several topics I’ve been uneasy about discussing for fear of the reaction I’d get, which has never happened with Esperanto.
Very Different Audience
The readership of my English blog is heavily concentrated in a very small number of countries. Roughly half of all my readers live in America (48% in 2016, 52% in 2015) and two thirds in either America or Britain. The top five countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia and Ireland) represent more than three quarters of my readership. It’s not surprising that an English language blog gets most of its readership from English speaking countries, but it does skew the focus. Posts only do well if they are relevant to English speakers, or more precisely, Americans. No matter how serious the topic or important a point I might make, if Americans don’t consider it important it won’t gain traction.
In contrast, my Esperanto blog has a much more diverse readership. USA is still the largest country, but it’s only a quarter of my readership. This is probably due to large internet population of the country and the fact that I’m only aware of English language websites to promote my blog (the Reddit group for example is overwhelmingly American, whereas the Facebook group is much more diverse). Adding Britain only gets you to 31% and the big five of the Anglosphere is only 37%. The Esperanto top five (USA, Spain, Germany, UK and Brazil) is only half the total, showing a much wider geographic spread. This means I get a much broader range of reactions from viewpoints I wouldn’t have otherwise heard from.
This rough chart I made gives an idea of the difference in readership (there were too many countries to calculate them all, so the figures don’t add to 100%). The African readership of my English blog is mainly from South Africa and the Asian share is largely from the Philippines. The South American readership of my Esperanto blog is mainly from Brazil.
|Continent||English Blog||Esperanto Blog|
Of course few languages have the geographical diversity of Esperanto, but they do have a very different audience and allow you to reach people you otherwise would have never met. Using a language other than English allows you tap into other channels and hear completely different voices.
A surprising difference and one I didn’t realise until I started my Esperanto blog, is the level of freedom I feel with it. Being a small minority language provides an unexpected benefit. I feel much freer and open with my posts and able to discuss topics I wouldn’t discuss in English. As the Esperanto community is small, they react positively to any material in the language so I don’t have to stress myself to make every sentence my absolute best. I feel free to discuss topics that I would otherwise dismiss as not important enough (and sometimes been surprised at the interest shown).
I also feel much more free to discuss personal issues and the fact that no one I know in Ireland understands Esperanto is actually a big advantage. For example, I wrote a post about my former boss and am working on a post about a visit to my hometown, which obviously I wouldn’t want those people to read.
While so far I have mentioned some of advantages of posting in a minority language, English has one major advantage. There is always a slight chance of going viral. Now this is a little like winning the lottery, the odds are tiny but the payoff is enormous. Every so often one of my posts will be shared by someone with a large following and I’ll receive a month’s worth of views in a single day. This is one area where a small language simply cannot compete. As I mentioned above, it is far harder to stand out from the crowd, but if you manage to succeed, the reward is far higher.
Contributing to the Culture
For me, writing in English is nothing special. I don’t feel any special connection with the language, I suppose it’s probably something I just take for granted. This might be because I’m a native speaker or because I’m Irish (so “our language” is Irish even if we can’t speak it) or simply because hundreds of millions of people speak English so it’s nothing special. As I mentioned above, almost any topic I pick has already been discussed in English so it’s hard to add anything new.
Writing in Esperanto has a completely different feel. Every time I write something, I feel I am actively contributing to the culture. Each post is enriching and broadening literature and making Esperanto that little bit more useful. I feel that each post has an impact and really supports the language. Enough people speak English, it doesn’t need any help, that’s why I enjoy supporting a minority language like Esperanto.
So while some of my experiences only relate to Esperanto, I think most of them are applicable to other minority languages. If I wrote in Irish for example, there would be a large difference in views, but if I was willing to put the effort in, the gap would be much smaller than you’d expect. It would be much easier for my posts to get attention, I’d have a very supportive community behind me and reach a very different audience. I’d feel very free in what I discussed and would enjoy contributing to the culture (even if there was no chance of going viral).
I’d love to hear from other bloggers and what their experiences are, especially those who write in a minority language, so please leave a comment below.