Should I post to Twitter in English instead of my native language?

In little over a year, I became quite a Twitter-fanatic. I follow around a hundred people (which I organized in categorised Lists for easy reading), and I daily post a handfull of messages myself (using the account @JorgK). Up until now, my tweets are in Dutch. Being a citizen of The Netherlands, Dutch is my native tongue.

For quite some time, however, I have been wondering if I should switch to English as the language of my tweets. The reason is obvious: there are (at best) a few hundred thousand people in The Netherlands using Twitter, while the number people on Twitter whose primary language is English, or who are able to understand English as a second language, are more like to reach into the few hundred millions. In theory, the audience for my tweets would multiply significanty. Either people who could follow me directly, or people who found my tweets by searching the Twitter timeline for specific subjects.

However, I always had a feeling that most of the topics that I tweet about are very locally focused. Would these topics lend themselves for an international audience?

To get a better insight into this, I decided to have a look at what exactly it is that I tweet about. For this, I analysed all the messages that I sent in the past 30 days. And this lead me to unexpected insights.

Let me give you a quick summary of what I found: Frequent topics of my tweets.


Personal affairs and observations

Let’s be honest: we all love to share some seemingly unimportant things that happen in our daily lives. I know I do. This might range from telling about a place I visited or the plans I have for the evening, to sharing something I noticed while walking down the street or something I overheard someone say.

Some of these might be funny, interesting or remarkable to a larger number of people,, but most messages in this category are especially appreciated by close personal friends (of which I know a few dozen are using Twitter). Since most people I know are Dutch themselves, I don’t feel the urge to translate these, rather personal, messages into English to reach a broader audience.


Developments in the media

One of my greatest interests is keeping an eye on developments in the media. Especially concerning the Dutch public TV broadcasting organizations and Dutch newspapers. I am a voluntary member of the association board at one of the nation’s largest TV companies, VARA. There is a lot going on in this space, as assigning air-time to each of the broadcasting organizations is a frequent topic of debate in the Dutch parliament and in the segments of society that these companies represent. Likewise, the Dutch newspaper industry is under heavy fire (as the industry as a whole probably is everywhere in the world), with a lot of mergers and aquisitions. I and many others have some steep opinions on these events, and thoughts on how it should be.

Although I do know my share of the international media conglomerates and their business relations and partnerships (especially in the US), my primary interest lies with the Dutch media. Although the country is quite small, this topic is still broad enough in itself.


Discussions about TV shows

One of Twitter’s differentiating factors compared to other online media, is its real-time nature. It’s very easy to read something someone has posted just seconds ago, and likewise people are being able to read my tweets almost instantly. This makes the service ideal to discuss events as-they-are-happening, such as TV shows. By including the appropriate hashtag for a particular show in your messages, discussions about one are easy to follow.

Although we are able to watch a couple of foreign (mainly European) TV channels (my cable box has around 100 in total), some 98% of the time I, and most people I know, watch Dutch TV channels. In my case, this selection is even more specifically narrowed down to the three quality-focused public broadcasting stations, even though there are a couple of handfull Dutch commercial TV channels as well.

Of course I do watch foreign programming from time to time, although in most cases this means watching series (my latest favorite was Mad Men from AMC) or news items using some on-demand technology, or via a DVD or Blu-ray Disc. Little need to tweet about them, especially not in the real-time manner as described above. I don’t feel like changing my TV watching habits just to write about television channels that more people can watch.


Technology

I have a great passion for technology. I am especially interested in creative and usefull usage of technology, rather than in the mere technical advancements. As a result, I am very focused on user interface design and usability in general. This ranges from the on-screen displays presented by a piece of consumer electronics (like a set-top box or media player) to the design decisions behind a particular web site.

Technology is an international topic, and as such most of these tweets would lend themselves for an international audience. Although even then, the implementations of my local cable provider or the latest web layout of one of our local newspapers would probably be of limited use as topics of international discussion.


Apple

Needless to say, I am a big fan of Apple products. As a result, I very frequently tweet about the Mac and its latest software and hardware, about the iPhone and its latest apps, and about the company itself. I pride myself on not only having a decent knowledge of the products, but also on having quite an insightfull look in developments surrounding Apple from a commercial, marketing and competitive standpoint.

Apple’s operations are worldwide. In fact, there are even some products and services unavailable in The Netherlands. No movie sales and rentals on iTunes, no Get A Mac commercials on TV (or any Apple commercials for that matter), and no Apple Stores can be found in our streets. Still, I keep a close eye on such things as well. Come to think of it: Apple might be the primary topic more credible for discussing in English than anything else on my list.


Politics and current affairs

I tend to have a strong opinion about things that are going on in our country’s political system. For this, I actively follow quite a few news sites and blogs, such as the liberally oriented Joop.nl. As I presume is the case for everyone, some subjects fit more closely to my heart than others. Still, I tend to keep track on most of what’s happening.

To enhance this, I follow a few politicians on Twitter. More and more politicians from all flavours are discovering Twitter as a means of very quickly and directly communicating their views and stances to the public, and it allows the public to get in contact with them as well. Most of them seem to personally respond if possible. Although the Internet in general has brought politics closer to public in recent years, Twitter seems to make the line even thinner.

Even though I try to keep an eye on international affairs in general, I solely focuss on Dutch politics on Twitter. I only follow Dutch politicians, and mainly comment on local issues (but sure, there were some Copenhagen-tweets in the past month as well). I am a a Dutchman who doesn’t carry any illusions about the relevance of Dutch politcs for the rest of the world. Not much need for English comments here either.


Personal interests

And then of course, I tend to shoot an occasional tweet about other personal interests of mine. These include, but aren’t limited to:
– Music. I am quite into gothic, wave and EBM music, and I enjoy visiting a concert and -in the summertime- a festival, which mainly take place in Germany. If a concert was especially good, or something remarkable happened, I enjoy posting a quick note about it.
– Efteling. A Dutch themepark with a very unique, romantic style. For all my life, I enjoyed this park which can truly be considered unique in the world, regarding its focus on details and quality, and the clearly unique theme. Nice to know other adults share my love! Sometimes I tend to remark on some latest developments.
– Retro Technology. I am a true sucker for old things. I own quite a collection of vintage Macs (yes, including the 128K!), and some other consumer electronics from decades past. Nice to hear about new findings or views on technology from old times, and nice to contribute to as well.
– Language. I love language. I love writing. And yes, I am one of those annoying people who is quickly angered by spelling errors and other misuse of language. Although I do read and write in English, it is the Dutch language that I care a lot about. I like to discuss language-stuff with fellow obsessive peers from time to time.
– Nijmegen. My city, where I have been living for almost 4 years. Although this seems like a short time (and it is), the city stole my heart. Founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, it is considered the oldest city in The Netherlands. Next to the obvious esthetical pleasures as a result of this, I also very much like the loose, liberal mentality of the people, and the fact that the University and its students play a major role in the city’s image. Twitter allows me to discuss the town’s activity.


So should I start twittering in English?

When I look at above list of topics that I read and write about on Twitter, I must conclude that apart from one or two exceptions, most are very locally focused. Either because the topic is typically Dutch (like domestic politics or developments in the national media), or because I tend to focus on the local aspects of a topic.

Clearly, talking about Apple or technology in general would lend itself for an international audience. As I do think mixing two languages in a single Twitter-account too much would just confuse people (both my Dutch followers who notice the inconsitency, or foreign people having no clue what a follow-up tweet may be all about), I tend to keep English tweets to a minimum.

Often, I have considered creating a seperate account just to write about Apple and technology in English. However, I do think that one of the charms of Twitter is the fact that the messages are truly personal. They are, in my opinion, not posted by some blogger or opinion-maker, but by a real person. No other Internet-technology makes publicizing and interacting this personal. And hence, I mostly appreciate the mixture of topic-specific and personal messages of the people that I follow on Twitter. Creating a seperate account for personal messages and messages about non-international topics, and an account for technology-related stuff would break this sympathetic Twitter-convention.

I have thought of means on combining the two, for example by limiting the technology-tweets to the English account, and then retweet them to my personal Dutch account, so that my Dutch followers would see these English tech-messages as well. However, this leaves the English account free of any personal notes and tweets about other topics, and would lead to the less-than-ideal situation of two mixed up languages on my personal account.

I am still not sure on how to handle this issue. I do see the potential of writing in English, as it would multiply the potential audience. But as of now, I am just too much addicted to the personal touch of Twitter (and the possibility to write about a lot of personal and local topics), to give up twittering in Dutch altogether.

I guess for now, I focus on this blog as my main outlet for English writing.

The author can be found on Twitter as @JorgK. His tweets are mainly in Dutch 🙂

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