Is English the only language you speak? Don’t be ashamed because it means that you don’t need to be afraid of losing followers on Twitter who don’t speak your language. Put yourself in the shoes of someone whose timeline or newsfeed is stuffed with words or letters they don’t understand. Oh, you’ve been in those shoes? Don’t you feel frustrated? If English is the only language everyone is using, it will save a lot of problem, no? At least, nobody will feel abandoned because others write status updates in another language. Facebook understands the feeling! That’s why now you can always click ‘translate’ on every news feed they detect using a language other than yours. On the other hand, some people who are bilingual may wish otherwise. No more “talking behind” on contacts who speak only English – which we, bilinguals or trilinguals, sometimes do in certain cases to be safe, for example when we make political statements that may offend people from a certain country. Yes, being able to speak a foreign language means that we have the ability to screen our readers. So, no more secrets eh, Facebook? Hmm… not quite. Facebook has not been able to translate Javanese language, for example. If you are the secretive type and speak Javanese while some of your contacts don’t, you can play with the option!
I speak Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese and English (in proficiency order). I use English with awareness to reach wider audience. I want my friend who is a Thai, for example, to be able to understand and probably retweet my post. And who says I don’t need to practice my English? I’m not an English teacher anymore, and I speak Bahasa most of the time at work, so I have a mild degree of fear of losing my English proficiency if I don’t keep using it. Owing partly to social media, thank God, it’s still there!
I use Bahasa almost instantly in social media. I comment on current national or local issues in Bahasa and attract further comments from the Indonesian speakers on my contact list. I currently live in Indonesia and it’s my current reality that I observe and comment on from time to time on social media. I switch to English with consciousness to have a conversation with the English speaking readers.
It gets amusing with using Javanese in social media. It really does. It’s like going to a (‘Western’) cocktail party where you are the only one wearing a traditional batik sarong and somehow feel funky about it. At least, that’s how I feel. I often find tweets in Javanese made by people I follow very funny. I know that they speak Bahasa and could have tweeted in Bahasa, but they use emotive Javanese instead to better represent their mood. I also observe the rise of Javanese language (and other regional dialects) in social media that goes along with the rise of pride to be part of a nation with multiculturalism and multilingualism. Using Javanese in social media is a way to preserve culture.
Using a non-English language in social media sometimes has nothing to do with abandonment or talking-behind. As I mentioned, it sometimes is the case to be politically safe. Think of a Javanese speaking girl whose crush doesn’t speak Javanese, and on a frustrating day she wants to pour it all out in social media without being too offensive to the guy. That simple. 🙂