There was an interesting panel at VinoCamp Lisbon where participants discussed the language barriers between different wine blogging communities.
Overall, the round table discussion was very interesting. I particularly liked Vicky’s idea at the end about designated cultural leaders (which I’ll address in detail below).
Here’s a video of the roundtable:
Language Barriers at Conferences and on the Web
The discussion was divided between how language barriers play out in conference settings and how they affect web communication. This isn’t really surprising since Gabriella Opaz (who I believe proposed this session) is one of the organizers of the EWBC, and the VinoCamp itself is a very Francophone conference (Lisbon was the first VinoCamp that Gregoire and Vicky organized in English).
In case you don’t think language barriers are relevant, the participants in the discussion bring up a lot of evidence on how divisive language can be. For example, Gab alludes to the friction between the EWBC and Portuguese wine bloggers in 2009. Perhaps of greater interest, some of the Portuguese attendees speak up on their comfort level in attending English-language or French-language conferences. It certainly seems everybody has a lot of hangups when it comes to language.
Most people seemed to find the language barrier equally troubling online. Do I tweet in English or French or Spanish? While I understand the frustrations in a conference setting, I think the virtual world is much more liberating. I realize it’s easy for me to say that since I can write in English and French (which covers most of the wine producing world in one fell swoop)…But I really think that people can get away with any language online. On the Internet, your audience is not limited to the physical time and place of a conference. Your words live on in perpetuity and become indexed and searchable to other native speakers of the language you communicate in. A Catalan-language wine blog does not have the same potential audience as an English-language blog, but it still has an audience. And even if that niche is only in the thousands, it’s an important audience. Consider the size of conferences like VinoCamp and the EWBC. They are awesome gatherings and they generate great ideas and partnerships, but they’re actually sort of tiny. VinoCamp Carcassonne had like 150ish people. EWBC Vienna had about 300 people. Even an obscure language blog can get that traffic in a week.
Getting Wine Producers to Participate
One of the toughest parts of my “job” is getting winemakers to take the plunge and start talking online. Start showing up at conferences. Start speaking up and sharing their experiences. This is probably why I don’t make a big deal about language. I’d rather see wine producers talking regularly in their native languages than haltingly or not at all in a more popular language.
Again, the Internet allows your words to be archived and searchable for generations. So there’s really no language too small.
Conferences are a different issue. It’s true that if you make delicious wines in Croatia and speak absolutely no English, French or Spanish, you’re going to have some trouble attending an International conference. But if that is the case, you are not reading this blog post.
No I can’t just skirt the issue so easily. This is a real problem. Because ultimately, the real life interactions are just as important as the virtual content. I know for a fact that very few French wine bloggers follow my blog closely. But they all know who I am, what I do, and my communication style because we’ve met in person. And even though I tend to write in English these days, they all know I’ll talk to them in French when we meet up. So it’s tough for the kids who don’t speak one of the big languages.
Although I would also take a moment to say it’s not as bad as it seems. Even though the conversation at vinocamp really focused on how hard it is to get everybody speaking the same language, the fact is that a huge percentage of winemakers speak some French, English, or Spanish. Italian is a close fourth. It feels like I’m snubbing Portugal, but most of the wine producers I’ve met from there can understand Spanish very easily. Germany and Austria are sort of getting snubbed too, but almost everybody I meet out there has a bit of English or French in their vocab. And obviously, South American wine producers speak Spanish. North Americans, Australians, and South Africans that produce wine tend to be native English speakers.
Again, if you’re a rural Croatian wine producer, you might have more trouble. But for the most part, the wine community speaks three or four languages. Compare this to cereal producers or other agrarian professions, and you quickly find that our language barrier situation could be much worse off.
Designated Cultural Leaders at the EWBC
Even though there are just a few major languages, there’s still something to be done to ameliorate the conference situation mentioned above. In the VinoCamp roundtable, Vicky Wine had a cool idea. What if bigger conferences like the EWBC appointed cultural leaders for certain languages or countries? The cultural leader would ideally speak the language of their culture, the language of the conference, and a bit of the local language for that year’s location. This person wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of responsibilities, but they’d be a friendly face for other members of their culture and a go-between if people need help, translation, a friend, etc.
It’s very hard for conference organizers to get Italian wine producers to attend an English language conference. Even when their English is strong, many producers tend to shy away from the anxiety-ridden experience of a week of English-speaking. Having a designated Italian leader with a friendly face (Magdalene leaps to mind) might help locals to show up. Similarly, traveling from far away like Hungary can be pretty imposing and knowing there’s a Hungarian pointman might make it easier to attend. Same with French, Portuguese, Spanish, etc. Good idea, Vicky! VinoCamps generate good ideas!
There’s a slight risk that this sort of designation encourages segregation, but that segregation is already occurring to a great extent. So I’m mostly in favor. Then again, it doesn’t have to be super official. Maybe just a section of the EWBC site that lists the friendly faces / ambassadors / whatever you call them, to encourage people to attend despite the language barrier.
Tags: conference, english, ewbc, french, language, language barrier, portugal, spanish, vinocamp, vinocamp lisbon, wine blog