Zettelkasten Forum

On Dealing with Multiple Languages

I would like to know how do you deal with multiple languages, specially those who are not native English speakers . Most of the content I read is in English. I often consume content in Portuguese, my native language, and more rarely in French and Spanish.

How do you usually deal with it? Do you always keep your notes in the native language? Do you prefer to keep everything in English, which for good or bad ends up being the "universal language" for most areas of knowledge? Or do you keep notes in the source language?

What language do you write your tags in? Especially with tags, it would be good to have a standard so that searches are more efficient, right?

I would love for you to share your experiences.


  • I am in a similar situation to you: not a native English speaker but I consume lots of English content to the degree that I have a hard time formulating my thoughts about certain topics in German.

    When I began my Zettelkasten, I came across the concept of desirable diffculty. As a result of that, I decided to write my Zettelkasten in German, thereby forcing myself to translate thoughts and ideas.

    So far it is working pretty well. Basically everything is written in German, I translate most technical terms but I always keep the original term somewhere in the notes for easier search. Accordingly, I tag in German. No idea if I retain more knowledge, though. ;)

  • edited March 9

    For the whole system I keep english (my L2) and my original thoughts as well. For content in Spanish and Japanese, if it's a textual note I'll keep them in the original language. The note-taking should be as frictionless as possible. If one day I have to write something and some sources are in another language, only then I'll take the effort to translate and assign a writing style to that particular piece of writing.

  • @nistude in my case I thought the desirable difficulty would be the other way round: formulating original thoughts in English. But I see your point. In a way, thinking in English become easier and sometimes explaining some concepts in Portuguese became a real struggle.

  • @Splattack you made a good point about note taking being frictionless. I think your approach is perfect for "transient" notes. But maybe for "permanent" notes some standard is desirable in order to better retrieval. What's your experience on that?

  • Originally, I started with German, but then introduced English for programming stuff to better fit my blog -- and then things escalated over the last decade. Now I'm mostly taking notes in English, as almost all my writing is in English anyway. The only pieces I write in German at all are actually diary/journal entries and some personal reflections. I also don't know any English philosophy vocabulary, so "thinking about life and the world" is easier in German.

    It's a mess. I'm sure I'll eventually split in two and let each half live a separate life.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

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