Zettelkasten Forum

Mixing German notes with English notes


does anyone here also writes their notes in different languages? When I read a German book, my notes will be German and when I read an English book they will be in English. Should I have two Zettelkasten? Or one Zettelkasten with notes in different languages? If so, should they reference each other? Should at least the tags be in one language?

Maybe someone can give me some at vice on how they did it



  • @Mano: I had a similar problem in the capture phase.
    Should I enter the text in English or German?
    (I have to say, that I am not a writer. I use the "Zettelkasten" in order to improve my life or/and my business).

    This other problem led me to my decision (see below):
    I read a lot of books in English and German on my Kindle.
    Sometimes I read several books (or parts of them) simultaneously to extract the knowledge of a particular topic.
    If I wanted to create a note on this topic (after reading) and search the books, I had to think about whether the text was in German or English (because I had to use the right search term).

    The same problem occurred when I searched a specific note or content.
    So I decided to translate everything into German
    (the Google translator is my best friend ;) ).
    If I need an English quote (which admittedly rarely happens), I copy the original quote in addition to the note. Or I "jumped" the reference again to capture it in English.

    Maybe that works for you too.

    The advantage is that you have everything in one box. If you want to write an English text, there may be something under the "German" hints that you can use to create this text.

    If you wish, you can label the note with English content with a tag indicating that the note contains English quotes etc..

    In this way I am also able to minimize the switching between German and English (which is a kind of context switching/multitasking for me, since I do not need English very often in my everyday life - except for reading English texts or books).

  • I am Dutch so face a similar problem. My fleeting notes are a weird mix of English and Dutch, but the permanent ones are always in English. I would really dislike it if my Zettelkasten would contain notes in different languages.

    Permanent notes from Dutch books I read are also in English. I sometimes read German or French papers, or have papers from other languages (like Russian or Chinese) translated, and it makes no sense taking notes in those languages.

    Moreover, I mostly use my notes to write papers in English anyway.

  • I started to take notes in German, my first language. And even most of my University lectures were in German, so I kept thinking in German, too; and the philosophy texts either originated in German or were translated -- the transition to reading English texts might have progressed since then, but back in 2009 English texts were mostly reserved to MA seminars open for BA students.

    My digital life was always in English, though. To me, the whole internet was English from back in 2000! A ton of the technical terms for programming I don't even know the German equivalents of. So there alwasy was that problem.

    Nowadays, I mostly take notes in English, write in English, watch movies in English, maintain websites in English, give talks in English -- so my notes have transitioned as well. I do create the occasional note in German, but that's mostly reserved to personal reflections or expanding topics that I cannot think in English, like most of the philosophy stuff I remember.

    The videos on David Epstein are a surprise to me in that regard: it's a non-programming topic and I still manage to create notes for this. I struggled when I processed the Eriksson paper, because I wasn't comfortable with the terms and use of language. But overall, I managed to get through so far, and find that mixing things isn't a problem for me.

    As long as I keep tags clean. I assign German tags for philosophy stuff in English notes, and stick to English terms in programming notes no matter the language. I would write #concurrency to denote parallel processing of events even if I wrote in French. The moment I start to change the tags with the language of the note is the moment my Zettelkasten falls apart :)

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

  • I never mix. My Zettelkasten is as German as Nietzsches mustache.

    There are costs:

    • Less effective search
    • Less connections via word similarity and tags
    • Cognitive strain because of language switching

    I am a Zettler

  • I have notes and citations in at least seven dead and alive languages. Three other alphabets aside from our latin one. At least for now I did not encounter any particular problem resulting from that.

    Au contraire, I find it enriching to have Zettels (<– this word alone…) written in several languages.

    I don't use tags. If I would use them, I would make sure their grammar is consistent with whatever language they are held in. (Or I have my own ruleset which I would strongly enforce.)

    • If you have a Zettelkasten, everything looks like a Zettel.
    • Or even potentially many Zettel!
  • I also have Zettels in a bunch of (dead and live) languages, and don't translate. I do keep my tags all in English though -- so if I'm curious about what XY said about Z, I can search for it and it doesn't matter which language the text is in. If I were doing linguistics or something strongly tied to the language, I would probably have tags in the language of the note; but I don't because for my purposes it doesn't matter.

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