The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 6 of 35

FEBRUARY/MARCH The Linguist 7 @Linguist_CIOL FEATURES Thebig idea Q What is Omniglot in a nutshell? A An online encyclopaedia of languages and writing systems, covering almost all of the alphabets and writing systems that are currently in use, and many that we used in the past. It profiles more than 1,300 languages; for many it has useful phrases and other information that can help people learn them. Q How did the idea come about? A My plan was to set up a web design and translation agency, so I put together a website for that and included information about the writing systems and languages I knew. I thought it would be nice to share the things I was learning, and Omniglot grew out of that. Q How did you turn it into a business? A It happened organically. I had an idea that one day I could make money from it, but I didn't know how. I carried on adding content and, as it grew, people asked if they could put their links and advertising on the site. Then I found out about affiliate programmes like Amazon – if people buy the products you recommend, you get a commission. My main source of income is now Google Ad Sense. Q What is your languages background? A I studied French and German at school, and Chinese and Japanese at university. I've done courses in Welsh and Irish, and taught myself other languages. I speak French, Welsh, Irish and Mandarin fluently, and German, Spanish, Japanese, Esperanto, Manx and Scottish Gaelic fairly well. I'm currently working on Swedish, Danish, Russian and Czech. Q What work did you do previously? A After university I worked for the British Council in Taiwan for five years and learnt the basics of web design, desktop publishing and IT management. When I came back to the UK in 1998, I set up Omniglot and got a job building multilingual websites. Q When did you go full-time on Omniglot? A In 2008, I was made redundant, moved to Bangor in Wales to do an MA in Linguistics, and set up Omniglot as a limited company. Since then it's been going from strength to strength. I add content almost every day and I'm able to make a living from it. I don't work with anyone else, but I have help from a lot of different people, who send me content, corrections and suggestions. Q How do you publicise it? A At first, I just submitted the site to search engines, as you could do back then, and hoped people would find it. Gradually the numbers grew and at its peak it had 2 million visitors every month. I go to polyglot events, which is a good opportunity to network, meet people and tell them what I do. Q What skills have you had to learn? A My web design skills have improved a lot; I've learnt how to make the site accessible on different devices; and about editing images, audio and videos. In 2018, I started a podcast and have learnt more about recording and editing audio, and podcasting in general. I have also got better at finding information, particularly in languages other than English. Q What changes have you made? A I add material to the site almost every day, regularly improve existing pages, and every so often I add new sections, based on suggestions from visitors or my own ideas. Recently, for example, I added collections of Simon Ager, founder of online encyclopaedia Omniglot, on turning his passion into a successful business animal sounds, terms of endearment and weather phrases. I've redesigned the site several times, and changed servers to cope with increasing traffic. Q Tell us about the blog… A On my main Omniglot blog I write two or three blog posts a week about language- related things. I often look at words, what they mean, where they come from, and how they're connected across languages. In 2018, I started another blog, Celtiadur, exploring connections between Celtic languages. SPREADING THE WORD Simon Ager (left) with Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months at the Polyglot Conference 2017

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020