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Using facebook lists for multicultural holiday wishes and practising languages in status updates

| 10 comments | Category: Tool and Resources

I was about to update my facebook status to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, but this creates a certain problem; most of my facebook friends are not native English speakers and some don’t celebrate Christmas.

While they may have enough to understand the simple phrase “Merry Christmas”, it’s forcing a language in their feed that they may not be able to respond to well.

When I do get responses to some updates, I get them in several languages and a real discussion can never take place, and people get notified in their inboxes of languages they don’t understand, if they have responded or liked an update.

As well as this, I have friends who don’t celebrate Christmas (several Jewish friends, and some atheist friends), but I’d still like to wish them well with different wording.

I’ve noticed some of my friends get around it by simply repeating the well wishes over several statuses or even clogging up one status with various messages or languages; this can get annoying to those reading it in their feed.

This was a problem until recently, but facebook has made a fantastic upgrade to how your statuses are displayed: filtered updates.

Setting up the filters

This takes a few minutes, but is worth the investment if you want to make targeted status updates. There are so many ways you could use this: just to those who speak a particular language, just to those in your town, just for the single pretty girls, block the update from those you don’t want to hear about it, just for family, just for work-colleagues etc.

When logged into facebook, click “friends” at the top and then “Create new list”, write the name of the list (Argentina, Esperanto, fellow nerds, etc.), then select that list on the left, then Add friends to list… and simply click through all those friends and save.

I like to simply label the country first (if enough people are part of that country, otherwise I’d go straight to language), and add any other label for that person (they can have several, for different types of filters) and then after labelling everyone’s country, I can sub-filter just the countries and assign languages broadly to countries (Spanish to Spain and Argentina for example) if relevant.

If you are filtering by language, make sure to put everyone else into the English category (or language you usually update the status in), because otherwise everyone would have to read these statuses, including those who have already read it in another language. Also, when you accept new friends, you’ll notice that there is an option to add them to a list as you accept them, so they can be included with the correct category.

Depending on the number of friends you have, this may take some time to set up, but it’s a worthwhile investment for filtering your status updates, sending emails, seeing the friends separated in chat and many more reasons.

Updating the status

Once you have your lists set up, all you need to do now is write it out for one group (language, location, religion, etc.) and then click the lock symbol to the left of “Share”, followed by Custom. Here you can select the group that will see the update by selecting “Specific people” and typing the name of the list. Everyone else will not see it. You can also select a group to not see it (ex-girlfriends, parents, co-workers etc.), in the “Hide from these people” option, which can be very handy when you want to share some sensitive news.

This means that you can write “Happy Christmas” followed by “Feliz Navidad”, “Joyeux Noël” etc. all one after the other, and your friends’ will only see one of them and their feeds will not be flooded by you. It also encourages you to practise foreign languages by always updating your status in English and in the language you wish to practise, without annoying those not interested in reading that language.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on facebook, but there’s no need to use a filter ;) (non English speakers can read the translation of this post given above by G-Translate).

So go on and wish your friends a Happy Christmas, a late Happy Hanukkah, feliz navidad, happy holidays, Joeux Noël, etc. :)


By the way, thanks to everyone so far for filling out my survey from yesterday’s post! I’m still hoping to get a few more answers so if you have 3 minutes to spare, I’d love to hear your opinion on how I can make this site better in 2010!

If you liked this post, you may be interested in seeing how to make your computer multilingual.

Do you already use this feature in facebook? How else have you used facebook’s lists? Do you have friends from many languages and cultures, or is there another way you might think of using this status update? Do share in the comments :)


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  • wccrawford

    Nice. I haven't looked into FB's features enough I guess because I never even considered that such a thing might be possible. Thanks for the info!

  • Dale

    That solution solves about 90% of the problem. The other 10% is the part that is really obvious to polyglots with polyglot friends. Fortunately, it isn't as much of a problem. I have several friends who will happily converse in two or more languages. Some of them switch the language of their status updates based on the local language where they are at the time.

    The only way I can see for Facebook to help us with that is if messages could be tagged with the language or languages used in the text. That seems like it's going farther than necessary.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Actually, if you have polyglot friends, just put that friend in several categories and they'll see all language updates that they would understand :) OR, make a polyglot list and write in several languages in that list, where other polyglots can comment and chat with eachother etc. Problem solved! ;)

  • Tara

    I've seen some freinds write status updates that have more than one language in them. How do you toggle between the languages to write one staus update multilingually? i haven't even figured out how to write it in one other languages, nevermind toggling between more than one. Can someone help? do I have to change the language on my whole computer, or can I just do it in Facebook?

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    This article explains how to toggle between more than one language instead of writing in more than one in the single update.
    I've written a separate article about how to change the language of your whole computer.

  • Dale


    Facebook doesn't provide a mechanism for typing in an alphabet that isn't already supported by your computer. As Benny commented, he has written about how to configure your computer for other languages. There are some tools you can use if you need to occasionally type letters in a language that your computer isn't configured for. They get very tedious if you need to type more than just a little. And of course, you actually need to know the language you intend to write in. If you need to learn another language, Benny's website is one of the first I would recommend for how to reach that goal faster. Some of the recommendations he has made are things I discovered the hard way. The rest make sense to me too.

  • John P.

    Whilst informative I think this is a definite case of overkill… Lass uns nicht päpstlicher als der Papst sein…

  • Edgar

    Thanks for the Facebook grouping tip. That will help.

  • Edgar

    Thanks for the Facebook grouping tip – that will help alot.

  • Kieran Maynard

    I never thought of this! Great idea.