Sunday, 5 December 2010

Being social in a multilingual world

One of the reasons for writing this post is that I have for some time now been struggling with translating and localizing e-learning content. It is a process which demands a lot of resources, time and money. And once you are done you cannot be sure of the quality of the translated material since neither I nor the SME's that have quality secured the English master can understand the languages the content has been translated to.

At first I thought of writing this post in my mother tongue, Swedish, just to make my point. But then I realized that no one would probably read it. Which is exactly my point of this post. If you can't understand the language in which something is communicated you are shut out of the communication. Who knows how many great messages are out there written in languages that I, or you, don't understand.

I will give you an example.

 I am a dedicated owner of an HTC Hero Android phone. I've had a number of questions on how to make the most out of this fantastic phone. All my answers I have found using a forum called Swedroid . This is one of the best forums that I have visited, any question I have had on how to use my phone, I have found the answers here. I have used a number of English forums as well, but none of them has been as good as Swedroid. But this forum is limited to those understanding Swedish. And that is for sure a minority of the people in this world.

I can just imagine how many fantastic web pages, blogs, forums, wikis etc, that are written in languages I don't understand. That means I am missing out on things that could be of great importance to me.

But now on to the thing that I have been thinking about the last couple of months. As I said in the beginning of this post I have been struggling with translating e-learning content for a while. The reason for this is of course that I want to make sure that as many people as possible have the chance to learn from what I have produced. This is one thing, but what happens when we move into the wonderful world of Social Learning? Don't get me wrong here, I am a huge fan of Social Learning, I see it as one of the biggest revolutions that has happened in the world learning for quite some time. But I also see some issues with it, where language is one.

To me the great thing about Social Learning is that everyone is invited to the party. They are free to share what they know and take advantage of what others share. The important thing here, to me at least, is that it must include everyone. Otherwise we just build up the same old walls as before, but for other reasons.So how can we make sure that everyone can join?

Google Translate you might say. Yes, that can definitely be an answer some times, but often the translations comes out very strange. It has improved over the years, but still it has a long way to go to reach perfection. It often works very well if one of the languages is English. But if I translate from, let's say Chinese to Swedish the result is often close to impossible to understand.

For all of us who don't have English as our first language I believe it is more natural to look up English words we don't understand and to use Google Translate when we want to quickly translate a longer text. But how is it for those of you who have English as your first language. Do you often take the time to look up words and translate texts that are written in a language you don't understand?

 Let's make a test. Below you will find a question written in Swedish. Translate it in any way you want and leave the answer in the comments field after this post. So here is the question:

Om man adderar tre och två och därefter multiplicerar det svaret med fyra. Vad blir det då?

I would also appreciate if you shared how you did when you translated. Did you use Google Translate or how did you do it?

I have only touched content that is somewhat stable, such as web pages, blogs, wikis etc. But what about chats for example. Are there tools available for translation of chats in real time that actually work? I have no experience of this. Do you? If so, please share, because I am really curious.

This post got  a little longer than I expected it to, but that what happens when I start writing about something I am interested in. I hope you have stayed with me all the way, if that is the case... Thanks a lot for reading this.



  1. The answer to your question was 20 :-)

    Wave does real time translation... and perhaps wave is not so dead yet!

  2. Hi there, awesome site. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting. I tried to add your RSS to my feed reader and it a few. take a look at it, hopefully I can add you and follow.

    Social Learning

  3. Hi Jerald,

    Thanks for the kind words on my blog. I have just started the blog and hopefully you will find more interesting posts in the future.

    Regarding the RSS issue. I tried adding it to my Google reader at it worked. I used this URL:

    Since I have just started using blogger I am not sure how it works. But I will for sure take a look at it and see if there is something I need to do to make it work.

    Thanks again,

  4. Hi again Jerald,

    You now have a Subscribe to possibility in the right column. Hope that helps.