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The lack of multilingual affordances in modern software
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-08-06 20:52:19

Before I link you to the story this item is actually about, I want to tell you about one of my biggest frustrations with computer hardware and software. It's something that I have to work around every single day, and its consequences bother me almost every few minutes.

Hardware and software have no idea how to handle people who lead multilingual lives.

Like hundreds of millions of people, I speak and understand several languages, but on top of that, I use two languages every single day: Dutch and English. I switch between these two all the time, often even multiple times a minute when juggling multiple friends, clients, work-related material, entertainment, and so on. I might be writing an e-mail to a client in English, work on a translation in Dutch, WhatsApp with a friend in English, and write a Facebook post in Dutch - switching between all of these.

Software has no idea what to do with this. The most operating systems like Windows and OS X can do is offer a small icon somewhere tucked away to manually switch input languages, which is incredibly cumbersome and just wholly impractical to perform every time you have to switch languages. It gets even worse on mobile operating systems, which are heavy on the autocorrect (I cannot type on a touchscreen), so if my input method is still set to English while I'm typing something in Dutch, it gets autocorrected into meaningless garbage (it's only recently that both Android and iOS at least offer some form of true multilingual input).

It's even worse when it comes to these voice assistants the entire technology industry is trying to ram down our throats, like Google Assistant or Apple's Siri. Do you know what you need to do to switch voice assistant input language on an Apple Watch or Android Wear device? Are you ready for it?

You need to perform a full wipe and set up the device as new.

Since my use of Dutch and English is split about 50/50 - or maybe 60/40 - the end result is that for about 50% of the time, I cannot use any of these devices to reply to an e-mail or write a text message. While Android Wear 2.0 has a keyboard and handwriting recognition, I have no idea how to change the input language for those input methods. Even if I could by tapping around - the point of these things is that you can use them without having to look away from whatever you're doing (e.g. cycling).

And just in case you think this kind of multilingual use is rare or an edge case: just in the United States alone, dozens of millions of people speak both Spanish and English every single day. This is not an edge case. This is not a peculiarity. This is daily reality for possibly hundreds of millions of people all over the world.

There's countless other daily irritations that arise from this inability of software to deal with multilingual use (Win32 vs. Metro vs. Chrome vs. Office vs. etc., which all have their own input language switching mechanisms I manually have to keep track of), but the point I want to make is the following.

Because software has no idea how to deal with multilingual use, I know for a fact that very few of the engineers working on Windows or Office or iOS or WatchOS or Android or whatever lead multilingual lives, because any person who uses multiple languages every single day would be able to spot these problems within 15 minutes of use. If the manager responsible for WatchOS led a multilingual life, or had a bunch of people on his team that led multilingual lives, WatchOS would've never been released without the ability to easily switch Siri input language.

Despite what some low-level Googler claims in his rambling manifesto of idiocy, diversity matters. Or, as ex-Googler Yonatan Zunger puts it way more eloquently:

Engineering is not the art of building devices; it's the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them - and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system.

If, at this point in time, you still don't understand the importance of diversity when developing products, you are beyond help, and have no place on any product development team.

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RE: You wrote this bitchfest in English.
By iswrong on 2017-08-07 06:21:23
> Just give up on this, Thom. Let it die.

You clearly have no clue. I want my devices to speak English and use my voice assistant in English 80% of the time.

But as a Dutch person in Germany, English voice assistants are pretty useless, because they cannot properly decode German street names or Dutch/German names. Hence, I'd like to be able to switch between English, Dutch, and German easily (which as Tom said is virtually impossible).

Just to give an example: my family name is 'de Kok' which is a normal Dutch name. When I try to call family, I get complaints from my voice assistants that I shouldn't ask vile things like 'call dirty the cock'.

As they are, voice assistants are pretty useless to 90% of the world population. Apple, Google, etc. need to come out of their SV bubble.

Another pet peeve: you cannot set an Xbox One that uses the German store to English. Either it's German or you won't get access to the store.

Edited 2017-08-07 06:22 UTC
Permalink - Score: 6
Comment by ryan88
By ryan88 on 2017-08-07 06:23:14
Very few of the engineers working on Windows or Office or iOS or WatchOS or Android or whatever lead multilingual lives.
Engineering is not the art of building devices; it's the art of fixing problems.
Javascript obfuscator https://javascript-obfuscator.org...

Edited 2017-08-07 06:23 UTC
Permalink - Score: 1
RE[2]: You wrote this bitchfest in English.
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-07 06:31:31
A dutch person living in Germany speaking English to a voice assistent. You account for how many percent of users in the country? 1% or 0.1%?

It probably simply isn't worth the bother of supporting you.

Also most of these voice assistants don't even work correctly if you are in the UK and don't have American or London accent. I am from Devon and Siri doesn't understand anything I say.

Edited 2017-08-07 06:36 UTC
Permalink - Score: 1
The problem's are much more basic
By sj87 on 2017-08-07 06:34:44
I live in a country where, for historical reasons, there is another official language despite the fact only ~5 % of people actually use it.

However, it affects everyone's daily tech life as even Google Maps prefers Swedish language over Finnish when it displays street names etc. (Not in all cases but it mixes up the two languages without any sensible logic.)

I've also noticed that the digital TV program info is also fetched in Swedish unless I set the GUI language to Finnish aswell. On multiple devices. I would prefer using English because I use it on all of my devices, but that triggers the program info to load in Swedish.

Edit: OSNews is broken it seems, because I can't fix the typo in my post's subject line.

Edited 2017-08-07 06:38 UTC
Permalink - Score: 3
RE[3]: You wrote this bitchfest in English.
By iswrong on 2017-08-07 06:38:52
> I am a dutch person living in Germany speaking English to my phone. You account for how many percent of users in the country? 1% or 0.1%?

Maybe in Germany, because general English competency is not that high. But e.g. in The Netherlands (and probably Scandinavian countries) many people use English as their default language on their devices. Virtually all Dutch people I know set their phones/desktop OS to English. However, they still want to navigate the Dutch streets or call their Dutch friends. Add other Northern European countries and you are easily talking tens of millions.

And let's not start with India, where English is commonly used, but where names are obviously not in English.

While my particular combination may be a small minority, the general problem is not (e.g. English device language, localised names).
Permalink - Score: 4
My practical solution
By benoitb on 2017-08-07 07:24:12
I don't use these voice assistants, they don't work for me anyway: in French they don't work properly, in English my accent doesn't work properly either :D

Alt+shift on the desktop, easy and fast enough.

On Android, no auto-correction: again, this never worked for me in any language. I can use the French keyboard for French and English easily as English has no special characters. On the rare occasions I need to write Korean, the keyboard switch is quite fast as well.

I cannot think about better solutions so I'm pretty happy with the current situation. I remember the difficult times of the early 2000s when unicode was not widely used, and I wanted to write and read Japanese and Korean, it was a headache on Windows and a nightmare on Linux and Windows CE.
The current situation is a dream in comparison, everything just works.

Edited 2017-08-07 07:24 UTC
Permalink - Score: 1
the obvious solution
By unclefester on 2017-08-07 08:09:41
I once had a wealthy Indian friend who was a monolingual English speaker. I asked him how he managed to talk to the workers at his family's factory in India. He replied "I just ask my overseer to translate".

Edited 2017-08-07 08:11 UTC
Permalink - Score: 3
It is worse in a multilingual country
By cropr on 2017-08-07 08:17:24
In Belgium the situation is even worse. I am speaking 4 languages in my personal and professional life (Dutch, French, English and German).
Take the Desguinlei, one the biggest streets in Antwerp. The first part (Desguin) refers to a person with a French name, the second part (lei) is a Dutch word. I don't know any GPS that can pronounce the street correct, or any voice assistant understands the correct pronunciation. Another very nice example is the metro station Pannenhuis in Brussels. It is a Dutch word and even the French speaking people pronounce it the Dutch way, but a GPS or a Voice assistant are struggling with it.
The larger Belgian cities have 4 language versions(e.g. Brussel, Brussels, Bruxelles, Brüssel) and all streets in Brussels have 2 language versions (e.g. Grote Markt, Grand Place). All electronic assistants gets confused by it. A lot of French speaking people have complained to Google about the fact that Google Maps sometimes used a Dutch version of a street in Brussels, a name which was totally unfamiliar to them.
On top of that Siri has serious difficulties to understand the Belgian pronunciation of Dutch. If you want to have a evening of fun, just use the Dutch version of Siri with a Belgian accent. The only thing Siri understands always without any issue are the swear words: "kus me kloten" (kiss my balls).
When Apple launched the Apple TV with voice assistance, the launch in Belgium had to be postponed because Siri did not understand the commands in Belgian Dutch to change channels, a key feature for Apple TV. The French speaking people were upset because of this. but Apple remained firm: it can only be launched in Belgium if it is working for all Belgian people.
Permalink - Score: 2
RE[2]: Yes
By nrlz on 2017-08-07 08:34:00
One thing I don't like is the Windows keyboard shortcut to switch between languages: Ctrl + Space and sometimes Ctrl + Shift to switch between regional variants.

The former is difficult to press and everyone ends up banging the space bar with their thumb which you could distinctly hear and know someone was switching languages.

The second requires twisting the hand counter-clockwise for the pinky the reach the Ctrl and ring finger to reach the Shift.

However I don't profess to know a better alternative.
Permalink - Score: 1
RE[2]: Google manifesto guy makes some reasonable points
By avgalen on 2017-08-07 08:54:58
(Going down the rabbit hole that I also consider only marginally related to the main topic)

* There are clearly physical differences between men and women that would greatly affect sports and some jobs, but not the jobs we are talking about here at Google
* The mental differences between men and women are a much bigger debate that eventually always boils down to "hormones" or "society". This is the giant debate about nature-vs-nurture that tries to explain why men and women behave differently. This is an incredibly complicated discussion to which I personally lean heavily to the "nurture" side
* There is also the reality that you will earn more if you "upgrade" your employer or, to a lesser degree, if you get promoted internally. Both are realistically happening more when you work fulltime and when you get older. Since women tend to have pregnancy break(s) and date/marry older men they are likely to earn less than men.

Given all of the above I still see no evidence that women would be less fit to work in IT-jobs. Quite the opposite actually:
* IT-jobs are quite flexible and modern compared to many other jobs.
* It is light work that would suite women more than men.
* If you look at early history it was mostly women that worked in IT
Permalink - Score: 3

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