www. O S N E W S .com
News Features Interviews
BlogContact Editorials
.
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.

 Email a friend - Printer friendly - Related stories
.
Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-20 -- 21-30 -- 31-40 -- 41-50 -- 51-60 -- 61-70 -- 71-80 -- 81-84
.
RE: This is why we are at the stage of needing more Humanit
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-07 18:21:21
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5...

Edited 2017-08-07 18:22 UTC
Permalink - Score: 1
.
utf8 already over 20 years but still not everywhere
By Janvl on 2017-08-07 20:02:52
We use the following languages, dutch, english, german, czech and a little russian now and then.

The computing industry is not able to handle that and I do not see much improvement although I am over 30 years in this business.

The nr 1 database in the web, mysql, is still used with a load of different collations that can be defined on a load of levels creating what is called collation-hell.

In Android Multilingualkeyboards can only be loaded as apps and switching language for the apps themselves is as rare as the sabletooth tiger.

I have several PC-keyboard that one must plug in and out to serve another languages.

Try to find a keyboard that has the ability to show different languages on its keys, it is only there in concept.

So, ICT is still a very young industry that is not really ready for global interaction. Seeing the politics nowadays I guess i will not live to see that happen.
Permalink - Score: 2
.
RE: utf8 already over 20 years but still not everywhere
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-07 20:10:14
> The nr 1 database in the web, mysql, is still used with a load of different collations that can be defined on a load of levels creating what is called collation-hell.

LOL WHAT? Collations have nothing to do with translations it is simply a sort order.

Databases rarely have anything to do with the translation of the site. Unless you are stupid enough to put all your translations in the db.

The front end of the website should be showing the localised language and the data presented accordingly (Accept-Language header?)

Couldn't be anything to do with the RFC ... not ath would be too easy.

Edited 2017-08-07 20:11 UTC
Permalink - Score: 1
.
RE[3]: Yes
By dpJudas on 2017-08-07 20:33:06
> Like most people, he "gave shits" about some things but not about others.
Oh, absolutely. But my point here was that it isn't the diversity of the work force, but how much certain key people care about the problem.

For example, I'm from Denmark and should supposedly be hit by all the problems Thom describes. However, I solved the problem by making my computers all communicate in English and then disabled the auto-correct. Voice recognition systems I don't use at all.

Give me the key position of prioritizing problems in Windows and Thom's pet problems will be far down the list. On the other hand, it seems if Thom was made the product owner of Windows, he'd get me raging in very short time because he'd apparently try apply language auto-detection techniques that I do not desire at all.

Nothing pisses me more off than when a program or website noticed I use danish regional settings and presents their interface in danish. Heck, Microsoft did that when it "upgraded" my English Windows 7 to a Danish Windows 10. Took me a lot of cursing and effort to persuade it to go BACK to English.
Permalink - Score: 2
.
RE[4]: Yes Ѿﮭï»ï®­ï»
By Alfman on 2017-08-07 21:23:11
dpJudas,

> For example, I'm from Denmark and should supposedly be hit by all the problems Thom describes. However, I solved the problem by making my computers all communicate in English and then disabled the auto-correct. Voice recognition systems I don't use at all.

Is that really "solving" the problem though? You might say one could "solve" the problem of a bed bug infestation by learning to just live with them, but it seems more like giving up. Don't take the analogy too seriously, just trying to make a point :)


> Give me the key position of prioritizing problems in Windows and Thom's pet problems will be far down the list. On the other hand, it seems if Thom was made the product owner of Windows, he'd get me raging in very short time because he'd apparently try apply language auto-detection techniques that I do not desire at all.

Yeah, I think he may feel oppressed by an industry that just doesn't care to solve the corner cases. As with so many other things, the niche groups have been marginalized by tech as companies focused on dumbing everything down for the masses. For better or worse we have to adapt to the technology rather than the other way around.

I understand Thom's frustration, but at the same time it's ironic that he's critical of the second class treatment of non-english languages, meanwhile osnews is exclusively in english and doesn't support unicode consistently (broken in title, works in comments: ҕﮭﻀҖ)

> Nothing pisses me more off than when a program or website noticed I use danish regional settings and presents their interface in danish. Heck, Microsoft did that when it "upgraded" my English Windows 7 to a Danish Windows 10. Took me a lot of cursing and effort to persuade it to go BACK to English.

I dislike when websites use IP geotracking, as if IP changes my language preference and I absolutely hate services like netflix that block foreign content based on IP.

Edited 2017-08-07 21:26 UTC
Permalink - Score: 2
.
Comment by grandmasterphp
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-07 22:40:23
@Thom you do realise that whole first paragraph on their manifesto was trying to tell you "calm down before you read this because I mostly believe the same as you".

Yet you called it idiocy when it clearly wasn't. That isn't productive to discussion he specifically references conservative view points

> Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.

For the person that wrote the email it wasn't about sexism or racism. It was a concern that other viewpoints i.e. conservative were stifled at the company via policy. I've encountered this myself when telling people the reality of how say tax works.

This is a legitimate worry for both UK and US conservatives.

I am pro gay marriage, but wait for it ... I am anti-mass immigration, mainly due to Douglas Murray and his arguments on it, which come from a conservative point of view.

So it is quite possible to hold some conservative and more left wing positions. But dismissing the whole thing as idiocy you are just saying that every conservative viewpoint has zero merit.

Especially when their are books out there with convincing arguments such as Charles Murrays the bellcurve and Steven Pinker's "The blank slate" which argue in favour of what that particular employee said.

Edited 2017-08-07 22:51 UTC
Permalink - Score: 2
.
RE: utf8 already over 20 years but still not everywhere
By JLF65 on 2017-08-08 00:00:44
Hmm - how best to reply to this?

https://www.xkcd.com/1726/

https://xkcd.com/927/

Those pretty much cover it completely. :)
Permalink - Score: 2
.
RE[6]: You wrote this bitchfest in English.
By dylansmrjones on 2017-08-08 00:06:02
A decade is also "recently" for me. It was only with the release of Vista that localisation was properly supported by Microsoft.

In the past it was normal for proprietary applications to be 1 language only, perhaps with support for German and French, but nothing else. Localisation was generally a sign of open source or community-supported freeware/shareware. In 2004 localisation was the one thing Linux had going for it, whereas Windows would usually be all English or a blend of Danish and English until recently. Broad support (outside the biggest sellers) for non-english users is a thing of the last 5 years.

Anyway, the point is that most danes use devices solely in Danish and will gladly refuse to use an app or device, if it isn't (properly) translated to Danish.
Permalink - Score: 2
.
RE: SwiftKey
By Yossarian on 2017-08-08 11:09:57
And on Android, SwiftKey supports up to 5 simultaneous languages.

It's my major dealbreaker when trying other keyboards: they might be nice but every single day I write in 3 languages, and more often than not, 4.

On a computer I get by using US International layout, it's more convenient than switching back and forth. When writing Russian I switch, obviously, and switch back immediately (as most shortcuts are very wonky and inconsistent in non-latin scripts).
Permalink - Score: 1
.
Localization isn't multilanguage
By torp on 2017-08-08 13:23:22
To all the people talking about localization, this is not what Thom complains about.

I have no need for a localized UI. The translations are completely ridiculous and usually too verbose. I actually HATE sites that detect my location and automatically deliver a shit translation instead of the original English.

What I do need is support for communicating in at least two languages, possibly in the same phrase. What does localization have to do with it?
Permalink - Score: 2

Read Comments 1-10 -- 11-20 -- 21-30 -- 31-40 -- 41-50 -- 51-60 -- 61-70 -- 71-80 -- 81-84

No new comments are allowed for stories older than 10 days.
This story is now archived.

.
News Features Interviews
BlogContact Editorials
.
WAP site - RSS feed
© OSNews LLC 1997-2007. All Rights Reserved.
The readers' comments are owned and a responsibility of whoever posted them.
Prefer the desktop version of OSNews?