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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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Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-20 -- 21-30 -- 31-40 -- 41-50 -- 51-60 -- 61-70 -- 71-80 -- 81-84
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RE: Localization isn't multilanguage
By synclee on 2017-08-08 15:34:13
Again, autoswitchers? Try them at least.
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RE: Comment by grandmasterphp
By cdude on 2017-08-08 18:03:30
>
For the person that wrote the email it wasn't about sexism or racism


red-baiting still works, surprise?

>
It was a concern that other viewpoints i.e. conservative were stifled at the company via policy.



Since he got fired over the memo he seems to have a valid point.

Edited 2017-08-08 18:07 UTC
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RE[2]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-08 19:37:36
A lot of people are really pissed off about the firing. Even on the guardian's comment section people were like "Well I don't agree with what he says, but she shouldn't be fired".

I used to work with a holocaust denier and anti-semite. I find such views abhorrent, but she shouldn't be fired for having them if her views don't conflict with the work.

Edited 2017-08-08 19:38 UTC
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RE[3]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By CATs on 2017-08-09 07:40:16
> I used to work with a holocaust denier and anti-semite. I find such views abhorrent, but she shouldn't be fired for having them if her views don't conflict with the work.
I would never buy anything or be a client of a company that employs anti-semites, holocaust deniers, fascists or similar. Such views might not conflict with your work, but they sure as hell conflict with company values. And if you go directly against company values, you should be fired.
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RE: Localization isn't multilanguage
By CATs on 2017-08-09 07:42:22
> 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?
I do that constantly and have zero issues. What in the world is so difficult about hitting two-key shortcut for you people? Are you also having trouble holding "Shift" key when you want to write a capital letter?
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RE[4]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-09 08:20:31
The same woman believed in palm reading and astrology. Are we going to outlaw idiocy as well?

I don't think people should be required to believe what their employers believe.

The problem is if you just shun everyone that doesn't agree with you, they will vote for extreme right-wing or left-wing candidates and extremes aren't great.

Edited 2017-08-09 08:34 UTC
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RE[5]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By CATs on 2017-08-09 09:05:09
> The same woman believed in palm reading and astrology. Are we going to outlaw idiocy as well?

I don't think people should be required to believe what their employers believe.

The problem is if you just shun everyone that doesn't agree with you, they will vote for extreme right-wing or left-wing candidates and extremes aren't great.


Anti-semitism, holocaust denial are not just beliefs. Those are malicious and dangerous ideas that are intended to do harm to certain groups of people. Palm reading and astrology might be dumb and idiotic, but palm readers don't want to "kill all jews" (unless a palm reader is also anti-semite).

Edited 2017-08-09 09:06 UTC
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RE[6]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-09 09:14:25
> Anti-semitism, holocaust denial are not just beliefs. Those are malicious and dangerous ideas that are intended to do harm to certain groups of people.

Except these beliefs are fringe enough that none of these people have intuition or political power. The best way to deal with such idiotic beliefs in mockery, satire and scrutiny.

In the UK I believe it was in 2010, we had Nick Griffin which was at the time the head of a Party that was effectively White Nationalist. He was invited to speak on Question time. Before the event it was debated as to whether he should even be invited.

He did speak and he was soo utterly demolished by the audience, that the BNP is effectively a dead party. It kinda like people crowing about the KKK in the USA, they have approximately 3000 members in a country of ~ 250 million people, they are a non-entity.

Edited 2017-08-09 09:15 UTC
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RE[7]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By CATs on 2017-08-09 09:50:14
That's absolutely true.
And yet again, almost every respectable company in the world has it's official values and as an employee you must be in line with them (or at least not against them). If you're not, you're free to look for job elsewhere. That's more than fair.
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RE[8]: Comment by grandmasterphp
By grandmasterphp on 2017-08-09 10:21:44
Would you support a Christian company that from say discriminate against Atheists, if part of the core values were Christian values, even if the business itself has nothing to do with Christianity? By your logic they should be able to.

If there is no obvious conflict of interest and it doesn't affect your work or how you work within the business I don't see why an employer should care if you hold abhorrent views, as long as you don't bring it to work.

Edited 2017-08-09 10:32 UTC
Permalink - Score: 1

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