Multilingual Proposals (Reboot, BlogCamp) [en]

The famous conference [reboot]( will take place in Copenhagen on 31.05-01.06. [I’ll be attending](

I’m also going to make a proposal for a talk (as the [(un)conference format]( encourages this). I’m being a bit shy about [putting it up on the reboot site]( before I’m happy with the title and description, so for the moment it’s a Google Doc tentatively titled While We Wait For The Babel Fish.

Those of you who know me won’t be very surprised to learn that it’s about multilingualism online. By “multilingualism” online, I’m not only talking about [localisation]( or [stupid default languages](, but mainly about what happens when one wants to get off the various monolingual islands out there and *[use more than one language](* in one place, for example. How can we help multiple languages coexist in a given space or community, as they do at times in the offline world? Can the tools we have help make this easier?

Another thing that interests me is this “all or nothing” assumption about knowing languages (when you have to check boxes): I wouldn’t check a box saying I “know” Italian, but I can understand some amount of it when it’s written, if it’s necessary. What are we capable of doing with that kind of information? [Read the draft]( if you want more.

I’m also proposing a session at Saturday’s [BlogCamp in Zürich]( which will be around similar issues, but which will focus precisely on the topic of [multilingual blogging](

Feedback on these ideas (and anything here) is most welcome. Is this interesting?

**Update 19.03.2007: [proposal is now on the reboot site!]( Don’t hesitate to leave comments there.**

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Not All Switzerland Speaks German, Dammit! [en]

Here we go, yet another misguided attempt at localisation: [my MySpace page]( is [now in German](

[MySpace]( now joins [PayPal](, [eBay](, [Amazon](, [Google]( in defaulting to German for Swiss people.

[Switzerland]( is a multilingual country. The linguistic majority speaks Swiss-German (reasonably close to German but quite un-understandable for native German-speakers who have not been exposed to it). Second language in the country is French. Third is Italian, and fourth is… (no, not English) …[Romansh](

You know how linguistic minorities are. [Touchy.]( Oh yeah.

As a French speaker with rather less-than-functional German, I do find it quite irritating that these big “multinational” web services assume that I speak German because I’m Swiss. I’d rather have English, and so would many of my non-bilingual fellow-cititzens (particularly amongst web-going people, we tend to be better at English than German).

Yes, I’ve said that [English-only is a barrier to adoption]( But getting the language wrong is just as bad, if not worse (most people have come to accept the fact that English is the “default” language on the internet, even if they don’t understand it). If I want my Amazon books to be shipped here free of charge, I have to use [](, which is in German, and doesn’t have a very wide choice of French books. [My wishlist]( is therefore on too, which maybe explains why I never get anything from it.

Paypal is almost worse. I can’t really suggest it to clients as a solution for “selling stuff over the internet”, because all it offers in its Swiss version is a choice between German (default) and English. You can’t sell [a book in French]( with a payment interface in German or English.

So please, remember that country != language, and that there is a little place called Switzerland scrunched up in the middle of Europe, caught between France, Italy, Germany and Austria ([Liechtenstein]( is even worse off than us I suppose), and that not everyone in that little country speaks German.

Thank you.

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English Only: Barrier to Adoption [en]

*Foreword: this turned into a rather longer post than I had expected. The importance of language and localization online is one of my pet topics (I’ve just decided that it would be what I’d [talk about at BlogCamp](, rather than teenagers and stuff), so I do tend to get carried away a little.*

I was surprised last night to realise that this wasn’t necessarily obvious — so I think it’s probably worth a blog post.

**The fact a service is in English only is a showstopper for many non-native speakers, hence a barrier to wider adoption in Europe.**

But doesn’t everybody speak English, more or less? Isn’t it the *lingua franca* of today that **everybody** speaks? It isn’t. At least not in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I’m certain there are many other places in Europe where the situation is similar.

Come and spend a little time in Lausanne, for example, and try communicating in English with the man on the street. Even if many people have done a couple of years of English at school, most have never had any use for it after that and have promptly forgotten it. German is a way more important “foreign language” around here, as it is the linguistic majority in Switzerland, and most administrative centers of big companies (and the government) are in the German-speaking part of the country (which doesn’t mean that everybody speaks German, either).

The people who are reasonably comfortable with English around here will most often be those who have taken up higher academic studies, particularly in scientific subjects (“soft” and “hard” science alike).

And if I’m the person who comes to your mind when you think “Swiss”, think again — my father is British, I was born in England, went to an English medium school and spoke English at home until I was 8, conversed regularly with English-speaking grandparents during my growing years, and never stopped reading in English: all that gave me enough of a headstart that even though my English had become very rusty at the end of my teens, I dove into the English-speaking internet with a passion, and spent an anglophone [year in India](/logbook/). So, no. I’m not your average Lausanne-living French-speaker. I’m a strange bilingual beast.

Imagine somebody whose native language is not English, even though they may theoretically know enough English to get around if you parachuted them into London. (Let’s forget about the man on the street who barely understands you when you ask where the station is.) I like to think of [my (step-)sister]( as a good test-case (not that I want to insist on the “step-“, but it explains why she isn’t bilingual). She took up the “modern languages” path at school, which means she did German, English, and Italian during her teenage years, and ended up being quite proficient in all three (she’s pretty good with languages). She went to university after that and used some English during her studies. But since then, she honestly hasn’t had much use for the language. She’ll read my blog in English, can converse reasonably comfortably, but will tend to watch the TV series I lend her in the dubbed French version.

I’m telling you this to help paint a picture of somebody which you might (legitimately) classify as “speaks English”, but for whom it represents an extra effort. And again, I’d like to insist, my sister would be very representative of most people around here who “speak English but don’t use it regularly at work”. That is already not representative of the general population, who “did a bit of English at school but forgot it all” and can barely communicate with the lost English-speaking tourist. Oh, and forget about the teenagers: they start English at school when they’re 13, and by the time they’re 15-16 they *might* (if they are lucky) have enough knowledge of it to converse on everyday topics (again: learning German starts a few years before that, and is more important in the business world). This is the state of “speaking English” around here.

A service or tool which is not available in French faces a barrier to adoption in the *Suisse Romande* on two levels:

– first of all, there are people who simply don’t know enough English to understand what’s written on the sign-up page;
– second, there are people who would understand most of what’s on the sign-up page, but for whom it represents and extra effort.

Let’s concentrate on the second batch. An *extra effort”?! Lazy people! Think of it. All this talk about making applications more usable, about optimizing the sign-up process to make it so painless that people can do it with their eyes closed? Well, throw a page in a foreign language at most normal people and they’ll perceive it as an extra difficulty. And it may very well be the one that just makes them navigate away from the page and never come back. Same goes for using the service or application once they have signed up: it makes everything more complicated, and people anticipate that.

Let’s look at some examples.

The first example isn’t exactly about a web service or application, but it shows how important language is for the adoption of new ideas (this isn’t anything groundbreaking if you look at human history, but sometimes the web seems to forget that the world hasn’t changed that much…). Thanks for bearing with me while I ramble on.

In February 2001, I briefly mentioned [the WaSP Browser Push]( and realised that the French-speaking web was really [“behind” on design and web standards ressources]( I also realised that although [there was interest for web standards](, many French-speaking people couldn’t read the original English material. This encouraged me to [blog in French about it](, [translate Zeldman’s article](, [launching]( the translation site []( in the process., and the [associated mailing-list](, followed a year or so later by [OpenWeb](, eventually became a hub for the budding francophone web standards community, which is still very active to this day.

([What happened with the Swiss Blog Awards]( is in my opinion another example of how important language issues are.)

Back to web applications proper. [Flickr]( is an application I love, but I have a hard time getting people to sign up and use it, even when I’ve walked them through the lengthy Yahoo-ID process. [](, on the other hand, exists in French, and I can now easily persuade my friends and clients to open blogs there. There is a strong [French-speaking WordPress community]( too. A few years ago, when the translation and support were not what they are now, a very nice little blogging tool named [DotClear]( became hugely popular amongst francophone bloggers (and it still is!) in part because it was in French when other major blogging solutions were insufficient in that respect.

Regarding WordPress, I’d like to point out the [community-driven translation effort]( to which everybody can contribute. Such an open way of doing things has its pitfalls (like dreadful, dreadful translations which linger on the home page until somebody comes along to correct them) but overall, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. In almost no time, dozens of localized versions can be made available, maintained by those who know the language best.

Let’s look at teenagers. When [MySpace]( was all that was being talked about in the US, French-speaking teenagers were going wild on [skyblog]( MySpace is catching up a bit now because it [also exists in French]( [Facebook]( In English, nobody here has heard of it. [Live Messenger aka MSN]( Very much in French, [unlike ICQ](, which is only used here by anglophile early adopters.

[Skype]( and [GMail]([GTalk]( are really taking off here now that they are available in French.

Learning to use a new service, or just trying out the latest toy, can be challenging enough an experience for the average user without adding the extra hurdle of having to struggle with an unfamiliar language. Even though a non-localized service like Flickr may be the home to [various linguistic groups](, it’s important to keep in mind that their members will tend to be the more “anglophone” of this language group, and are not representative.

**The bottom line is that even with a lot of encouragement, most local people around here are not going to use a service which doesn’t talk to them in their language.**

***9:52 Afterthought credit:***

I just realised that this article on [why startups condense in America]( was the little seed planted a few days ago which finally brought me to writing this post. I haven’t read all the article, but this little part of it struck me and has been working in the background ever since:

> What sustains a startup in the beginning is the prospect of getting their initial product out. The successful ones therefore make the first version as simple as possible. In the US they usually begin by making something just for the local market.

> This works in America, because the local market is 300 million people. It wouldn’t work so well in Sweden. In a small country, a startup has a harder task: they have to sell internationally from the start.

> The EU was designed partly to simulate a single, large domestic market. The problem is that the inhabitants still speak many different languages. So a software startup in Sweden is still at a disadvantage relative to one in the US, because they have to deal with internationalization from the beginning. It’s significant that the most famous recent startup in Europe, Skype, worked on a problem that was intrinsically international.

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Chassons les fautes [fr]

[en] Typos and other stuff. Encouraging readers to hunt them down in the photos I took.

Comme promis hier soir aux participants du [dernier Bloggy Friday](, une petite chasse aux fautes. Trois images pour vous, au moins trois fautes. Cliquez sur les images pour les voir “en grand” et laissez vos trouvailles dans les commentaires. (Merci de me lire dire si mes super liens ne fonctionnent pas.)

Chasse aux fautes Chasse aux fautes Chasse aux fautes

Ceci dit, si l’envie vous prend d’exposer également les coquilles que vous trouvez à droite et à gauche, utilisez le tag [chasse aux fautes](, comme ça tout le monde en profite. De même, si vous avez des photos de fautes qui mériteraient d’être bloguées, n’hésitez pas à me les envoyer. L’anonymat du photographe sera préservé, sauf demande expresse de sa part… 😉

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20 secondes [fr]

[en] More bad editor stuff.

20 Secondes

Je ne vous en dis pas plus, mais personnellement, je pense que 20 secondes ce n’est pas assez pour faire les en-têtes.

Comme le dit Raph, faut aussi s’occuper de la concurrence.

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Chasse à la faute [en]

[fr] Typo stuff.

Pourquoi faire simple… [fr]

[en] Just an administrative letter which takes a way too convoluted route to explain something which is actually pretty simple. I suppose they needed to make the letter long enough for it to be worth using a whole sheet of paper.

…quand on peut faire compliqué.

Tout d’abord, tentez de comprendre l’explication donnée dans la lettre ci-dessous (oui je sais, ça date un peu):


*Cliquez dessus si vous voulez la voir en plus grand.*

Maintenant, voici la traduction, en une phrase: “Vous n’accumulez des points CUMULUS que sur les montants que vous avez *vraiment* payés.” Bon, j’en rajoute une deuxième: “Vous n’accumulez pas de points CUMULUS sur les achats que vous avez payés avec des points CUMULUS.”

Bon, je m’la coince. Bonne nuit!

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Où sont les correcteurs? [fr]

[en] Typo. And an article on why it's stupid to try and solve the "dog bite" problems by outlawing certain breeds and making dogs wear muzzles in parks.

Réponse: y sont partis! C’est le correcteur orthographique de MS Word qui fait le boulot, maintenant.

Lausanne-Cités 13-14.09.2006

A part ça, à lire dans le même canard, un [article tout à fait pertinent sur la problématique des ‘chiens dangereux’]( “Voici l’article en ligne.”).

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Flickr, ça se prononce comment? [fr]

[en] French-speakers have trouble pronouncing "Flickr". They tend to sound as if they had something stuck in their throat. This is my attempt to educate them. 🙂

La réponse à cette question cruciale pour tous les francophones dans [le podcast de ce soir]( “Cliquez pour écouter. 1.3Mb. 3 minutes.”), en un peu moins de 3 minutes (enfin, les 30 premières secondes suffisent si vous êtes vraiment pressés).

To flick(e)r

Un indice: [Flickr]( “Pour vos photos… ah, vous savez déjà?”), c’est un jeu de mots sur “flicker”.

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Sur l'arrière-train! [fr]

[en] Just got a commercial letter from IKEA using the informal "tu" instead of "vous", and am frankly quite shocked. I use "tu" very easily and tend to prefer it to "vous", but we're so use to associating "vous" to official mail that this looks very much out of place.

J’ouvre à l’instant le courrier d'[IKEA]( accompagnant ma nouvelle carte Family. Quel choc!

On me tutoie durant toute la lettre.

Que ce soit clair: j’ai le tutoiement (trop) facile. En règle générale, je suis bien plus à l’aise dans les milieux où l’on se tutoie. Par exemple, sur internet, ça me fait vraiment bizarre quand on ne me tutoie pas.

Mais la lettre d’IKEA me choque carrément. On a tellement l’habitude que le vousoiement (oui, vous avez bien lu, c’est un régionalisme auquel je tiens) soit de rigueur dans la correspondance commerciale que là, ça fait franchement surréaliste.

Et vous savez quelle a été ma première réaction (spot sur les stéréotypes et autres idées reçues à la noix)? “Rah, ces germanophones! ça passe peut-être en Suisse Allemande, ce genre de truc, mais ça se voit bien que c’est pas un francophone du coin qui a validé cette lettre!” Si ça se trouve, je suis totalement à côté de la plaque…

Vous avez aussi récemment reçu votre nouvelle carte Family, avec tutoiement en prime? Qu’en avez-vous pensé, chers lecteurs?

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