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English only? I hope not!

It’s no secret that English dominates the tech sector. From communicating with coworkers to launching software, English usually comes first. Even the most well-meaning companies can struggle to reach non-English-speaking users and provide a localized experience in their native language. And no surprise there, either — it’s really tough to do well.

As a small part of my job, I do what I can to help make better for users around the world. (And I’m certainly not alone. There are a lot of rockstar translators contributing to, along with a well-established group of polyglots working on the open-source WordPress project.)

I’m not a developer, so much of what I do is connecting people with resources. I help volunteer translators get oriented so they can help translate into their own language. I teach our internationalization team about the tools and methods used by professional translators. I find or report bugs that cause translation issues so the code can be improved. And I help educate all of my colleagues about how translation works. For a lot of people, just thinking about using in another language is … well, entirely foreign to them.

But every time someone stops to think about how a product works in another language, it makes a difference for users around the world. That’s why I was so impressed when I saw that Mark Zuckerberg held a Q&A session entirely in Chinese:

Sure, it wasn’t flawless Chinese, and I wouldn’t bet on Facebook’s developers switching from English to Chinese any time soon — but this Q&A session is a gesture. It’s recognition of a user base outside of the English-speaking world, a clear message from the CEO of a major tech company that he cares about speakers of other languages.

As a linguaphile I find it incredibly heartening to see what Zuckerberg did in this session, although I don’t expect every CEO to start speaking other languages. It takes a lot of time and dedication to learn a new language, and Zuckerberg has personal motivation — his wife’s family speaks Chinese. (I understand that motivation!)

What matters are the resources, attention, and energy that are invested in making the web a better place — for everyone.


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Happiness Engineer for Automattic, the company behind Linguaphile and Translator. Tester.