Public Participation : Improving the Language Accessibility

Why we need to be aware of language accessibility ?

To understand the importance of language accessibility, we must first understand what “language barriers” are. Language barriers is an expression commonly used to refer to linguistic barriers to communications, that result in difficulties in communication between people or groups originally speaking different languages. The lack of effective communication occurs when one or both parties do not learn the new common language, as doing so requires an investment in time and effort. To make a concrete example, the people who migrate to a new country at an adult age often face language barriers, since learning a new language is a cumbersome task. 

Public Participation : Improving the Language Accessibility

In 2015, the Guardian argued that human migration “will be the defining issue of the century. Finaccord also estimated that by the end of 2021, 1 out of 100 inhabitants of the world would live outside their native country. The rapid growth of the global language services market also confirms that the world is becoming increasingly multilingual and interconnected. In the last decade, this market faced a two-fold increase, reaching a value of 49.6 billion U.S dollars in 2019 (Statista research department). 

These trends have sparked the interest of firms, that – as Nielsen claims – “should consider multicultural consumers as a cornerstone of today’s successful marketing strategies”. Multicultural customers are indeed currently the fastest-growing segment of the United States population, with an increase of 2.3 million every year, which means that they are no more just a niche opportunity, but rather a mainstream imperative.

Public Participation : Improving the Language Accessibility

The issue with public participation

Our society is a growing melting pot. This implies that most communities, also at the local level, are linguistically heterogeneous. Because languages are a way to interact among people, we would expect democratic societies to be naturally concerned with linguistic differences and accessibility issues. Yet, we are still often faced with the “monolingual” standard. 

As Rodríguez (2006) argues, the monolingual option would at first glance seem the most effective and efficient way to ensure participation, as interaction works best when both parties speak the same language. Nevertheless, the author concludes that “monolingual instinct cannot survive a second look into the nature of participation” and that bilingualism in individuals and multilingualism in society promote democratic values in those institutions. In a nutshell, it is argued that accessibility and self-government can only be achieved insofar as the linguistic capacities of both the individuals and the institutions are fully embraced. 

Public Participation : Improving the Language Accessibility

Are English translations enough ?

The idea of a multilingual society is an appealing perspective, but the reality is far from it. Indeed, English has become the lingua franca of almost all international fields, such as business, diplomacy, and science. Data shows that English is the most widely spoken language in the world, with around 1.35 billion speakers worldwide.

Nevertheless, English ranks 3rd place when we look at the total number of native speakers, which are only 370 million. This means that most English speakers only know it as their second language. This last fact should not be understated. In fact, even though speaking English as a second language is useful, there are a series of cognitive problems that need to be assessed. Analysis shows that is a so-called “foreign language effect” that comes into play and that makes us behave differently than we would if we were interacting using our mother tongue (Gal et Al., 2015). 

Public Participation : Improving the Language Accessibility

Researchers examined individuals after exposing them both to their native language and English, and observed a variety of behavior that can only be explained by the foreign language effects. For example, Chinese-English bilinguals were more likely to take risks in gambling when given feedback in Chinese, and Polish-English bilinguals showed to be affected more by negative statements in Polish rather than English. In essence, speaking a foreign language -even at a bilingual level- seems to produce emotional detachment and different moral judgments. For this reason, it can be argued that English translations are often not enough and should be backed up by multilanguage alternatives.

How does WeSolve make this possible?

As explained before, speaking a foreign language reduces impulsiveness and increases rationality, which is a good thing per se. Nevertheless, increasing rationality also means that speakers are likely to be less emotional and empathetic. This is a problem in public participation, where empathy and true preferences are highly needed. At WeSolve we value diversity and embrace multiculturality. For this reason, we have created a platform that promotes sustainability and well-being through active collaboration and democratic public participation. One of the main features of our product is auto-translation that allows us to translate contents automatically into the user’s favorite language.

Of course, translation alone is not enough to ensure full accessibility in public participation. Many other factors must be kept into consideration, such as socio-economic status, education rates, and health level. Nonetheless, we think that allowing for multilingualism is a good start to promote democratic values and show people that we care about them as individuals. Indeed, as Nelson Mandela said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

My name is Gesine, I have a degree in engineering, as well as operational and innovation management. I love the sustainable approach that we are choosing everyday, as I am very interested in changing our planet for the better by using innovative solutions.

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