Critical issues presentations/The one true international language is translation: addressing the language barrier

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Submission no. 112
Title of the submission

The one true international language is translation: addressing the language barrier

Author of the submission
Country of origin

Sweden; France


Governance, other

  • Wikimedia Foundation
  • Wikimedia movement
  • communication
  • translations
  • language barrier

The Wikimedia movement is international and multilingual. We come from all over the world and speak a multitude of languages. This is normally a great strength and when we are to decide on something together, or try to reach out with information, a great problem. If we are to be a, one, driver for change, we need to understand each other. Otherwise, we fragment and can't support each other.

The Wikimedia Foundation is in many senses an international organization. It is, however, also very much an American foundation, its headquarters in San Francisco. A majority of its employees live in the US. English is the dominating language. The WMF understand English Wikipedia better than any other Wikimedia wiki, because anyone involved with the WMF can read it. Small minorities are personally familiar with other major Wikimedias, such as French or German Wikipedia, not to speak of our Chinese or Japanese wikis.

In many cases we depend on translators, both to understand what people are trying to tell us and to be able to tell the communities what we are doing. It’s both a problem of transparency and of being able to know how to properly support the communities and spend our resources in a way that helps Wikimedia editors. Yet most things are never translated into any larger number of languages. There is a large amount of information, and the Wikimedia translator community has to prioritize what to best spend their time on. Important as the internal communication of the movement is, we also have to ask ourselves if our mission is better served by translating messages from the Foundation or creating content on the content wikis.

This presentation aims to present what the problem is, how it affects the relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation and the communities, and suggest a few ways we could explore in order to make things work better. We hope to engage more people in finding ways of addressing the problem and take a step towards ensuring better communication within the movement and between the Foundation and the communities.

The talk targets Wikimedia editors who are concerned with the movement, whether this means being able to understand what's happening and how it affects their home wiki or those who are concerned with the ability of some communities to engage with the larger movement and thus have a voice in how we, as an organization, do things, whether they affect the world or just our own software.



Interested attendees and comments

Interested attendees