Multilingual website usability: Cultural context

Multilingual website usability: Cultural context
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   HILLIER - Multilingual Website Usability: Cultural Context  1 Multilingual Website Usability: Cultural Context Mathew Hillier School of Accounting and Information Systems, University of South Australia47-55 North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia, AustraliaTel. +61-8-83020912, Fax. +61-8-83020992, Email mailto:mathew.hillier@unisa.edu.au  Abstract  This research in progress paper draws evidence from the anthropological,worldviews and systems design literature, to show how culture and context play a significant role in the way people perceive and approach their interaction with amultilingual e-commerce website. In doing so, this paper shows that a relationshipexists between language, cultural context and usability. Some suggestions are provided for how the author might conduct useful research that will lead to some Argyris [1] style actionable knowledge, which designers can use as ‘rules of thumb’.This includes testing different groups of users for their responses to examples of ‘translated-only’ websites. The author is able to draw on Australian and Asian participants for this study. The demands of e-commerce website development need tobe kept central, as it is likely to be uneconomical to cater for every user. Some degreeof generalization from individuals into cultural groups seems inevitable. Keywords: multicultural, website design, usability, culture, context, e-commerce Introduction The problem of presenting multilingual websites to a range of audiences involves more than translating the textfrom one language to another (which itself is not a straightforward matter). As Hull [2] states “when we learn alanguage, we do so in the context of a culture”. Ito and Nakakoji [3] show that all levels of a communicativeinteraction are influenced by cultural factors, as in Hofstede [4]. Therefore, the designers of a website will havecreated the srcinal website drawing on their cultural norms, of which the text will form a part of an integratedwhole. If the text is then translated into another language, then the overall design may also need to be changed.This is because the usability of the site will also change. The usability will change due to the users of the newlanguage having different culturally based expectations. This paper, therefore, argues that a relationship exists between language, cultural context and usability. Thus, when we design a multilingual website, the culturalcontext of the audience needs to be taken into consideration. This is particularly important in the light of globale-commerce efforts where success of business is dependant upon the successful interaction with a multitude of imagined audiences via electronic means. To begin our discussion, we will start by looking at the nature of multilingual websites.   HILLIER - Multilingual Website Usability: Cultural Context  2 Defining Multilingual Websites A multilingual website is one that is presented in more than one language (to be concise, multilingual meansmore than two, while exactly two is bilingual). However, only the written component of a language will beconsidered in the discussion. This becomes significant when various spoken dialects are different, whilst thewritten language is common. One such example is Chinese – however, the distinction between traditional andsimplified characters is made. Whether or not one considers differences to be significant between Taiwan, HongKong and Mainland China as to warrant separate presentations, remains open for debate, and will likely dependupon such factors as task purpose - which is discussed later in this paper. The Problem of Translation In translating text from one language to another, many concerns can arise (Nielsen 1990b [5]). Since it wouldtake a weighty volume to cover all of these concerns, only a small sample will be provided here. Examples inthe field includes work by: Biguenet and Schulte [6][7], Cole [8], Tan [9] and Gerding-Salas [10]. Indeed, inAustralia Para-professional translators and interpreters need to undertake an examination for accreditation [11].Some concerns surrounding text translation include: •   Agreement regarding the meaning of words. Even in English the same words can mean different things.For example, if you were to utter the phrase “please put the trunk in the boot” whilst talking to a taxidriver, one would get quite different reactions depending upon which country you were standing at thetime. In Australia the taxi driver would know what to do immediately. In America the taxi driver would protest that it was impossible, and rightly so. Because to the Australian taxi driver a ‘trunk’ is a large box like suitcase for placing items in when moving, and the ‘boot’ is the luggage compartment of anautomobile. But to an American taxi driver the ‘trunk’ is the luggage compartment of an automobileand a ‘boot’ is a shoe. •   Agreement on terminology, particularly for words of a technical nature [12] and agreed actionsregarding slang and abbreviations, for example, in English the abbreviations of ‘No.’ and ‘#’ can mean‘number’, but there are no such abbreviations in Chinese. •   Phrases and meanings, which cannot be translated. Some words have no equivalent in another language. For example, it is customary for Japanese to say “itadakimasu” (ee-tah-dak-kee-masu) just before eating a meal. This word has no equivalent in English, but it is anexpression of gratitude before meals (roughly translates to “Thanks for the meal” or “I humblyreceive”). •   The direction of the text. For example, English is written horizontally from left to right, Arabic iswritten horizontally from right to left, while Chinese is traditionally written vertically from flowingright to left (although horizontal is now more common with older text appearing right to left and mostrecently text also appearing left to right). •   Formats of such things as dates, times and names. For example, in Britain and Australia dates arewritten in the format day/month/year, in America it is month/day/year and when written in Chinesethey appear as year/month/day. In regard to people’s names, Anglo background people write them inthe order of ‘given’ then ‘family’, but in Chinese they are written ‘family’ then ‘given’. •   Choice of spelling convention. For example, Australians and British spell ‘colour’ while in America itis spelt ‘color’.Additional problems arise when translating text in computer based environments. This includes the size of text blocks on web pages or the field length in application software or databases. Kirkman [13] reports thattranslated text can expand by 40%. For example, a character in a Romanised language takes only one byte,while a character in Chinese takes two bytes. The issue of storage space is greatly reduced for HTML based web pages, however, physical space requirements need to be considered for layout and graphical buttons. Current Practice in Presenting Multilingual Websites on the Web Despite these difficulties, many websites are translated into more than one language, albeit with varying levelsof readability and usability [14]. When considering the web presentation of an organisation, three broad types of websites have been found. These are: single home sites, multi home sites and separate sites, where each belongsto the same organisation (seeFigure 1). The website types are explained in the following sections.   HILLIER - Multilingual Website Usability: Cultural Context  3   Single Home Website Multi-Home Website Separate Websites Figure 1 Three Broad Types of Multilingual WebsitesThe minimalist approach is to present a single home site with small parts translated into another language(s).This type of website is made up of more than one language, however, the translated sections often appear aslinks off the English language pages. In general, these sites translate only a limited amount of text into another language. A small number of websites utilize third party services, such as Babel Fish (Altavista), toautomatically translate blocks or entire pages of text (seeFigure 2). The result is often a rough and rudimentarytranslation of the text [8][15].Figure 2 Altavista’s Automated Translation Tool ‘Babelfish’A multi-home website is located under a single domain name, with a ‘splash’ page presenting a choice of languages. In general, each language’s sub-site has the same layout and design (seeFigure 4). Some websites merely present a gateway to generic content, rather than a customised presentation. The countrywebsites from IBM are such examples (seeFigure 3).  A A ABBB A?B A A ABBB A A ABBBBwww.+++.comwww.+++.comwww.+++.com.auwww.+++.co.th   HILLIER - Multilingual Website Usability: Cultural Context  4 Thailand AustraliaFigure 3 A ‘Products & Services’ Form Two Different Country Websites By IBMFigure 4 A Website Presented in Two Language Versions, But Utilizing Identical Designs   HILLIER - Multilingual Website Usability: Cultural Context  5 When different language versions of a site are presented separately, they usually have their own domain name(either a county level domain or a sub-domain). The level of variation in the design ranges from being the sameto being quite different. This is possibly due to the level of decentralisation present in the organisation, or alternatively, represents an attempt at localisation. A quick survey of two well-known companies, Coca Colaand Pepsi (seeFigure 5andFigure 6)shows they have a practice of variation in design, although the familiar  colour schemes are usually present. Conversely, a recent study by Robbins and Stylianou [16] looked at the webdevelopment practices of multinationals in the ‘Fortune Top 1000’ list of companies. The results of this studyfound little difference in the practice of large firms regarding in the manner in which they present their sites.BelgiumJapanChinaRussiaFigure 5 Coca Cola Website Homepages Vary Between Countries
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