One of the major challenges of organizing European or international online dialogues is dealing with multilingualism. The experience with multilingual online discussions shows that people tend to stick to their own language group. Sometimes they are discussing in English, but crossing language boarders and particularly commenting in a foreign language seems to be a hard task for most of the users - even if they have some knowledge of foreign languages.
Employing professional translators is definitely too expensive. Using peer-to-peer translation might be a good idea, if you have a rather slow developing, open-ended dialogue, e.g. the comments of a weblog. But a translation always slows down the track of comments, so communication across language barriers would still be constricted.
So, how can organizers and designers make it easier for people to leave their own language group and to get into contact with people speaking different languages - thus, what can you do to enable a real, inclusive discussion across language barriers?
We’d like to introduce an idea - and are very interested about your comments and insights:
We though about a mechanism matching users who have different native languages, but who can speak the same foreign language.
In detail: This matching mechanism would work in online dialogues were users do not only discuss in an open forum but also communicate one-to-one using a messenger-system integrated into the platform. When signing up for the online discussion the users would have to state their mother tongue as well as the languages they can also speak and understand.
The system would than match the users. Every user would be attached to a defined number of peers, lets say to 10 other users. The condition: these users may NOT have the same native language, but are accordant in at last one of the languages they are familiar with as well.
So, a German user who can speak English, French and Spanish would be matched with English, French and Spanish user speaking German, with Italian users speaking French, with Greek users speaking English, and so on - but not with other German users. So, this user would get into intensive one-to-one dialogue (reducing the embarrassment some might feel when writing in a foreign language into an open forum) with different people from different language groups.