Webex Announces Multilingual Interpretation

Webex put up a blog post announcing support for attendee-selectable interpretation channels in online meetings. This is a good thing and increasingly crucial in reaching international audiences.

One of the features I really like in the Webex implementation is a slider that lets each attendee balance the relative volume of the source speaker and the interpreter. That is great for checking presenter intonation and emphasis that can sometimes be lost in translation. It can potentially be useful for listeners who are somewhat comfortable in the source language, but want a little backup assistance just in case they don’t understand everything.

I grabbed the following picture from the promotional video that Webex made to explain the new functionality:

This simple menu shows how fraught with practical difficulties it is to think about everything involved with multilingual events. First off, I want to give Webex credit for writing the language choices in the target alphabet. It’s crazy to ask someone in China to look for the word English word “Chinese” in a selection list, yet many products do this.

But look at the examples above. There are several things that could potentially frustrate a meeting host or attendee. I’m not quite sure how this list gets generated… Is it all just text entered by the person who schedules the event? Or is it pulled from a choice list offered by Webex?

If you speak Spanish, you’ll notice that the word for “Spanish language” is incorrect. The ñ in Español is missing its tilde. Then you have the interesting fact that languages are listed in association with a single country. That’s potentially misleading, as some languages sound different based on their locality. As I understand it, Brazil and Portugal have differences in their versions of Portuguese. Which one gets listed?

And coming back to China, I can’t read the characters in this menu, but I know enough to understand that my comment a little earlier about looking for “Chinese” as a language choice is silly. Mandarin sounds nothing like Cantonese. Neither one would be exclusively associated with the country of China. You might very well want two interpreters available if you were targeting audiences in that country. A single menu choice for “China” wouldn’t make sense.

And of course, simultaneous interpretation is just the start when you dig into the complexities of true multilingual meeting support. I wrote up a long post about other factors that should be considered when Planning A Multilingual Webinar. I wrote that five years ago, and I have seen very little progress from webinar technology vendors in trying to support things like true multilingual registration, email communications, visuals, and interactions. That’s not surprising… It’s really HARD!

But globalization proceeds apace and we need to keep moving away from a purely English-centric view of online collaboration. Simultaneous interpretation is a great way to start. Let’s hope the vendors keep going and work on full multilingual support for all aspects of webinar configuration and delivery.

[If you are interested in this topic, you may want to check out past posts looking at KUDO, Intrado, and VoiceBoxer for ways that they are working on the problem.]