Community Leadership Summit Wiki

Connecting Globally: Facilitating Participation by Non-native English Speakers[]

7 participants.

With lots of people from different countries, all communicating in a language that is not native for most of them, the communication is not as fluid. It is hard to see what each other has to say when they blog in their native languages and cannot read each other's work.

Most people want to blog in their native language because "blogging is like thinking." One person said if he blogs in English, there's no convenient place to publish it.

Cultural differences hard as well. Some people are very blunt online, etc. There are even different ways that different countries and cultures use the Internet (media used, etc.). Consider different time zones. Sometimes what people do not say is more important than what they do.

Dilemma: ask everyone to use English in order to be able to share everything, or encourage each community to use its own language and try to provide translators to share important posts. Depends on goal: if you want to build a local chapter, you need to encourage use of native language. For contributions to a shared project like software, everyone will probably understand that they need to speak English.

Remind everyone that some people are using English as a second language. Something that might seem rude may be due to lack of facility with the language.

None of us have seen a central knowledge base about how to handle international differences in culture.

Face-to-face meetings: people sharing a language and culture will talk fast and interrupt each other freely because they know the cues to do it. A foreigner might end up not participating at all because he or she cannot use the cues to jump in. It's important for the majority to remember the non-native person and invite him or her. Moderator can be conscious of problem and enforce a protocol inviting everybody. Might even be good for involving native speakers who happen to be shy, talk slowly, etc.

Ask native English speakers to proofread and edit blogs or other informal documents written by non-native speakers. But sometimes easier to translate from native language (well-written) to English than to correct lousy English. But it can sometimes work to ask people to write in English first, because they can then translate it easily into their native language. contains lots of people trying to learn languages. Contact the leader of the appropriate meetup group and ask for a volunteer to do a translation.

Notes Round 2.0[]


  • Identify problems and solutions for non-native English speakers participating in English speaking community.



  • Difficult establishing communication channels - have to be formal and not very fluid
  • Externally visible communications (blogs and press releases) are challenging and difficult
  • Blogging is very hard - like thinking so done in native language but difficult to keep casual tone when translating.
  • Tension between managing one global language versus having native languages supported
  • Issues with cultural barriers on mailing lists
  • Issues with time zones and scheduling meetings
  • Challenging for non-native English speakers to interject themselves during meetings. US folks are fine with interrupting.
  • Challenging for certain cultures to interact in English - Germany especially. Chinese/Japan on mailing lists.
  • Different cultures use different tools for communicating/connecting


  • Having English speakers translate the blogs of non-native English speakers.
  • Host two separate meetings (morning and afternoon) and summarize notes of meetings to address time zone issues.
  • To address language and cultural barriers, create an expanded section in code of conduct to spell out manners/customs/etiquette.
  • Have moderator use a formal system of hand raising or some type of visual queue to allow others to speak
  • Allow non-native English speakers to moderate/lead session - give them the chance to take charge of agenda and lead discussion at own pace
  • Use as a source of good translator. good reciprocal exchange - strong to use both a native language and english speaker to translate.
  • To help voice of non-native English speaker be heard, enhance profile of person by creating level of respect for person that might have slow English or be slow in jumping in on conversation
  • Every project needs to have a strong ambassador/liaison representing country/non-native speakers - they translate and serve as voice representing that entire group.
  • Use written communication (IRC chat/etc.) vs. verbal communication (Skype voice) - easier to pull together thoughts and less pressure.
  • Asynchronous communication (mailing list/discussion boards) is better than synchonous (IRC chat) --> allow for time to compose thoughts.
  • Write for translation - write simple short sentences with single idea in each.
  • When sending email, google translate email message and then translate back - if its misinterpreted, simplify.

General Ideas[]

  • Differing levels of communications. High translation need: Press Releases/Blogs | Low: Technical documentation
    • Common language actually is code - technical conversation isn't too hard for non-native speakers.
  • Don't rely on automated translations. Serve their purpose however when need a quick fix.

Action Items[]

  • Explore creation of a centralized knowledgebase identifying problems non-native English speakers face and best solutions to deal with them.
  • Try to push as a best practice at any conference, system of raising hands to speak/participate, reducing barriers for non-native English speakers.
  • Create a shared resource for a guide for writing for translation.


Raw Discussion[]

Koray's Challenges

  • Many ideas - not very comfortable blogging these in English
  • Comfort in English - don't like to blogging in English.
  • Blogging is like thinking so hard to think in non-native language
  • When in English --> becomes too formal - understandable but not proper message

2 issues:

  • manage global language
  • get multiple languages supported
  • where language and culture meet
** Internet culture barrier in Japan - blog on different sites.

  • Problems with cultural barriers on mailing lists --> too hard to
    • Code of conduct, manners/customs - covering 2nd language issues specifically
    • Appropriate behavior that should be communicated.

  • One common language
    • Get everyone together and then have issues with culture, etc.
    • Which approach is determined by what goal
      • If want local chapter, do a native language group
      • If you want contribution in organic way, they should speak English

  • Different levels of communication
    • Common language is code and not English
    • Technical conversation - not a problem with language or cultural barrier.
    • Social layer of interaction where difficulties come up.

  • Any shared resources on this knowledge?
    • Time zone issue --> Doing 2 meetings and bring the results of both together.
    • Solution --> central knowledgebase.
    • Problems that are commonly encountered and good way to deal with them.

  • Face to face meetings
    • Challenges of cultural norms where US are very used to interrupting and entering discussion
    • Formal/structured system with hands works better for 2nd language speakers. <SOLUTION>
    • Try and spread best practice to North American conferences - make it easier to interject selves and provide feedback. <SOLUTION>
    • In US, only happens if moderator is a non-native language speaker.

  • Have separate communicated languages and then translate and intermediate all of those.

  • Having native speaking volunteers proofread and edit the blogs of non-native English speakers.
    • Good way to make things read in proper English
    • Easier to translate from native language to english rather than bad english to good English.

  • Is it better to write in native language and then translate to English or vice versa?

  • Source of good translators: --> lots of meetup groups --> present your problem and you build relationship where they get benefit from having a native speaker.
    • Get at a happier middle point - where have a native and English speaker working on document together.


  • Enhance profile of person by creating level of respect for person that might have slow English or be slow in jumping in on conversation
    • Establish that they're someone who is worth listening to.
    • Get non-native language speaker to be leader of the topic --> helps them by being able to run things and not have to interject.

Problem: In China, name that sticks out gets hammered. Hard to get Chinese on mailing lists, - problems with both Fedora and OW2.

  • Solution: have a strong facilitator to bring in the other members

Problem: Germany/France - hard to get any English discussion there at all - purely language.

    • Parallel German community with Mandreegam --> need one facilitator for huge community.

Problem: Some guy writing a very long verbose email and need it to be simple.

  • Solution: Google translate email to language and then translate back - if its misinterpreted.

  • Write simple sentences for translation. Write simple sentences with only single ideas in each one.

SOLUTION: ** Need shared resource: Guide for writing for translations

Discussion: challenges with machine translation

  • Don't rely on translation tools --> create a black box where a lot of stuff might get lost in translation
  • Write in English and make sure it can be translatable.
    • Much more difficult conversion process for Chinese
    • Don't rely on automated translations

IRC is more comfortable than Skype/vocal conversations

    • Higher level of interaction/participation from people across the board
    • Phone - always have 2 or 3 that can express but rest can't
    • Both Fedora and OW2 do this.
      • No voice meetings, IRC is better
        • Most are comfortable with writing, also have a transacript of what occurred at the meeting., give time to process thoughts
        • Speaking is a very high pressure scenario.
          • IRC very easy to log and for others to search it later.
          • Use webIRC to get into channel --> don't need client, etc.

          • Asynchronous is better than IRC. Don't make a meeting real-time unless it has to be. Mailing List gives people time to respond.

Different levels of communication:

  • Not everything needs to be translated into perfect languages: IRC/Mailing List posts initially press releases/blogs at one end.

    • Transeffects

Fedora Experiences:

  • Losing possibility that people could have parallel track of their meetings because wiki pages aren't translated.
  • Missing opportunity.
  • Have to decide what events are appropriate to have be in native language: Fedora Test Days - result is just pass or fail - only determining based on stats.