Swap languages

I returned from Wikimania 2010 in Gdańsk. Wikimania is the annual world convention of enthusiasts of Wikipedia and related projects. It was the first time i attended it. My reason to attend this time was that Wikimania 2011 is scheduled to take place in Haifa and i’m on the organization committee, but the event was so intense and fun, that i hope to attend it every year in the future.

The best part of Wikimania is meeting the people behind the Wikipedia accounts and the names on the mailing lists. One of the people whom i looked forward to meeting is Gerard Meijssen, one of the multilingualism gurus of Wikipedia.

Time permitting, i’ll write many more things about Wikimania, but i really had to reply to Gerard’s post about Google Translate. Gerard and i slept in the the same dormitory for the first days. The receptionists there, as well as at the other dormitory in which i slept later, didn’t know a word of English. Luckily, i know Russian, so Polish is not completely foreign to me, but for people without Slavic background it is indeed tough.

On the second day of Wikimania i passed by the receptionist on my way out. There was a Wikimedian who tried to explain something to her. And she didn’t understand. I offered my help. He said that he forgot his key inside the room. I explained it to her in half-Russian half-bad-Polish; she understood me, checked the room number and said that that room has a lock that doesn’t lock the room when the door is shut. I told it to the guy, but he probably didn’t quite understand me and tried to communicate with her again.

So she opened Google Translate on her desktop computer, carefully selected Polish as “from” and English as “to” and wrote something. He approached the computer, pressed the “Swap languages” button, so he would be able to write an answer in English and translate it into Polish; at that point the receptionist took the mouse from him and “helped” him: she selected English as “from” and Polish as “to”. She didn’t see that the “Swap languages” button already swapped languages. This ritual repeated several times. As far as she was concerned, she was an expert Google Translate user.

Eventually they succeeded at understanding each other and he found his key, but i was really baffled by this lesson in software usability.

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