Computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools and social media potentially allow people to interact fluidly across national, cultural and linguistic boundaries in ways that would have been difficult if not impossible in the past. To date, however, however, much of this potential fails to be realized. A single individual is unlikely to be fluent in a wide array of languages. The use of a lingua franca such as English permits a degree of interaction with speakers of other native languages, but it can have negative effects on non-native speakers. Advances in machine translation (MT) and other technologies could allow people to communicate with one another in their native language, but translation errors can create sizeable misunderstandings when MT is used in conversational settings.
In a series of studies, my students and I have been exploring the problem space of inter-lingual communication, with the goals of better understanding the challenges of interaction across language boundaries and of informing the design of new tools to support this interaction. I will first describe two interview studies exploring how the need to use a non-native language affects communication and coordination in both formal and informal settings. I will then describe several tools we have developed to make MT more usable in everyday conversation and present the results of lab studies evaluating these tools. Taken together, these studies help help advance the area of inter-lingual computer-mediated communication.
Susan R. Fussell is a Professor in the Department of Communication and the Department of of Information Science at Cornell University. She received her BS degree in psychology and sociology from Tufts University, and her Ph.D. in social and cognitive psychology from Columbia University. Dr. Fussell’s primary interests lie in the areas of computer-supported cooperative work and computer-mediated communication. Her current projects focus on intercultural and multilingual communication, collaborative intelligence analysis, public deliberation, and tools to motivate people to reduce their energy usage. More information can be found on her website http://sfussell.hci.cornell.edu or her lab Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/InterculturalCommLab.