Helping second-language English speakers

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I note with surprise and interest from my site stats that sometimes, the biggest non-search engine referrer to the Internet Evangelism Day site is the online Google translator.

And this is despite the fact that I offer two single-word options for translation throughout the site:
1) a ‘double-click any word’ popup giving a word definition in multiple languages, using a Javascript which I have directed at
2) a multiple-language left-frame, to help users find an online dictionary in their language.

Truth to tell, I have never encountered any other Christian site that does either of these things, and I sort of wonder why. They are technically quite easy to set up.

There are of course page or text translator services (Babelfish, Google etc) but these are inevitably only ‘gisting’ services. If you want to see how bizarre automatic translation can be, use one of them to translate a non-English page into English.

Yet the majority of English speakers use it as a second language. And the majority of web users are not first-language English speakers, yet obviously wish to access English pages where these can meet their needs and interests.

Ideas for accessibility

Christian sites – either for evangelism or discipleship – might consider putting in place an intentional policy to help second-language English speakers. This could include:

  • Include a Javascript double-click dictionary option on all pages, and make this obvious to users
  • Try to rephrase non-literal English idiom and indeed Christianese jargon
  • Use simpler words where possible
  • Use short sentence structure
  • Use active rather than passive verb forms
  • Use short paragraphs

All these things are also valuable for first-language speakers because they speed up clarity and comprehension. Remember that research shows that users very often do not ‘read’ webpages at all. They scan them quickly for words or phrases that relates to their interest or inquiry. If you get webstats for your site that provide visit duration, you will find a scarily high number of people who access pages for only a few seconds!

Usability testing also shows that horizontal lines tend to stop people scrolling further down a page. Enticing subheadings with short paragraphs do lead the eye down the page.

They also expect navigation choices to be on the left and Jakok Neilsen says you deviate from conventional layout at your peril.

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