You have reached the end of the book – congratulations! I hope to have convinced you that the place where computers and languages meet is an interesting area, an area worth knowing a thing or two about.

It is an interesting area for two reasons. Reason number one, information technology has become so widespread that the computer is now the dominant tool of communication, having eclipsed things like paper and telephones. Reason number two, the world has become more multilingual: we now unavoidably meet people from various backgrounds with various languages, both physically and online. This is happening internationally as a result of globalization and immigration, but also on a local, national level because of the renewed recognition and status afforded to minority and regional languages throughout Europe recently. That all sounds very abstract, but the practical implication is simple: people now encounter ‘stuff’ in different languages on their computers more often than before.

To function well in this changed world, people need new skills and new insights. This book has a mission to develop those skills and insights. The various topics discussed in the individual chapters can be brought together in three lessons.

Lesson 1: Languages are different. The differences are often small and seemingly trivial, such as the how different languages capitalize names, but they are difference nonetheless. A common mistake is to assume that other languages do things the same way mine does it: date formatting, alphabetical sorting and so on. Computer software can often help us do these things correctly but we must tell it which language the content is in. We say that these features are language-dependent: they work differently depending on the language. Office software, for example, tends to be full of language-dependent features but those are no use if the users do not understand the motivation for them.

Lesson 2: The human language faculty is a complicated thing. Computers can imitate some of the things humans do with language but they cannot replace humans completely. For example, we can use a spellchecker and it is a big help but we should not trust its judgement all the time. We can use machine translation but we must be aware that the translations are sometimes going to be incorrect. In general, we cannot simply delegate language work to computers – but we can use computers to aid us in performing language work better.

Lesson 3: Language is not a decoration. If we are going to do public communication bilingually or multilingually, such as on a website, then it has to be done in a way that attends meaningfully to the needs of the people who speak those languages. For example, it is useless and potentially harmful to do ‘lazy localization’ on a website when only the boilerplate text is translated but the main contents of all or most pages remains monolingual. This does nothing for speakers of the target language except causing frustration and downgrading the public perception of the language. To communicate bilingually, we must communicate bilingually in reality rather than in appearance only.

Those who have taken these three lessons home are well equipped to prosper in the multilingual high-tech world of today.

Book cover
An Ríomhaire Ilteangach
Michal Boleslav Měchura
145 pages
Cois Life 2017
ISBN 978-1-907494-70-3
Note. Although this website is bilingual in Irish and English, the book itself is in Irish only.