How to Globalize Online Course Content

How to Globalize Online Course Content

Martin Schell (New York University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-116-2.ch008


Considering that 347 languages have over 1 million speakers each and account for 94% of the world’s population, localization is unsustainable as a strategy for making online courses globally accessible. Writing Web content in Global English is the best way to ensure that people from all linguistic backgrounds have a reasonable chance of comprehending course materials. This chapter shows how to transform native English text into Global English (simpler syntax, less jargon, fewer idioms, no slang). It also discusses e-learning design issues such as cultural perspective and Internet logistics (speed and cost of connection). Finally, it addresses the future of English as a global language, particularly in reference to its supposed “rivalry” with Mandarin.
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The Case For Global English

Nowadays, most Web sites that aim for multinational markets will localize their content by translating it into languages spoken by major groups of Internet users: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and so on. In August 2003, the software developer, Jordi Mas i Hernàndez (2003) tallied the presence of various languages on the Web by inputting keywords specific to each language. He found that English was the dominant language of the text on 1,280 million pages, followed by German (182 million), French (100 million), and then a cluster of four languages in the 65-70 million range: Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean.

Some people interpret his results as a call for increasing the localization of Web pages into languages other than English. Unfortunately, localization can never succeed in reaching a worldwide audience because, by definition, its purpose is to serve specific groups of users. Adding up a handful of local or regional groups does not equal a global audience.

There are presently 6,912 living languages, including 347 that have over 1 million speakers each (Gordon, 2005). Nobody will localize a Web site into all of them. How often do you see sites that offer the option of viewing pages in Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, or Wu, each of which has over 40 million speakers?

The usual explanation for excluding these languages is that they are spoken in countries which currently have low Internet penetration. This justification reveals that localization is a short-term strategy, one which will become increasingly difficult to implement as time goes on. The number of Internet users more than doubled worldwide from 361 million in 2000 to 958 million in 2005, with doubling or tripling on every continent and in nearly all countries that began the 21st century with low percentages of users (Internet World Stats, 2005).

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