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(1) Profiles in More than One Language
Posted August 10th, 2009 - 10:03 am by from Pentre, Wales (Permalink)

Most people over 50 world-wide do not speak English. For them I think CouchSurfing must seem a pretty alien place.

I have seen profiles in French and Spanish as well as profiles which are either partly or completely bilingual. But at present there is no way to identify these and a CS member who does not speak English would need to sift through a lot of unintelligible profiles to find them.

I have also seen profiles in a poor standard of English - which could obviously have been written to a higher standard in another language. I saw one profile - by someone who spoke only Bulgarian - left completely blank!

One thing that I believe CS does quite well is list languages on the profiles. That gives an immediate view of what language(s) can be used in communication. The Advanced Search does permit "language" as one of the search criteria, but the one time I tried it it came up with completely bizzare results!

Of course, those who are significantly younger than us have grown up in a world where English is the absolutely undisputed language of choice in cross-border communication. For them, the choice of English is natural and automatic. For our generation, the languages we speak will depend largely upon where we grew up. People from the former Soviet Union will speak Russian either as a first or second language. People from Romania are more likely to speak French than English.

I am personally against the automatic use of English. Let me give an example ..

When I was in Prague I had learned just about enough Czech to ask for directions. When I did so, younger people would immediately respond in English. Older people would often give directions in German - but only after asking me whether I spoke German. If I asked in English I would be creating a language barrier which needn't exist. One practical advantage of having a greatly reduced language barrier is that I felt comfortable in the outskirts as well as the centre. Very few tourists there - and the food and beer was cheaper too!

I think it would be ideal if members could write separate profiles in different languages, and when they search to be able to specify an order of preference for the language they use for viewing profiles. For example, if I were searching profiles in France, I would list French before English, given that some French members may not be able to speak English, and those who do can probably better express themselves in French rather than English.

I am somewhat mystified by the notice "Language Barrier Exists" on some profiles. To me a language barrier is a lack of a common language and therefore an attribute of communication between two or more people, not an attribute of any individual. If a French person and an English person cannot communicate, is the French person to be seen as the cause of the problem and the English person blameless? What sort of welcome does CS offer people who speak little or no English?