Less Wrong and non-native English speakers

by kilobug 2 min read6th Nov 201143 comments


Hello Less Wrongers.

I'm still relatively new to the LW community, but I would like to share with you a few comments and ideas for making LW a better place for non-native English speakers.

There are two classes of people among non-native English speakers (of course, those boundaries are fuzzy) :

  1. People who, like me, are relatively fluent in English, but not who don't have the same fluency at English as natives do.
  2. People who don't speak much English at all.

The problems are of course different between 1. and 2., but yet I can see ways to improve things to both categories.

Moderately fluent English speakers

Being a member of 1., here are my feelings after a few months of lurking and then trying to participate a bit in LW, from my own French pov :

  1. LW is still quite US-centric in many ways. That's not much of a problem, at least for me who is used to dealing with US citizen from IRC or other Internet places, but it still something to keep in mind. Political question of Yvain's census/survey (please Yvain don't take that personally, overall you're doing a great and useful thing with that survey, so thanks to you), your  is a clear example of that, but it's much more general.
  2. Writing an article on LW is not easy for non-native English speakers. I tried twice, and twice I got many remarks about my English skills. I don't take them badly, thanks for those who took the time to point to my mistakes and explain them so I can improve, but still, it feels like it's harder to participate.

I don't have any magical solution from 1., except for anyone to try to be more careful when stating things which are culture-dependant, but it's part of the most general problem of excepting short inferential distances.

For 2., I'm wondering if it would be possible to have some LW to volunteer to review articles done by non-native English speakers, and improve the English quality, before the article is published to LW in general. Do you think the idea is good overall ? Would any of you volunteer to do that ? If so, it would be nice to include a paragraph about it, or at least a link to a page explaining the modality (how to submit an article to that team, ...), on the Welcome to Less Wrong page.

Non-English speakers

I don't think non-English speakers (or people with only basic English skills) can reasonably participate on LW itself, of course. But there are ways to still be able to offer them ways to become stronger, I'm thinking about translation.

Right now I'm helping Adrien with the French translation of HP:MoR. There are also attempts to translate some parts of the Sequences into other languages. In the mirror way of the "having native English speaker to help correct the English of non-native", us the non-native can help by participating to the various translation efforts. But that give raise to several questions :

  1. What are the legal issues about translating HP:MoR and Sequences ? Since Eliezer is linking to the translations of HP:MoR from his fanfiction.net page, I guess he approves of them. But what of the Sequences ? It would be nice to have some official stance from him and other people writing in the Sequences to know what they feel about translations. I'm not a fan of the copyright system in general, but I still would consider an utter lack of respect to someone to translate his work against his will.
  2. How can the team be coordinated, and how can newcomers to Less Wrong know that efforts are underway and requiring help ? Once again, I think it would be nice to have some page (maybe on the wiki ?) with the undergoing efforts, who is participating in which, how to contact them, and have a link to it from the Welcome to Less Wrong page.

Any opinion on those suggestions ? Any volunteer for joining some of the teams ? Anyone from "the staff" who could answer about the legal issues, and about the opportunity of including those pointers in the "Welcome to Less Wrong" page ?