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Making iMechanica a better global forum

MichelleLOyen's picture

It was recently pointed out that much of the technical literature is inaccessible to the English speaking world, having been published in other languages such as Russian or Chinese. At the moment iMechanica is primarily an English-language website and we are therefore potentially limiting the discussion based on language.

When I see a comment in Chinese I wish there was an English translation available, and I wonder if a native Chinese speaker feels the same way about English comments that I make. In the current age of technology and computers I would hope there was a way around this but I don't know what it is. So I would like to pose the question to the multi-lingual iMechanica readership: how can we make this a global forum that is accessible to everyone?

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Michelle:

You've brought up an interesting issue and, I think, a great opportunity. It was during a visit to Singapore, in February 2007, that Chun Lu demonstrated to me that iMechanica supports Chinese, to my great surprise! Imagine: this was during a session that I was showing people around iMechanica. I tried Chinese out with a greeting on the Eve of the Chinese New Year. I suppose that iMechanica also supports other languages.

Here are my takes on this issue and opportunity of a multilingual iMechanica.

(1) For some time, a number of colleagues in China have told me that reading English is hard for them, and writing is even harder. The language barrier does put non-English speakers in disadvantage.

(2) Few users from China are active users now. Someone said to me that the number of solid mechanicians alone in China may well exceed 10,000. (For that matter, so far as I can tell there is no active Russian users, and we all know they are good mechanicians!)

(3) I believe all languages can co-exist on iMechanica. It would allow everyone to talk about mechanics any way she wants to. I myself cannot really talk about mechanics in any depth in Chinese, but would love to hear other people talk about my beloved subject in my mother tongue! If I see a really good post, and if I have time, I think I am up to the task to translate it into English.

(4) This might bring a real opportunity: Translation in the Age of the Internet. Anybody can translate any post into any language. So, for example, if you are interested in a post and has persuaded your sister to translate it for you, why not ask her to post the translation in iMechanica?

(5) Zhenyu Xue once mentioned to me that it would be a great idea for a Chinese student to translate a post from English to Chinese. The student gets to know the subject of the post better, practices English in a meaningful way, and helps other Chinese. In addition, if she translates a popular post, she can be famous! For example, if someone makes a good translation of the post "about iMechanica" to any other language, and posts the translation in her blog, we can link to her post in the English version of "about iMechanica".

(6) Of course, a multilingual iMechanica will mean that a person will be unable to read some posts. But it is OK. The writer will know that if he writes a non-English post, he limits his readership. However, if the writer has such difficulty in writing in English, then writing in his own language is much better than writing nothing. Besides, if a post is really significant, someone will sooner or later translate it.

The Tower of Babel will be an enchanted place to live if everyone is your neighbor, and some of your neighbors are your willing translators. God knows all languages. So does the Internet.

Zhenyu Xue's picture

Hi Zhigang,

I am in Tsinghua now. After I come back, I realize that it is not convenient at all for all students here to directly use iMechanica. The problem is that each one has to pay 100 yuan per month for his surfing on website located out of country. This might not be a problem for professors but few students are willing to pay for it. So maybe establishing a mirror site in China is not a bad idea.

 

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Zhenyu: Thank you very much for this message. Perhaps we should first collect some basic information, such as

  • Is this is the situation limited to students in Tsinghua, or is it general?
  • How about people in other countries?
  • Who has any idea how to set up a mirror site?
Xi Chen's picture

People in Chinese universities need to pay for a particular IP as well as browsing websites outside China. Very often China would also block websites from western countries. As far as I know, many websites (such as www.xys.org) have mirrors that can be accessed within China. Here are some instructions I found on how to set up a mirror site: http://www.howtoforge.com/mirroring_with_rsync 

It is interesting to have a look at this forum. For my case, even though I learned Chinese characters in high school, I could not remember all Chinese characters so that obviously I am unable to read some posts written in Chinese. But, it might be a good challenge to provide the multilingual characteristics in iMechanica in order to encourage non-English readers and writers in mechanics.

Recently, as far as I know, google have attempted to convert the English documents (whatever it is, e.g. paper, thesis, article, news, etc.) into any other languages (e.g. French, Russian, Korean, Chinese, etc.), and vice versa. Even I could see my previous papers (published at PRE in 2005), which was translated in Korean by Google! Google supports the translations between two different languages, even though the translation is not perfect like translaters. It is quite useful to utilize Google to have a brief understanding of some articles written in some languages that one have not learned in one's life.

Anyway, multilingual aspects may be considerable in order to embrace mechanics person who is not friendly to English. It is a long way to go for us to have multilingual asepcts in iMechanica, but it may be worthwhile. Also, temporarily, we may adopt Google translaters that enables one to have a brief understanding of articles written in any other languages that one has not learned.

Arun K. Subramaniyan's picture

I used Google Translate to read Henry Tan's post in English. Apart from some slight grammatical errors, the translation was good. I could get the meaning of the post clearly. One can enter the web address into google translator and it will translate the entire webpage. As Kilho Eom mentioned, it maybe a simpler option than someone actually translating every post.

MichelleLOyen's picture

It's an interesting point about human vs. virtual translators. I had my sister translate one of Henry Tan's posts since she's fluent in Chinese and lived in China, but since her field is history the details of the post were a bit difficult for her to follow. I suspect there is a similar problem with Google, if it was set up for a general audience instead of a technical one. I suspect we really need to consider what the specific challenges are with very technical translation, and how we can address those issues given the available options and time.

Dongxing Ma's picture

    It is my firt time to come here.  It is very interesting and  related with my

major. I am a Chinese student of  NUAA. Just as  Zhigang Suo says ,it is real

very difficult for most Chinese to write article in English,including me,

although reading is OK.Therefore  translatation is a bit difficult for me.

But I will try , then,I can understand more posts and communicate with more

people.

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