Geekspeak: July 2, 2001

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-07-02 Print this article Print

Multilingual interfaces pose muchos problemas

When I saw this sign, I wondered if overenthusiastic translation had turned the English "My Mobil" to the Spanish "Mi Mobil"—ignoring the fixed association of letters and numbers on keypads.

It turns out that punching "Mi Mobil" gets you Spanish-language service, a nice touch—but this sign points up other problems of user-interface translation. Is there any language other than English that can accurately express the invitation, "Enroll online"? (And should customers really be addressed in the informal imperative?)

Las mentes investigando desean saber. (For those who dont speak Spanish, look below for the translation.)

Translation: Inquiring minds want to know.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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