Web usability in a multicultural environment: a concern for young South African web users? Arcilia Masoeu Department of Informatics University of Pretoria Pretoria, 0002 +27-(0)12-4203085 [email protected]
Carina de Villiers Department of Informatics University of Pretoria Pretoria, 0002 +27-(0)12-4203085 [email protected]
English. The question is: Will the use of the language
There are eleven official languages in South Africa. However, most of the South African web sites are currently designed in English with a small minority of them presented in both English and Afrikaans. This paper addresses this issue with specific reference to Internet users in the age group 18 to 25 years. It is determined whether young Internet users feel the need for web sites in their mother tongue. Different cultural aspects that influence the usability of web sites such as colour, pictures and sound are also explored. As a background to the paper, web usability and culture are defined and discussed in the context of the influence of language on web users. The results of the questionnaires of 132 young Internet users are given and the relevance of these results for South African web site developers is highlighted.
preferred (ie other South African languages) by most people affect the use of the Internet? Although the Internet is becoming increasingly multilingual, English remains the dominant language. Therefore translations would be required to make it more accessible to millions of people. In some countries, fears are growing that the Internet’s western domination will destroy local cultures and moral values. In a research study that was recently conducted in Botswana, which is also a multicultural country like South Africa, English was also found as a language that is used as a common platform for expression. Onibere et al  states that, although users have different local languages and cultures, the learning of the English language and its use in everyday life, have to a large extent subdued their cultural differences.
In this paper web usability will be discussed, as well as the terms internationalization and localization. The concepts of culture and diversity will be explained. A case study was done at the University of Pretoria amongst students coming from diverse backgrounds but all between 18 and 25 years of age and all Internet users. There are eleven official languages and culture can largely be defined by the language we speak and in this research mother tongue/ home language is used to determine cultural boundaries. Questionnaires were given to the students asking specific questions on different cultural aspects discussed in the literature such as language, colour, pictures and sound. In the paper the results of the questionnaires and a critical evaluation of the relevance of the results for South African web site developers will be discussed.
Web usability, culture, home language INTRODUCTION
According to the “South African Internet Services Industry Survey 2000” from Media Africa, the total number of Internet users in South Africa is 1.82 million. There are eleven official languages in South Africa, but most of the web sites are designed in English and very few of them are designed in both English and Afrikaans. Web sites that are written in both Afrikaans and English are mostly found at Universities and Schools that use Afrikaans and English as media of instruction. In some web pages you do sometimes find words written/translated to one of the South African languages. English is used because most of the people using the Internet are English speaking or educated in
WEB USABILITY Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit of commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To cop y otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. CHI-SA 2001, Pretoria, South Africa. Copyright ACM SIGCHI South Africa Chapter. 2000
Jakob Nielsen  makes a strong case in his book that usability has assumed a much greater importance since the advent of Internet commerce. In product and software design, customers pay first and then experience the usability of the product or software package. On the Web, usability is experienced first by the users and that may be a determining factor whether they will pay for the product.
Traditional software development distinguishes between internationalization and localization, where internationalization means that you design for a world-wide audience, whilst localization adapts the design to the needs of a local community. In terms of language use, which is the focus of this paper, international web sites will use simpler language that can be understood by non-native speakers. Localized sites often involve translating the site. On the Web, international sites make more sense because of the number of users that can be reached. The main way of localizing websites is to translate the site into the most commonly languages . Although the Internet is becoming more multilingual, English remains the dominant language and translation would be required to make it accessible to millions of people, especially if we think of rural Africa. According to a report by Sally Burnheim : “Local content produced by Africans is needed to make the Internet relevant and viable in Africa. In a continent where radio reaches 75% of the population, television about 40% and the Internet just 0,1%, the impact of new technology is extremely marginal.” In the case study that follows, the researchers wanted to determine whether localization of sites by translating them into the official languages of South Africa is an issue for young web surfers. Ideally one would translate the entire site into each of the languages that are important for your target audiences, as well as add local content of interest. Each of these translations will be a stand-alone site, linked from a home page listing all the options available. Most companies simply do not have the resources or money to do complete translations and some opt for partial translations of their site. It is, therefore, a challenge to web designers to succeed in using the English language in such a way that it will be understandable to users from different language and cultural backgrounds. Non-native speakers usually have difficulties in the following areas, according to Kukulska-Hulme: •
Words in similar form for example clip and click, clear and close, etc.
Incorrect pronunciation that can lead to misunderstanding the word, for example access and assess.
Words related in meaning, for instance what are the differences between mistake, error and fault.
Ambiguous words for example the term display may mean the physical object, a software feature or a user action.
False friends, which refers to a word in another language that look similar to the English word, but with a different meaning.
Culture-specific meanings, for example the use of the word faculty in American English differs from British English.
Semi-technical terms such as paste, merge, flush right, etc.
Stacked modifiers, that is the tendency to put a series of modifiers in front of a noun to alter its meaning.
These areas need to be addressed when evaluating a web site. Searching multilingual information presents special usability problems. If all information has been replicated then it is not necessary to search more than one language. Unfortunately, most of the time not all documents have been translated and searches of several languages are required to find all the relevant information . Another problem, related to the language issue, is the use of icons and symbols. It is a challenge for web designers to design icons that can be used in a multi-lingual and multicultural society. If the icons and symbols are systematically designed and effectively displayed, they can be easier to recognize quickly in a busy visual context than using verbal contents . CULTURE
Culture is defined as a cognitive framework consisting of attitudes, values, behavioural norms and expectations shared by members of a certain group of people. This definition was derived from the definition of Organisational culture. Culture consists of several elements such as language, race, religion, ethnicity, diet, clothing and politics. It is conceptualised as a system of meaning that underlies routine and behaviour in everyday working life. The term multicultural refers to different cultures found in different groups of people. It can also be referred to as cultural diversity. Diversity is a situation that includes representation of multiple groups within a prescribed environment, such as a university or workplace. This word most commonly refers to differences between different cultural groups. National culture is a set of values, attitudes, beliefs, and norms shared by a majority of the inhabitants of a country. These become embodied in the laws and regulations of the society, as well as in the generally accepted norms of the country’s social system . In most countries, a dominant culture exists. Therefore it might also be important to identify dominant culture in our country and design our web pages to suit everyone in our country. In South Africa we find different groups of people with different religions, race, ethnicity and they all speak different languages. According to the four cultural dimensions of Hofstede, South African culture can be defined as having a Power distance that is relatively low as compared to the rest of Africa. Hugo  explains it as follows: “As one might expect in a country with a relatively low Power Distance
and which is at the same time undergoing dramatic social changes that tend to emphasise Individualism. South Africa exhibits increasingly loose cultural ties; everyone is expected to look after one's self or immediate family but no one else. At work, individualistic cultures increasingly value personal time, freedom, challenge, and such extrinsic motivators as material rewards. Taken as a whole, South Africa exhibits fairly low Uncertainty Avoidance - there is a rapidly growing entrepreneurial spirit, but it would be misleading to generalise. Rural black cultures are not known for risk-taking and are generally characterised by anxiety caused by rapid changes, especially as a result of the power shift, rapid introduction of technology, etc. Again, this is a complex scenario due to various factors like unemployment and growing urbanisation. Teachers are expected to be experts who know the answers and students are still very dependent on direction and even "spoon-feeding". What is different or new is often viewed as threatening. However, there are increasing signs of low uncertainty avoidance especially among the more affluent and powerful sectors of black communities. Here one finds the typical low uncertainty avoidance patterns: people are less expressive and less openly anxious; people behave quietly without showing aggression or strong emotions. They seem easygoing, even relaxed and what is different may be viewed as simply curious, or perhaps ridiculous.” Concerns are often raised in developing countries over the Internet’s potential to destroy local cultures and moral values. Burnheim  stated in her report that religious leaders in Sudan recently described the Internet as “moral pollution” and they plan to ban the local ISP in order to protect the youth of the country. Karat & Karat  states that if one wants to adapt your web design to a certain culture, it is not just a different language. Language is certainly a major factor, but people also respond to and use space, treat time differently and interpret symbols and icons in their environment as part of their culture. They  also warned that you cannot treat nations as consisting of a single culture which is certainly the case in South Africa.
Waldegg & Scrivener  conjectured that culturally determined usability problems are centred in the how the representations used in a system mediate the actions of the culturally diverse users. They also found in their studies that a range of interface languages does not guarantee usability. Also the authors believe that it is more appropriate to focus on understanding of representations in general than focusing specifically on language. It is therefore not necessarily a problem if the web site is not in the user’s “home language”.
According to Sacher and Margolis  “Language is more than just a functional means of communication within a culture. Human language reflects how individuals think and interact with each other and how they will approach interactive products introduced to their culture.” They feel strongly that a successful web site will speak the local language to be able to communicate effectively with users. Usability issues, inefficient use, or misunderstanding of a product’s benefit often indicate disconnection between the language of the user and that of the interface.
According to the results, 57.58% of the respondents have Internet use experience of 1-3 years and 26.52% have Internet use experience of 3-5 years. For respondents whose home language is Afrikaans and English, the range is between 1-5 years and for other official languages the range is between 1-3 years.
It is important to realise that it is not the cultural differences between the users of the web site that are important but the usability problems that these differences cause. Bourges-
Using these two sections on web usability and culture as background, the researchers conducted a case study to test some of these findings. CASE STUDY
A case study was done at the University of Pretoria, using students between 18 and 25 years old to complete a questionnaire (attached to this document). These students were all studying Information Technology related subjects and can be considered computer literate. They have all used the Internet before. We have distributed 253 questionnaires, but only the results of 132 could be used, mostly due to incomplete information. The purpose of the case study was to determine whether the home language of the students has any influence on how usable they find web pages. At the same time the influence of colour, pictures, audio, sound, etc. was determined for the different home languages. In the following section the findings from the case study are discussed. FINDINGS FROM THE CASE STUDY
In the statistical analysis of the questionnaire the different questions were evaluated by comparing them with the home language of the respondent. Home Language There are 65.91% of the people whose home language is Afrikaans, 12.12% English, 0.76% Ndebele, 0.76% Sesotho, 4.55 % Sepedi, 1.52% Xitsonga, 6.82% Tswana, 0.76% Venda, 1.52 % Xhosa, of 5.3% other languages. Home Language And Culture 1. How long have you been using the Internet?
Do you access the Internet at?
According to the results, most of the respondents whose home language is Afrikaans, English and non-official languages access the Internet at home and at the university. A high percentage of the respondents from other official languages access the Internet only at the university. 3. What is your native language?
The results show that in all the languages a high percentage of the respondent’s home and native language is the same except for Sesotho, who chose Tswana as their native language. 4. Is this the language you currently speak most of the time? High percentages of respondents who speak their native language most of the time are found amongst Afrikaans, English, Ndebele and Tswana speaking respondents. Others do not speak their native language most of the time. 5. What percentage of South African web site are nonEnglish sites? Percentage of non-English sites visited
Most of the Afrikaans, English, Tswana, Venda and Sesotho speaking respondents agree in this question for the reason that it shows respect for different cultures and also because it will be useful for more people. A total of 43.18% of the respondents agree for the reason that it will be useful for more people and 18.18% agree because it shows respect for different cultures. 10. Do you know anyone who would not learn to use a computer or the Internet because of cultural objections? The results show that there are few people who would not use a computer because of cultural objections and this is evenly distributed amongst all languages. 11. What colour do you prefer the links on web pages to be?
60 50 40 30
According to the results, 48.48% of the respondents prefer a blue colour for the links, 29.55% have no colour preference and others prefer other colours, which are dark.
20 10 0 A
A = all to E = none
The results show that out of the web sites the respondents have accessed, non-English sites are less than 25%. 6.
to suit language and culture while some feel that it is not necessary. 9. Should organisations provide multiple translations of their web sites?
What language do you think will be the best to use for the South African web sites
According to the results 82.82% of the respondents prefer English as the web language and others prefer other languages including their home languages. 7. In order to bring new people onto the web, it will be necessary to provide web sites written in their native or primary language The results show no effect in this regard, the results are evenly distributed. 8. Do you think that having more web sites that are designed in your language and culture will make you more willing to use the web? All in all the percentages for this question are evenly distributed. Some feel that web design should be designed
12. What colour do you prefer the background of web pages to be? The results show that Purple and black colour was found amongst Xhosa speaking respondents, black was found amongst Afrikaans, Xitsonga and Venda speaking respondents. But all in all no preference dominated in all the languages. 13. Generally, I like web pages with bright colours According to the results there is no effect amongst Afrikaans speaking respondents because their results are equally distributed. The overall results show that Sesotho, Tswana, Ndebele, Sepedi, Xitsonga and Tswana somewhat agree in this regard. 14. In your culture Red colour symbolises The results here show that a Red colour symbolises Danger. 15. In your culture Blue colour symbolises Respondents from different languages, except Ndebele and Xitsonga, felt that a blue colour represent peace. Xitsonga respondents chose happiness and there was no response Ndebele speakers. 16. In your culture Purple colour symbolises Happiness is dominating in this question although high percentages were found amongst Afrikaans, English, and Sepedi respondents. In other languages there is high percentage of people who did not respond. 17. In your culture Orange colour symbolises
Multiple translations of web sites 50 40
In this question happiness was a dominating answer and a high percentage was found amongst Afrikaans, English, Sepedi, Tswana, Venda, Sesotho and Xhosa. There was no response for Venda and Ndebele speaking people.
30 20 10 0 *
Refer to Question 12 of the Questionnaire
18. In your culture Green colour symbolises The results show that a high percentage of Afrikaans and English speaking respondents chose peace. There is a high percentage of people in other languages that feel that green symbolises happiness.
According to the graph most of the respondents do like web pages with many pictures. This response was high in all the languages except English and Xhosa who do not mind in this regard. 24. I like web pages that are primarily text
19. In your culture Black colour symbolises There is a high percent of respondents in all the languages that chose death in this question. 20. In your culture Yellow colour symbolises 62% of the respondents chose happiness in this question and this high percentage was found in all South African languages. 21. In your culture White colour symbolises 79.5%of the respondents chose peace in this question except for Sesotho who gave no answer. 22. Do you think that presenting pictures, icons, symbols, etc. which depict " South African" scenes, faces, architecture, customs, etc. are important?
Presentation of South African icons, pictures, etc
I like web pages with text 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 *
Refer to Question 27 of the Questionnaire
The graph shows that the respondents somehow disagree in this regard. It has no effect on Afrikaans speaking respondents. English, Sepedi, Venda, Xhosa and other somewhat disagree in this regard while Sesotho, Xitsonga and Tswana strongly disagree.
25. Generally, I like web pages with audio/sound
60 I like web pages with audio/sound
50 40 30
Refer to Question 25 of the Questionnaire
15 10 5 0
The respondents from all the languages feel that it won’t be offensive to present pictures, icons and symbols that depict South African scenes, faces, architecture, and customs. 23. Generally, I like web pages with many pictures and graphics I like web pages with many pictures and graphics 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
Refer to Question 28 of the Questionnaire
According to the results, there is a high percentage of the respondents who chose somewh at agree and strongly agree and this was found amongst Sesotho, Venda, Tswana, Xitsonga and Ndebele. There is no effect in other languages because the percentages are evenly distributed. That shows that the respondents do like web pages with audio/sound. CONCLUSION
Del Galdo and Nielsen  state that different cultural dimensions do raise questions for web design and the
Refer to Question 26 of the Questionnaire
usability of web sites. They feel that we need to change our current practices of web design and develop new tools so that we can cost-effectively produce multiple versions of web sites.
From the case study that the researchers have done using young Internet users as subjects, we could not find conclusive evidence that culture, and specifically home language, plays a vital role in the usability of web sites. Our conclusions from the varied responses that we got are that most of them do not mind using English on the web. Also, the sites using their home languages did not really elicit a strong response either way. The respondents did, however, feel that translated sites will show respect towards other cultures. The use of colour did result in different meanings for the different home language respondents. There are, however, definite similarities that can be used effectively in multicultural sites. The research emphasized again the difficult task for web developers if they want to design usable web sites for a multicultural society.
Circle the most appropriate answer or fill in the answer.
Please assist us in research done on the cultural influences on interface design. This information will be treated confidentially. Background information Q1. Gender Male Female Q2.
Internet use Q3. How long have you been using Internet?
1. Bourges-Waldegg, P. and Scrivener, S.A.R. Meaning, the central issue in cross-cultural HCI design. Interacting with Computers. 9, 1998, 287-309. 2. Burnheim, S. The right to communicate: The Internet in Africa. Special report to European Commission, article 19, February 1999. 3. Del Galdo, E.M. and Nielsen, J. interfaces. Wiley, New York, 1996.
4. Kakulska-Hulme, A. Communication with users: Insights from second language acquisition. Interacting with Computers. 12, 2000, 587-599. 5. Karat, J and Karat, C. World-wide CHI: Perspectives on Design and Internationalization. SIGCHI. 28, 1, January 1996. 6. Marcus, A. Cultural Dimensions and Global Web Userinterface design: What?, So What? Now What?. Technical report. 7. Nielsen, J. Designing Web Usability. Publishing, Indianapolis, 2000.
8. Onibere, E.A., Morgan ,S., Busang, E.M., Mpoeleng, D. Human Computer Interface Design for a multi-cultural and multi-lingual English speaking country – Botswana. Interacting with Computers. 13, 2001, 497-512. 9. Sacher, H and Margolis, M. The culture of Interaction: About foreign and not-so foreign languages. Interactions. Jan-Feb 2000, 39-45. 10. Hugo, J. Highlights of South African Culture. http://www.chi-sa.org.za/contextenq.htm, June 2000.
Less than I year
1 - 3 years
3 - 5 years
5 - 10 years
More than 10 years
Do you access the Internet at Home
Q4. B. C.
School/University Internet Cafe
D. Friend Q5. Do you know anyone who could not learn to use a computer or the Internet because of language difficulties? A.
Yes, a computer
Yes, the Internet
Language Q6. What is your native language (i.e. the first you wrote/read as a child) A. Afrikaans B. English C. Isi Ndebele D. Sesotho E. Sepedi F. Xitsonga G. Siswati H. Setswana I. Tshivenda J. Isi Xosa K. Isi Zulu L. Other _________________________ Q7. Is this the language you currently speak most of the time (i.e. your primary language)? A. Yes B. No
Q8. What percentage of the South African web sites you access are non-English sites?
Q13. Do you know anyone who would not learn to use a computer or the Internet because of cultural objections?
A. All (c lose to 100%)
A. Yes, a computer
B. Most (close to 75%)
B. Yes, the Internet
C. Half (close to 50%)
C. Yes, both
D. Few (close to 25%)
E. None (close to 0%) Q9. What language do you think will be the best to use for the South African web sites
Colours Q14. What colour do you prefer the links on web pages to be? A. Red
C. Isi Ndebele
K. Isi Zulu L. Other
Q10. In order to bring new people onto the web, it will be necessary to provide web sites written in their native or primary language. A. Strongly disagree
Q15. What colour do you prefer the background of web pages to be? A. Red B. Orange C. Yellow D. Green E.
Neither disagree nor agree
Q11. Do you think that having more web sites that are designed for your language and culture will make you more willing to use the web? A. Yes B. No Q12. Should organisations provide multiple language translations of their web sites? A. Yes, because it shows respect for different cultures B. Yes, because it would be useful for more people C. Yes, for other reasons
Q16. Generally, I like web pages with bright colours A. Strongly disagree B. Somewhat disagree C. Neither disagree or agree D. Somewhat agree E. Q17.
Strongly agree In your culture Red colour symbolises
A. Happiness B. Anger
D. No, because language is not an issue for current web users
No, because it is not worth the expense
No, for other reas ons
G. Don't know
E. Peace Q18.
In your culture Blue colour symbolises
Peace In your culture Purple colour symbolises
A. Happiness B. Anger C. Danger D. Death E. Q20.
Peace In your culture Orange colour symbolises
Pictures Q25. Do you think that presenting pictures, icons, symbols, etc. which depict " South African" scenes, faces, architecture, customs, etc. A. is offensive to people in your culture who are experienced with computers B. will be offensive to people in your culture who are new to computers
C. will make computers harder to learn, use and understand for people in your culture
D. Has no effect / not applicable
D. Death E. Q21.
Peace In your culture Green colour symbolises
A. Happiness B. Anger C. Danger D. Death E. Q22.
Peace In your culture Black colour symbolises
A. Happiness B. Anger C. Danger D. Death E. Q23.
Peace In your culture Yellow colour symbolises
Q26. Generally, I like web pages with many pictures and graphics A. Strongly disagree B. Somewhat disagree C. Neither disagree nor agree D. Somewhat agree E. Q27.
Strongly agree I like web pages that are primarily text
A. Strongly disagree B. Somewhat disagree C. Neither disagree nor agree D. Somewhat agree E.
Like Audio / Sound Q28. Generally, I like web pages with audio/sound A. Strongly disagree
B. Somewhat disagree
C. Neither disagree or agree
D. Somewhat agree
E. Strongly agree
Q24. In your culture White colour symbolises A. Happiness