Thursday, September 1


Instant Messaging (IM) allows real-time, text-based conversations over the Internet. IM conversations between people with differing First Languages (L1) requires a common language that is the Second Language (L2) for at least one of the participants.
This project describes the user-centred design and evaluation of an interactive IM system that allows reading and typing of instant messages in a preferred language.
The design was informed by survey (N=162), log (N=8) and interview analysis (N=8). The prototype was evaluated by asking pairs of subjects (N=6) to perform a task where each participant read and typed in L1. Pairs consisted of a native speaker of English (L1=English) and a native speaker of Chinese with English as a second language (L1=Chinese, L2=English).
Task completion success rate, prototype log analysis, and a questionnaire were used to ascertain the usefulness and usability of the system, as well as the overall user satisfaction.
Results show preference to type in L1 was statistically significant -unlike preference to read, and the percentage of emoticons, abbreviations, alternate spellings and acronyms found is much higher than that perceived by users. These and other findings had implications to the design.
The conclusions were that pairs of subjects that did not speak the same language were able to collaborate and complete a task typing and reading in L1, translation quality was judged acceptable, and the prototype was rated highly on the specified criteria.
The results obtained are potentially generalizable to language pairs other than English-Chinese. The interface matched user needs and expectations. The system improved the process by which IM users' interact when they do not share a mother tongue, retaining the power and efficiency of communication in a preferred language.