The beauty of a second language, and how this matters to UI design

Posted on February 24, 2009


English is my second language, I began to contaminate this language when I was 21. The learning process brings me so much pain. Even today I vividly recalled in my dreams of my first year in US(when I spoke and understood none English)that how scared I was all the time. After a long silence acquisition process, I entered the phase of “focus listening”, when I understood all, but wouldn’t be able to speak fluently. And then slowly, I entered the phase of “rigid speaking”, when I spoke a lot and eventually acquired a mastery of grammar.

At the third stage, I experience ecstatic when I speak English. There’s a reason I use the word”ecstatic”, notice that’s not because I finally can express myself freely, but because when I speak English, there’s NO FEELING attached to me. I understand exactly every word’s meaning and I used them appropriately all the time, but I don’t have any previous experience associated to each word, when I speak “Screwed up”, I cannot picture this symbol and contextualize it into my environment. Consider language is an important channel for human beings to interact with their outer world, it functions as an interface. This interface has two-folds, productive and experiential, meaning, you use language both as a communication tool and a self-embodying game. And for me, in order to effectively use English as a communication tool I sacrifice my engagement of trans-experience. When people said “your English is fantastic”, I smiled and self-talked”You have no idea what fantastic means to me”. I feel ecstatic when I experience the separation of the two folds, how cool it is this, I’m literally function as a computer’s interface right now, because my interface(my language ability) is just independent of my sensory memory. And I name it as “the beauty of a second language”.

And I’m an interaction designer. Every human behavioral patterns means a lot to me. I learned that people are not always concern about usability. In an software interaction cycle, if we break down the process into individual patterns, there’re times people value experience more than productivity. They’d rather spend sometime on something that is meaningful to them, whether it is learning and reflecting a second language, fulfilling a religious duty, or spending time with an important person in your life. This allows them to turn the profane to scareness, turn tiny activity into a ritual, a performance, during the process they can either transcend themselves, or gain meaningful “ecstatic” in their memory.

We cannot misuse this concept in software design. For example, one of my friends said, in order to change his password in popular facebook-like Chinese website), he had to scan his ID, emailed it to validate. And we all know “password-changing” behavior is not an activity people want to turn into a ritual. However, people like to change their profile pictures on facebook, that’s one of the ways they express themselves and validate by others, they may don’t mind if we turn this “profile picture changing” a bit complicated because they enjoy the process. I think someday I’ll have a name of “the beauty of UI”, when the software’s UI behavior design, can satisfy every aspects of human needs, from functional, to ritual.