Whether or not to require English at Japanese scientific conferences is a complicated topic. The extent to which English is a requirement varies each year depending on the executive committee, and the discussion considers how many non-Japanese speaking participants will be present, how many young students will come, etc. However, the intent of the organizers is rarely communicated to the programmers and designers of the program and the result is a confusion of English and Japanese that isn’t really good for anybody.
Below is my understanding of why English is often required, and how we should address the multi-language issue.
The program should be understandable in English only
One of the main reasons why conferences require English is to enable non-Japanese speakers to understand and participate in the discussion. Obviously, non-Japanese speakers will chose which presentations to attend by looking at the conference program. Thus the program should be understandable in English.
However, this is rarely the case. Look at the JBS2012 (The Japan Biochemical Society) for example. Here we find that the while most of the content has English and Japanese side-by-side, there are places where only Japanese is available. Obviously, non-Japanese speakers are supported, but only half-heartedly.
Making sure that the English version is complete is not easy and takes a certain amount of effort. However, we think that if we are going to require any English at all, we should be thorough.
English/Japanese side-by-side is bad design
In the JBS2012, English and Japanese are listed side-by-side. Actually, all the conferences that I am aware of do the same. However, this is not ideal. English content and Japanese content should be separate for the most part.
The reason is that most people will read either English or Japanese and will rarely read both. If so, there is little reason to put them side-by-side. In fact by putting in both languages next to each other, the text is made difficult to read because the reader will have to always scan the document and filter out the language that they won’t read. The ideal presentation is to provide separate English pages and Japanese pages so that readers do not have to filter out. Of course there will be people who want to switch from English to Japanese and vice versa. For these users, we need to provide a switch to quickly alternate between the two.
In MBSJ2012, that is what we provided. Languages can easily be switched via the buttons on the upper right. Please see the following screenshots.
Although conference organizers have required English in one way or another, thereby supporting non-Japanese speakers, the conference program systems have only half-heartedly implemented English interfaces. We think that this is totally inadequate. Most mainstream programming platforms now support internationalization and there is now no technical reason not to implement it.
Ponzu supports internationalization. The work is not yet completely finished though, and we will be improving it in the future.