English as a Second Language: Leasons For Software Usability Testing

I have been fortunate to get the opportunity to work with an extremely smart group of non English speaking native language speakers from various countries, in my role as an English as a second language teacher(ESL). Over the past few months, I increased focus on using computers to enable medium level (ESL 4 and above) English speakers to use specialized ESL software to enable self learning of the English language. The idea was to train individuals on basics of computers and enable them to use ESL software.. Mentioned below, is my top five learning’s in usability testing of language software in this process:

  • Learning 1: What you don’t hear you cannot say .Testing of speech software plays a very key role.If the English sound is not clearly received, the brain of the learner converts it into the closest sound in their language .Thus “th” is perceived as “d” for Spanish speakers, hence leading to interpretation of “those” as “dose”. Visual demonstration of speech is essential and is often missed out while testing ESL software. For example when an ESL teacher demonstrates the word “thanks” to students, he or she demonstrates how one’s tongue touches the teeth for a fraction of a second when one says“th”. A tester must design test cases for visual speech formation while testing ESL software.
  • Learning 2: Most traditional computer users are conditioned to think of navigation in traditional operating systems. For example the symbol X which in Windows means to shut down window is often viewed as negation. This can be alleviated by creating appropriate help tips.
  • Learning 3: Dialect and accent are two different things. An accent is a way a group of people sound and pronounce words. Dialect on the other hand is a combination of accent and the grammatical features of a region. For example American and British English. Even in the same country there is a difference in the way English is spoken in different parts of the countries. Test cases should be designed differentiating both dialects and accents.
  • Learning 4: Cultural nuances play a very key role: For example red is considered auspicious in the Chinese language where as it may signify danger in others.
  • Learning 5: Compatibility testing: Testing on various platforms using localized hardware such as key boards is a must.

Bilingual individuals are way smarter than people who speak just one language. Designing test scenarios keeping language, technology and cultural aspects in mind is key.

About the Author


Deepika Mamnani is a Principal in the Testing practice at Capgemini. She is responsible for devising testing solutions and creating improvement roadmaps for testing organizations across industry verticals. Deepika’s core competency is conducting assessments for testing processes across software development lifecycles. An expert at defining organization and governance structures for testing organizations, she has helped organizations implement centralized testing centers of excellence. Deepika is a speaker at international testing conferences, conducts webinars on QA topics, and is a CSTE, CSQA Certified, and a Certified ScrumMaster.
Find out more about @dmamnani

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