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I want a little moment stand still by the fact that English speaking a enormous advantage give in this world.

Rami Ismail, half of Dutch independent studio Vlambeer, has been traveling around the world speaking in emerging territories. One of the things he kept noticing is the language barrier. As a half-Arab, he wanted to discuss the privilege of English.

Rami Ismail, Blogger

May 9, 2014

4 Min Read

That header is what English looks like to a large part of the Western world, including people in Western and Eastern Europe, parts of South America, Middle and Southern Africa.

أي وانت اى لتل مومنت ستاند ستيل بي ذي فقط ذات انجلش سبيكنغ اى إنرمس ادفانتج جفي إن ذيس ورلد

That's what English looks like to a large part of the rest of the world, including North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. It's not even Arabic - it's English rendered in Arabic glyphs. If an Arab would read this to you, to you it'd sound pretty close to that title of the article, but to an Arab that doesn't know English it'd mean absolutely nothing.

According to 2010 figures, the internet as a resource features a staggering 80% of pages using the Latin alphabet, and 50% of the entire internet is in English. The second-largest language using the Latin alphabet is German, at approximately 6% of the internet. The four largest non-Latin alphabets, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Russian, represent about 15% of the internet.

Just the fact that you're reading this post suggests you read English, so you have full access to 50% of the internet and indirect access to 80% of it. Direct access mean you can understand the text on the page, and indirect access means you do not have to use a translation service or alternative keyboard to be able to search for words on a website in that language. You have severely limited access to about 20% of the internet, because you simply can't search for a word that uses a different alphabet without using a transliteration service.

For a German, 6% of the internet is directly accessible, 50% of the internet requires learning English and 20% of the internet requires using or learning a new alphabet. For an Arab, less than 1% of the internet is directly accessible, 50% of the internet requires learning English and 80% of the internet requires using or learning a new alphabet.

Our industry basically supports two major languages: English and Japanese, but English is spoken pretty much everywhere around the world. In many ways, English is the lingua franca of our modern society. Whether it's because of the colonial past of the British Empire or America's central position in the world economy the past decades, speaking English is a major advantage in the world of gaming.

As a half-Arab, I want to take a moment to consider the effects that has on our industry. Even our most inclusive efforts tend to exclude those that do not speak English, incapable of learning it for any reason, or that have the added disadvantage of using a different alphabet. It's the purely English content of most of our talks at conferences, but also the fact that most chatrooms and forums simply do not allow any conversation in languages other than English. Bad grammar is frowned upon, eloquence in the language is considered a sign of professionalism and your ability to speak at events, gain any press traction or make any useful contacts is directly correlated to your knowledge of the language.

Most programming languages are English, programming tutorials are English, keyboards are in English, URLs have traditionally been in the Latin alphabet, and the default unicode set doesn't include most non-Latin alphabets. To drive the point home even further: design tools like Twine 2.0 -a tool famed for its amazing empowering properties- do not actually support non-Latin properly by default. Again, using Arabic as example, when I try and insert that phonetic line from earlier into Twine 2.0, I get the following:

You likely can't tell what's wrong, though, because you don't know this alphabet. Scroll back up a little bit to see what it should've looked like. If they look alike, your browser itself doesn't support showing Arabic correctly. If they look different, that's because somebody working on Twine 2.0 didn't check the extended font rendering or is using a font not capable of displaying the glyphs properly. These glyphs should've been connected in a very specific way, something even multi-million dollar AAA games that spend weeks on making realistic trees do manage to mess up.

Even with the amazing steps forward we're making in our struggle for diversity, it might be a good idea to realise that the language barrier is probably one of the largest invisible barriers that exists in our industry right now.

Having access to English and the Latin alphabet is a tremendous privilege in our industry, whether it's the fact that you were born with it or had the opportunity, time, education or money to learn it. That might be something to keep in the back of your head.

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