Blogsplosion2011: Lost in translation

Paeroka is not a native to the English language, although you’d never know it from reading the blog she and her boyfriend writes: Nerdy Bookahs.Β  I’ll let her introduce the assignment I laid out for her.

Syp gave me the assignment to write about the challenges and observations being a non-native English speaker in mostly English-speaking MMOs. There’s a problem right here, though: With the exception of LotRO, I’ve never actually played MMOs in an English-speaking environment. I do, however, play all my MMOs with the English client if it’s possible… which is a topic of its own considering that most other German players use a German client. Trying to figure out if you have the same quests than the other player isn’t too easy. πŸ˜‰

I remember a conversation with some US American WoW players who were very surprised to hear that there are actually European servers. And that when you buy a WoW key here in Europe, it won’t work on the US servers. We are separated. And within Europe, you usually have several different languages to choose from. The standard are English, French and German servers/clients. Sometimes you find Spanish or Russian ones (Warhammer Online also had Italian servers). Those servers are usually inhabited by players who speak the language natively with the exception of the English servers. The English ones are for everybody but the language spoken in public channels or when grouping randomly should be English.

To get a bit further away from MMOs for a minute and more into Europe: 50 countries with a population of about 730 million people. Only counting the official languages within the European Union, you get 23 languages (and 27 countries).

Let’s have a look at some German culture which is my own cultural background: We get all of our films and TV series dubbed. If we want to see something with the original voices, we have to get the DVDs (which usually have both languages on them). Several other European countries have some form of dubbing as well. In our everyday lives, the average German does not need English. My mother worked as a saleswoman in a big department store and she only ever needed EnglishΒ  when a costumer didn’t know German. And that didn’t happen often as the town isn’t one to attract tourists. We (in general) do know basic English as we have to learn it in school. But since we don’t actually need to use it in our lives, we don’t get much practice and without such practice, you forget what you’ve learned quite fast. There are exceptions, of course. In my case, apart from loving the English language, I also needed it for studying. About 80 – 90% of the literature is in English including scientific papers. There’s no way I could have graduated without knowing English. I also love using the English game clients because it gives me practice in reading and understanding English.

In short: There are many Europeans who know at least some English but not everybody is fluent.

Back to MMOs: Most of the French and German players are usually on their own language servers, generally playing with their own localized client in their language where they don’t meet English-speaking players.

Now what is it like playing on an English-speaking server when your mother tongue isn’t English? In the case of Europe, it’s actually not that big of a deal! πŸ™‚ Hardly anybody I know is a native speaker, so there is no reason to feel ashamed for not knowing English perfectly. And usually, there is also no bashing of people from other countries. The only time this “peace” is broken is when somebody uses a language other than English in the public chat channels. If it’s a guild recruitment, it’s usually okay (if you can tell that it’s just a guild recruitment in another language). But if it’s people starting to communicate in a foreign language, then the flame war often isn’t far away. Players get out their worst stereotypes and prejudices and start throwing insults around. The worst I have ever seen was on the European test server for World of Warcraft (the infamous β€œN”-word was thrown around for those who dared writing in German). I always find those fights annoying and fascinating at the same time. Here we are, with all our different languages and our difficulties speaking and writing English… but cursing and flaming is never a problem. πŸ˜‰ On the other hand, I guess it just shows that we actually do want to understand each other! Even if we don’t want to join the conversation, we are curious what it’s about and we don’t want to feel left out.

However, when you look closer, you can see that there are guilds and kinships recruiting people specifically with a certain mother-tongue (if you’re curious, have a look at the Evernight server’s kinship listing). My former LotRO kin, on the other hand, is a multi-cultural kin but there is also apparently an Italian “subgroup” within the kinship that keeps to themselves and up until the day I left this kin, I had no idea who they were or that they even existed (I only know because a friend told me).

I’d imagine language barriers aren’t such a big deal when you play mostly solo but it is much more important when you want to raid or PvP with other players. In situations where you have to react fast and may need to tell your fellow group members that something just went wrong, there’s simply no time to get your dictionary out. πŸ˜‰

My boyfriend and I spent quite some time discussing the pros and cons of a German-speaking vs. European (and thus, English-speaking) guild for the upcoming Guild Wars 2 but in the end, we have decided to go for the English-speaking one. We might have some obstacles to pass with the language barriers but we can only profit in the long run: brushing up your English skills is never bad, I reckon. ^^ The longer we’re using English (in reading and writing) the easier it gets and the smaller the language barrier will get. And getting to know people from different countries can’t be bad either.

All in all, I enjoy spending time with my fellow European players and it makes Europe feel a bit smaller.

9 thoughts on “Blogsplosion2011: Lost in translation

  1. snickeringcorpses July 8, 2011 / 9:30 am

    Mentioning language difficulties when playing in groups reminds me of one PUG I joined on a certain MMO a couple of years ago. The quest in question, which I had only run once before, was a 6-person quest which in the middle had a part that required you to divide into two groups of not less than two each. One group had a combat room, the other group had a puzzle room (not that there was not combat in there too, but the other was purely a dual-boss combat with lots of powerful adds). The layout of the mission is a bit maze-like, and requires coordination all throughout as there are wandering hazards to alert each other about and various switches that require different stats to activate.

    Our initial group was led by a fighter type who spoke both Spanish and English. Beyond her, we had 3 of us who spoke only English, and 2 who spoke only Spanish. I believe the Spanish speakers were an archer and another fighter type. The English speakers were a sorc/wizard type, a cleric (me), and I think a bard. So we fought our way through the first half of the mission, with the leader having to give rapid orders in both languages in text while also tanking. Amusing, but we were making it work. About the time we arrive at the split, the bard drops.

    So the leader has to divide us into groups of 3 and 2. For this, she decides to split us on language lines, taking the two Spanish speakers with her. And she sends the English speakers to the combat room. So a wiz and a cleric go to fight the enemy horde, while the two fighters and an archer go to solve puzzles. The wiz and I are both cracking fatalistic jokes already over tells before we even get into the room. We actually survived for about 10 minutes mostly by running and jumping around the room like squirrels on a caffeine high. One of the Spanish-speakers died during this time, probably the archer. We both ran out of mana, then out of potions, and finally out of health. I think we actually took one boss down, but don’t ask me how. Then we spent the next ten minutes running around as ghosts shouting boo at the wandering enemies and cackling madly, as the leader insisted that no one leave because we could still pull this off if her group fought through. Then the second Spanish-speaker died, and finally the leader died, and the English-speaking ghosts rezzed out and de-grouped with much mutual amusement.

    It was one of those situations where the disaster is so enormous that instead of anger or frustration you’re simply overcome with the hilarity of it all.

  2. theerivs July 8, 2011 / 10:13 am

    Do the chinese farmers mess up german as they do english?

  3. Gina Cirelli July 8, 2011 / 11:12 am

    I “discovered” European servers with Rift, as they allowed everyone to play on any server they wanted to. I heard there was more roleplay on the Euro one. This didn’t surprise me, because, starting with UO, I’ve always heard that roleplay was more popular on European servers. I had always been afraid of the time difference so I never gave it a shot.

    Rift changed it for me. Not only are there more people in character, but people in general are more polite and mature. I did leave Rift, but I also vowed to always play on an English-speaking European server for every MMO I play in the future, time difference be damned.

    And then LotRO merged its servers with the Codemasters ones. That means we dirty Americans got to play on a European server with enforced roleplay rules (Laurelin).

    Needless to say, I quickly rerolled. And it’s heaven. I hope other companies will do the same thing Trion did so that I won’t have to purchase a European edition of what I want to play. Since I know that ArenaNet doesn’t segregate, BioWare, I’m looking at you.

  4. paeroka July 8, 2011 / 3:07 pm

    @snickeringcorpses: Nice story. πŸ™‚ Too bad it didn’t work out in the end. But it’s always good to have at least one person who knows both languages and can switch and help out to communicate with each other.

    @theerivs: I think their German is just as bad as their English. But I haven’t seen a lot of messages from them lately as I’ve been playing LotRO most of the time and I’ve yet to see any offering gold in there, oddly enough. πŸ˜‰

    @Gina Cirelli: I’ve never played on any American servers. Maybe I should try them out once I reactivate Rift (if I ever do that… who knows ^^). I have heard only good things about Laurelin, though, and I have a little hobbit whom I’ve sadly never played. I’m too much of a chicken to try roleplaying. πŸ˜‰

  5. Susi July 8, 2011 / 7:59 pm

    It’s amusing reading about a German playing on English speaking servers because I did just the opposite.

    I’ve been studying at a German university for the past year (I’m from the US) and when Rift came out I couldn’t resist buying it. I figured I could improve my German by playing on a German server. I set the client to English, because honestly otherwise I would have been lost. I joined a very friendly guild, but was mostly terrified to ever speak in chat, guild, group, or otherwise. Our guild leader was a women with a pretty thick Bavarian accent which was amusing to listen to in teamspeak.

    Overall it was an interesting venture, but thanks to Rift’s solo nature and my fear I didn’t get quite as much practice in German as I was hoping. Did learn lots of random German internet slang.

  6. Gaugamela July 9, 2011 / 4:38 am

    So they call the german people that speak german on the general chat Niggers? Oh wait…

  7. snickeringcorpses July 9, 2011 / 6:44 am

    @paeroka: Well, the counterpart to that story was a PUG I led on the same game, in which the other 5 players were 2 English speakers, and 3 folks from an Italian kin. Two of the kinmates were Italian men, and the third was the lone Greek in their kin, a female. The Italian men spoke little English, but the Greek girl was fluent in both English and Italian. So we spent about 20-30 minutes before the mission going over the key points and everyone’s roles, with the Greek girl translating my words to Italian every few lines. When we went in, everyone knew what they were doing and we completed the quest and all optionals perfectly. Excellent experience.

    I’d say key tips for handling mixed-language pugs, based on that venture, is that pre-mission discussion of what’s ahead can make things run much smoother, when there’s ample time for translation. And if you know there’s some things ahead that will likely have to be “emergency” alerts, it doesn’t hurt to settle on a word ahead of time. For instance, in a game with traps, agreeing that if someone types ‘trap’, then everyone freezes. That way you can take a moment to do any translation necessary without anyone triggering it because of a language barrier. Obviously, this only works if you have someone multilingual in the party though. πŸ™‚

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