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Babel in the international café: A respectful critique

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Springer London, Dordrecht Amsterdam


This paper reflects on the case of participants with different first languages conversing in “The International Café” in an online workshop about Communities of Practice. It describes the context of the café within the workshop and an informal translation experiment designed to bring together community members with different first languages. In the light of this experiment the paper critically reflects on the effectiveness of translation for negotiating meaning in international community conversations. It discusses the value of cultivating global literacies where language is considered not as a technical issue requiring translation equivalence, but as something that shapes individual and collective worldviews, where the fine-tuning and exploration of situated meanings of people with different first languages is viewed as integral to the process of interacting, learning and sharing knowledge in an international community. The reflections highlight a connected issue of time: for participating in, facilitating and designing for such conversations. Finally, international conversations in the café are contextualised as part of a broader issue of clarifying the purpose and principles behind cultivating a truly international online community workshop. Four key issues arising from this reflective critique are tentatively offered as inter-connected design factors for international online community environments.


Trayner, B. (2003): Babel in the international café: A respectful critique. Communities and Technologies: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Communities and Technologies 2003. DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-0115-0_21. Springer London, Dordrecht Amsterdam. ISBN: 978-94-017-0115-0. pp. 407-425. Full Papers