IGF 2008: Content in local languages is as essential as connectivity

The next or the last billion Internet users? This was the question asked at the IGF in Hyderabad, India (photo: UNESCO)
The next or the last billion Internet users? This was the question asked at the IGF in Hyderabad, India (photo: UNESCO)
By UNESCO, traducción española Ana Beltran
16 December 2008

The power of the Internet is multiplied when people are able to access and use content in their local languages, agreed a group of experts who opened the 2008 Internet Governance Forum in a session on Reaching the Next Billion: Multilingualism. The complex topic of achieving multilingualism on the Internet has political and social dimensions beyond the technological challenges of ensuring tools for access and translation.

Key points of the discussion were:

  • Content in local languages is as essential as connectivity. People must be able to create and receive information in their local language and to be able to express themselves in ways their peers can understand.
  • Internet tools and applications -- software, hardware, search engines, browsers and translation tools -- must be localized and also support the accessibility needs of people with special needs.
  • A fundamental access point is how one accesses Internet sites. Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) and internationalised email addresses, to accommodate non-Latin scripts, are being developed through technology, standards and policies.
  • Increasingly, online communication is occurring in mediums other than in written form: multilingualism for multiple media, of which mobile devices are a significant point of access.
  • A common framework and language will help the Internet Governance Forum to address these issues.
  • There remains a great need for capacity building in digital literacy as well as basic, traditional literacy.

The panelists were: Alex Corenthin, President of the Internet Society; Manal Ismail, Director of International Technical Coordination, Government of Egypt; Hiroshi Kawamura, President of DAISY consortium (Digital Accessible Information System); Viola Krebs, Executive Director, ICVolunteers; Tulika Pandey, Department of Information Technology, Government of India; S. (Ramki) Ramakrishnan - CEO of C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), India. The moderator and rapporteur for the session was Miriam Nisbet, Director of UNESCO's Information Society Division.

An Open Dialogue plenary session on Reaching the Next Billion: Access and Multilingualism gave panelists and participants from both opening day main sessions an opportunity to discuss in more depth the relationship between access and multilingualism. Proceedings of all IGF sessions and workshops are available on the IGF website.

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