Making Sense of Foreign Language Posts in Social Media


Many people’s social media feeds include posts in languages they do not understand. While previous research has examined bilingual social media users’ language choices, little research has focused on how people make sense of foreign language posts. In the present study, we interviewed 23 undergraduate social media users about how they consume and make sense of posts in other languages. Interviewees reported that they often did not pay attention to or engage with foreign language posts, due to a lack of relevance and contextual knowledge. When they did actively engage with foreign language posts, interviewees did not rely solely on machine translation output but instead actively collected and combined various cues from within and outside the post in order to understand what it was about. Interviewees further reported different types of goals for trying to make sense of foreign language posts; some focused on simply extracting and understanding the emotional components of a post while others tried to gain a fuller understanding of a post, including its contextual and cultural meanings. Based on these findings, we suggest design possibilities that could better aid multilingual communication in social media.

Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction