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With love & appreciation

​Corner 

Overcome language barriers and cultural differences

OVERVIEW

Language barriers, culture differences, and familiarity with a topic affect a person’s processing speed often resulting in misinformation and misunderstanding in communication. Conversations become hard to follow as these problems arise. 

TEAM

MY ROLE

Beatrice Zhou
Emma Waters
User Research
Concept development
Visual Design
User Interface Design
Prototype
User Test

SCOPE

9 weeks

CHALLANGE

Language barriers and culture differences result in misinformation and misunderstanding in communication. Conversations become hard to follow as these problems arise. How might we help English as second language speakers to overcome language and cultural barriers in communication?

SOLUTION

Corner is an app concept that creates small-grouped meetup to help people improve their communication skills based on their needs including topics like language, culture, and confidence.

DESIGN OUTCOME OVERVIEW

INITIAL RESEARCH

International students often have difficulties in communication

The number of international students in the U.S. has increased for 11 consecutive years. Those students with English as their second language often have some difficulties in communication. Overcoming language barriers and cultural differences can be stressful especially in both academic life and daily life. For the initial research, we started by observing students in classrooms and interviewed 13 students about what difficulties they have in terms of communication.

10

Interviewees

8 international students from Asia, Middle East, Europe, and South America, and 2 local students 

20+

Minutes/per interviewee

Interview was structured with prepared questions focusing on difficulties they have during communications and reasons behind them 

3

Field Observations

We chose ESL center at Savannah College of Art and Design,  a graduate-level class with both international and local students, and a after-class group discussion to observe how students communicate with each other

Event poster

What they say:

"Even though I study here, most of my friends speak in Chinese. So I don't have much time practice English. That's a really big problem for me... I want to make more native speaker friends."

Shen 

Freshman, from Taiwan

"...try to stop, and make sure we are understanding each other. Let's say Americans, the speech patterns, how we brad? our body languages can be taken totally different from somebody else. That's how we really connect to people from those interactions."

Joe

Second year, from States

The environment people live affects their language choices 

What language people use most depends on the environment, which is who they spend more time with. Living with people who speak the same language makes life easier.

Tone of voice and body language matter

People's tone and some body language reveals information. Sometimes this misleads the audiences from different cultures. 

Time restraints cause more misunderstandings

Communication issues can be connected with time limits. Second language speakers feel nervous and uncomfortable when they fail to verbally express in situations like this. 

Students from Asia and Middle East have comparatively more struggles

Students from Asia and Middle East have comparatively more struggles in English communication and getting used to new life in the U.S. compared to students from Europe, India, and South America. 

USER INTERVIEWS

In order to better understand what difficulties students face in daily communications and the reasons behind them,  we interviewed 10 international students and 3 local students. Below are some interesting quotes and insights we got.

Design Implications

01

How might we create an relaxed environment that ...

  • allows people to meet new friends with the purpose of improving communicating skills

  • interacts with each other with no time limits

02

How might we encourage some specific groups to ...

  • go out of their comfort zone and learn about other cultures

  • verbally express themselves with more confidence

CULTURAL PROBE

In order to understand communication difficulties in a bigger scope, we designed a cultural probe with 6 questions each day for 3 days, and we had 7 participants. The pain point got confirmed by most of them. Upon more probing, we gained the following insights specifically.

some cultural probe examples

What I found:

Unfamiliarity with the content of the conversation caused uncomfortable feelings and confusions to second-language speakers

When the audience is more considerate in conversations, such as checking if they are on the same page or explaining some phrases, second-language speakers feel more comfortable and appreciated 

Visual communication might be a universal way to convey the message which verbal communication fails to function

03

How might we help those users to ...

  • find the community and practice and learn together?

04

How might we use visuals to assist communication?

PERSONAL INVENTORY

In order to get an idea of what is currently being used to solve these problems, we conducted a personal inventory research. 15 second-language speakers were asked what apps or tools they use, and 13 out of 15 shared what they use.

Mispronunciation might hinder second-language speakers confidence 
Most second-language speakers use Google Translate
Most Asian second-language speakers use supporting applications for translation 

SYNTHESIS

Based on what we learnt so far, we created more WHYs and HOW MIGHT WE questions to guide us explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying the problem

  • How might we create an environment that has trust, patience, and makes users feel comfortable and relaxed to practice communicating?

  • How might we use visuals to assist and benefit communication?

  • How might we assist those second language speakers who want to improve communicating and overcome cultural difference to meet the right people and start practicing?

KEY INSIGHTS FOR PRODUCT DECISIONS

Similar needs and desires can act as a strong catalyst for new conversations, especially for those who are more shy and nervous around new people
Currently many people want to participate in more activities or have conversations with new friends, but they are passive when it comes to acting on these desires
There is a large gap between the needs of a good conversation with friends and the existing ones
Language plays an important factor for international students' communications, both in their academics and social lives

DESIGN IMPROVEMENT DIRECTION

TARGET ARCHETYPES

Based on what we learned so far, we created a primary persona and a secondary persona to serve as our target users.

01

Hyorin Kim

Primary market of interest
Hyorin is a 20-year-old sophomore student and she studies film. Her major involves a lot of verbal communication and her difficulties in English are holding her back. She feels she hasn’t improved much in English and doesn't have many native speaking friends.
Due to living with other Korean students, she doesn’t spend much time speaking English when not necessary. She feels she hasn’t improved much in English over the past two years.

Hyorin Kim

Primary market of interest
Hyorin is a 20-year-old sophomore student and she studies film. Her major involves a lot of verbal communication and her difficulties in English are holding her back. She feels she hasn’t improved much in English or have many native speakers friends.
Due to living with other Korean students, she doesn’t spend much time speaking English outside of the necessary. She feels she hasn’t improved much in English over the past two years.

02

PROTOTYPING

Synthesize.

Transfer more insights to design implications

03

Similar needs and desires can act as a strong catalyst for new conversations, especially for those who are more shy and nervous around new people

04

Currently many people want to participate in more activities or have conversations with new friends, but they are passive when it comes to acting on these desires

Create a relaxed environment that encourages learning with play. Create activities that involve people who speak different languages together to play combining verbal and physical communication.

05

There is a large gap between the needs of a good conversation with friends and the existing ones