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Why Are We Still Riding the Monolingual?

ARTIFACT: This SkyTrain sign is different from all others. Guess why.

David Beers 12 Nov 2019 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers founded The Tyee and is editor for initiatives.

In a region so multicultural, why doesn’t TransLink speak more languages?

Max Kittner argues in the excellent online publication Spacing Vancouver that our public transit system largely ignores that a “significant plurality of the residents here do not speak English as their first language, and there are millions of tourists from all over the world who take the bus and SkyTrain.”

The sign above this story, to answer our headline riddle, is the only one in the SkyTrain system that isn’t solely in English. It’s at the entrance of Stadium–Chinatown station.

“Vancouver’s public transportation,” concludes Kittner, “is effectively monolingual.”

Examples: “While the SkyTrain and buses have distinct chimes when the doors are opening and closing, all of them also announce the next stop — only in English.” And, “on the TransLink website there is no translation function — something that can be achieved with a simple plugin, as seen at the bottom of the TTC [Toronto Transit Commission]’s, Calgary Transit’s and Sound Transit’s home pages.”

Kittner, a UBC student focusing on human geography and urban studies, says multilingual transit can be critical for passengers. “If there is a major service disruption or delay, being able to relay the message in a language other than English is very important, and... particularly important in case of emergency conditions.”

He suggests TransLink make life easier for immigrants and global visitors by putting that zero-cost Google Translate button on its site. And then spending judiciously to put multilingual signage and announcements where certain languages are more likely to be spoken.

No need to be defensive about it. The same “duh moment,” Kittner observes, applies to transit in many cities in the U.S.  [Tyee]

Read more: Transportation

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