Lopez on Gonzales, 'Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication'

Laura Gonzales
Dina Lopez

Laura Gonzales. Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2022. 204 pp. $25.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-64642-275-3

Reviewed by Dina Lopez (Texas Tech University) Published on H-Sci-Med-Tech (March, 2023) Commissioned by Penelope K. Hardy (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58620

Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication is a crucial book for current pedagogical and scholarship purposes in the technical communication field. It reflects the shifting role of a technical communicator from a professional who relays, transmits, and translates information to one who embraces the broader picture of communication acts for a diverse population. In an age of computer-generated translations, ChatGPT, and other artificial intelligence (AI)-generated composition modalities, Laura Gonzales reminds us that language translation transcends a linear process. Rather, it should be a process that affords multilingual communities the opportunity to participate in the translation work, control their own data, and have greater access to the translation of material in their own languages. To that end, Gonzales proposes methodologies for intersectionality in critical race studies and interdependence in accessibility in order to truly enact change in technical communication.

In chapter 1, which also serves as the introduction for the book, Gonzales notes that the field has recently turned from theorizing technical communication as a transmittal and translation of meaning toward theorizing social justice. Thus, the perception of technical communicators in their roles and power in facilitating communication has expanded. However, she argues that there remains an early emphasis on the linear practices of language translation from one language to another, thereby limiting the scope of work a translator can perform in the multifaceted, diverse task of communication.

The book recommends a theory of change, yet not the theory of change denoted as “damage-based research” (p. 5). Gonzales reminds us that technical communicators are well positioned to resist damage-based research by rejecting the mindset that there is a right language and a wrong language in the field of multilingual communication. She proposes we do this by expanding language access frameworks, working toward inclusion of disciplines both within and outside of our field, and applying efforts for social justice from across the disciplines. Weaving technical communication in linguistic contexts with models from other contexts, such as health, user experience, and participatory strategies, enables technical communicators to design accessible content for its users. To that end, she suggests methodologies that draw from critical race studies and disability studies, arguing for language diversity as a component of the project rather than a problem in the project that requires resolving. Therefore, the book foregrounds the focus on language in technical communication to help researchers as well as their participants. The case studies in this book illustrate elements other than translation and interpreting that can contribute to successful multilingual technical communication experiences. The remainder of the chapter lays out the book’s structure, which I will address by reviewing the chapters individually.

Chapter 2 suggests two disciplines of scholarship as a broad approach to multilingual research: intersectional and interdependent methodologies. To illustrate the types of research opportunities that might require such broader discipline, Gonzales describes previous research she experienced in El Paso, Texas, in which she asked herself questions about her own biases and assumptions while administering a health survey. She emphasizes that it is important for researchers to recognize the mistakes that might be a result of such assumptions and to accept them as part of the beauty and complex layering of human subject research. Further, an interdependent methodology recognizes language as part of the study rather than dismissing it as a problem to be resolved.

This methodological framework is the basis for the research design in chapter 3, in which she provides an overview of the methods applied to the three case studies in chapters 4 through 6. Among these methods are participatory translation (a form of participatory design in multilingual contexts), user experience, and human-centered design activities, as well as focus groups, surveys, and interviews, all localized within the context of the participants in a particular case study. As with methods, data analysis contained similar elements across the case studies; however, it varied in some aspects from one context to the next.

Each of the three case studies carefully describes the context for research, participants, and activities carried out to include the participants in developing documents and web materials produced from the research. Chapter 4 describes two studies: one in which Latino men participated in the development of a brochure rhetorically targeted for them to understand how to manage their diabetes via car and garage metaphors, and a second at La Escuelita, an after-school health literacy program in which children and their families participated in activities that prioritized visual communication. These communication products were added to a website the author had developed to guide them in healthy recipes and physical activities. Chapter 5 provides an example of multilingual research in a context where the author does not speak the language, in this case, participatory design workshops with students in Kathmandu, Nepal. Chapter 6 foregrounds the need for the translation field to recognize and validate Indigenous languages during interpreter seminars and workshops with available documentation in their languages as well as better funding for such interpreters. The most helpful information in each case study consists of carefully curated examples, photographs of visual communication, and student reflections that showcase how each research design actually worked and how it can be replicable in other, similar case studies.

Chapter 7 reminds the reader that the successes and failures shared in intersectional, interdependent approaches to technical communication research present further implications for researching not only multilingual communities but also global communication as well as disabled communities. However, Gonzales reminds us that for multilingual design to successfully form part of the social justice turn of technical communication, researchers must leave behind ideas of language in terms of “right and wrong,” binaries, and the neutral position the technical communication field has adopted for so long.

Citation: Dina Lopez. Review of Gonzales, Laura, Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication. H-Sci-Med-Tech, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58620

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