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Summit logo I have been fortunate enough to attend LinuxCon Japan this week, a conference of 350 attendees in the Bunkyo neighborhood of Tokyo that features strong tracks to keep developers and business people here in Asia appraised of all things cool and open source.

I was asked to do a couple of talks, one being on how community can have real value on the bottom line of a business and not just be an expenditure on an organization's bottom line. It went pretty well, and one of the questions afterward was very interesting.

A young man came up afterwards and asked me how one of his colleagues, a fellow developer here in Japan, could participate in an open source community when he was not proficient in English at all.

This is a tricky situation; Americans tend to think that since the lingua franca of many prominent open source communities tends to be English, we don't realize that a very real barrier to entry is not every one in the world speaks English.

It would be arrogant presumption to think that every free and open source software project is primarily English speaking. Projects born in various nations will of course use their own native language for as long as everyone involved uses the same language.

Of course, if someone is looking to join a project that is already established and is using another language as a common basis for communication, then there's that barrier once again.

I discussed this with my young friend, and emphasized a point I have made many times: there are other things to do within a community that don't involve straight development. Communities can include strong user groups that promote the project and its software, and those groups can always use folks on the ground to help advocate.

Documentation, that old frenemy of software projects, can always use locationation talent that can create documentation from scratch in other languages. It's not as efficient as translating original documents to another language, but it can be an avenue for non-English speakers to participate. Localization of the software's UX can also be useful, too.

The lingua franca of a project is a great tool for encouraging participation from around the world. Just make sure it does not become a blocker to onboarding new members to your community.

About the author

Brian Proffitt is a Manager within Red Hat's Open Source Program Office, focusing on content generation, community metrics, and special projects. Brian's experience with community management includes knowledge of community onboarding, community health, and business alignment. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2014, he was a technology journalist with a focus on Linux and open source, and the author of 22 consumer technology books. 

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