Bridging the gap between content and language

by Elyse Warren

In a world that is becoming ever more globalized, museums are grappling with how to bridge the gap between language and accessibility of their content. Whether it be labels or brochures about the objects, museums as a general collective are trying to adapt their approach to producing content to better meet the needs of new immigrants and English language learners.

Based on this, the J Paul Getty Museum produced a study on the role and effectiveness of their brochures for Spanish speaking audiences in 2008. In their evaluation, they found that the audience took only 10,350 brochures in Spanish compared to that of 30,712 in English. The researchers discovered that the Spanish speaking audience preferred to utilize the labels of the objects for information rather than the brochure. Interviews conducted in this study revealed as well that the Spanish speaking audiences would like to see the museum embrace the use of bilingual content throughout the exhibits in addition to the brochures. In response, the museum adopted a new policy on second-language didactics that would allow for the translation of the most integral details on labels and would note which languages need to be incorporated for each individual exhibit.

The study reveals the need for not only translations of content in one format, but in multiple forms and individualized for the audiences of each exhibit. The Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative sponsored by the NSF Pathways project also sheds light on the need to increase accessibility for ESL and new immigrants. This specific project looked at accessibility for Latinos in science museums. In their evaluation, they found that museums that had bilingual content on labels or brochures for Spanish speaking audiences did not know how they interacted with the material or how to measure the effectiveness of their outcomes.

Both studies reveal the challenge that museums face in adapting their content and measuring the effectiveness of it for new immigrants or ESL audiences. The investment of time and money needs to be dedicated by museums to conduct more of these evaluations and see what solutions are best to implement. In doing so, museums can create a better space of inclusion and accessibility for these audiences to learn and enjoy the content.

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