back to article Much like the British on holiday, NHS COVID-19 app refuses to work with phones using unsupported languages

The NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app has run into further trouble by preventing some people with phones using unsupported languages from accessing parts of the service. The issue – which affected Android devices – meant those with a device language other than the 12 officially supported were presented with a blank screen upon …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about multiple languages?

    I wonder what happens when you have multiple languages configured in your device.

    The F-Droid repository, for instance, seems to show text in whichever language comes first alphabetically amongst those configured in the device and for which translated strings are available. So when I get the list of updates, descriptions are in up to six different languages (no, it's not a real problem, I speak all those every day, that's why they're in my phone, but it looks extremely weird).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about multiple languages?

      How about defaulting the one language everyone in the UK is supposed to be able to speak - English?

      1. MrMerrymaker

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        Oh look. A racist!

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: What about multiple languages?

          My phone is set to use English as its default language. I have some apps from Italy and France that display stuff in Italian and French. I don’t have a problem with that. Even where they provide English as an option, I generally prefer to use it in the native language as it tends to be more comprehensive and more intelligible.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about multiple languages?

          Oh look a snowflake...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        UK is not England and England is not the UK.

        English and Welsh have equal standing legally, in Wales.

        Scottish Gaelic is in use in parts of Scotland.

        Anwybodaeth rhai pobl

        Aineolas cuid de dhaoine

        This forum once had intelligent posts/discussions that were worth reading, what you've posted is an embarrassment to the tech community that have gone before you. Open your mind, there's a whole world out there.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about multiple languages?.. you mean there are others?..

          As a matter of interest how many of the Welsh speakers are monolingual? And Scots Gaelic speakers? If its anything like Irish the last monolinugal speakers are probably dead a good 70 years plus.

          So English is a perfect lingua franca for the UK. An English phrase which is the early medieval pidgin Latin for the language of the Franks. The Germans who invaded France. Although the "Franks" of early medieval times were actually mostly Normans. Who were Vikings who invaded France. Before invading Sicily and then Constantinople. As a detour from the Fourth Crusade. At the behest of some Venetians who were owed money by the Byzantine Emperor...

          And its terms just like lingua franca which make the English language so suitable as a daily language.

          By the way, when is Welsh going to get all its vowels back from Finnish. And what's this with Scots Gaelic, the language of Irish invaders, the original "Scotti", being the "national language" of Scotland.

        2. Halfmad

          Re: What about multiple languages?

          Scottish Gaelic is in use in parts of Scotland.

          It's really not, it has a handful of houses and some enthusiasts but that's it in a population of 5.5Million there's only something like 11K are classed as speakers of it and it's dying out rapidly.

      3. logicalextreme Silver badge

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        I can't tell but this comment may have been suggesting that an appropriate behaviour for the app when a language lookup fails might be to, say, fall back on the most-spoken language in the UK as opposed to, say, shitting the bed and displaying a blank screen. You know, like anyone with a trace of i18n (sorry) experience would.

        Not the best choice of words though admittedly and the use of a hyphen rather than an em dash is unconscionable

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about multiple languages?

          Making apologies for this bigot? You HAVE to be kidding.

          It's the Supposed to... combined with the UK.

          No. Supposed to my hairy black ass.

          1. logicalextreme Silver badge

            Re: What about multiple languages?

            Yeah, "supposed to" is the wording I didn't like. At best it's an ignorant misreading of what a "national" or "official" language is.

            I have a pathological need to play devil's advocate though and wanted to get a dig in about the stupid app behaviour ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: What about multiple languages?

              > At best it's an ignorant misreading of what a "national" or "official" language is.

              While we're in the subject, does the United Kingdom have a de jure official language these days? Does Westminster even have the capacity to declare one, or is linguistic policy a devolved power?

              1. logicalextreme Silver badge

                Re: What about multiple languages?

                It's English. We're a bit of a weird one though what with having constituent countries, which can decide their own rules about official signs and communications etc. As far as I'm aware the UK's official language just refers to the language used in Parliament and its associated gubbins like the civil service.

            2. octarii
              Holmes

              Re: What about multiple languages?

              The "can't tell" combined with your critique of the poster's dashing manner was enough for me to be happy, even without a explicit </sarcasm> at the end.

      4. Triggerfish

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        There's a difference between being able to speak it and having it on your phone as your preferred language.

        I can get by in my adopted countries language (just) and even though I will get better, actually trying to read everything in it is much harder straight off. Likewise my other half speaks very good English and reads it well, but would still prefer to read in her own language on her own phone far easier for her to parse information.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        Wales wants a word and all the seasonal workers that come over and everyone that can speak the language but not necessarily be great at reading it. The refugees that come from the countries we bomb and destabilise in the middle east and Africa would also like a word but we are too busy sending them back. People staying with relatives, tourists on extended visits. The list goes on and on but sure yeah why don't we stop people at the border and if they can't speak the language they don't come in? I'm guessing that's where the Tories want us to go anyway.

      6. David Roberts

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        I note the clutching of pearls generally.

        My first thought when I read about this was "If you have a problem matching a supported language then fall back to English as a sensible default.

        It is, after all, one of the major global business languages and there is a good chance that anyone using the App would understand it.

        Or have a contact who could."

        Major software blunder to output nothing.

        It also highlights the lack of thoughtful testing.

        Or the unwillingness to accept testing results.

    2. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: What about multiple languages?

      Glad it's not just me. My F-Droid's still showing me half of its interface in Spanish and I haven't had it enabled as a system language for almost a year. Occasionally a system notification will also decide to be Spanish with no ritmo o razón.

      The fact that you can't (or couldn't, this may have changed) choose different languages for different apps was baffling to me, but not as baffling as getting a pick-and-mix within one app and seemingly random behaviour from the system. Having Spanish enabled at all (even if it's not the current system language) plays merry hell with language apps where you're trying to learn Spanish, too.

      1. Chris G

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        Odd that the article doesn't mention Spanish, there are around 120000 Spanish nationals living and working in the UK and I assume many others whose first language is Spanish from the Americas.

        1. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: What about multiple languages?

          Going from the "Main language" section of the 2011 census summary, there's French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Lithuanian and German representing European languages between Polish and Romanian. It looks like the article just chose the top three unavailable-in-the-app European languages from the ONS link referenced (foreign passport holders, from the same census), which doesn't have Spanish in the table.

          I'd have hoped at the very least that the app overlords had gone for numbers and factored in stats on the percentage of speakers of any given language having little or no understanding of English, especially given the lessons one prays have been learned from the failure of national and local government to tailor messages about the guidelines and regulations to communities with cultural and language barriers. That doesn't appear to have happened, so how they're choosing the languages is anyone's guess. Maybe they repurposed the summer school grades algorithm to try and get some actual use out of it after seeing the invoice.

          Though really there's no excuse to have not gone live with, say, all of the languages with 50,000 speakers or more in the UK — they've clearly done the legwork for translation (astonishingly stupid bugs notwithstanding), and translating content is easy and cheap (and would even help the precious economy that seems to be the only thing we're told matters so often recently).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What about multiple languages?

            > I'd have hoped at the very least that the app overlords had gone for numbers and factored in stats on the percentage of speakers of any given language having little or no understanding of English

            That's what I would have done. E.g., it might be that you have vastly more, say, Estonian speakers in a given area but they're all fluent in English (or Russian, if that's available) whereas your Lithuanian speakers are not (just to pick two random examples).

            1. logicalextreme Silver badge

              Re: What about multiple languages?

              Precisely. If they're truly so pressed that they can only do a certain number of translations, then prioritising languages that will cover as many people as they know will have trouble understanding the current lot seems the only logical option.

              It may be that the figures for such things simply aren't out there — I'm not sure if the census went into that level of detail, and it's nine years old now. It may even be that that's what they have done, and that's why the list of available languages looks odd. I'd still probably have just tried to nail all of them though. Guess this is why we're not government contractors :)

          2. MutantAlgorithm

            Re: What about multiple languages?

            > Maybe they repurposed the summer school grades algorithm to try and get some actual use out of it after seeing the invoice.

            There's still far too much work to do messing up next year's grades to have anything to do with this!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about multiple languages?

        Yeah it's a bit confusing but then I remind myself it's no different than what happens in everyday life, where I may be using three of those languages in the same conversation, as expressiveness and sentence flow dictate (and while on a technical subject, there is nothing like switching to German when you want to sound like you know what you're talking about) :-)

  2. MrMerrymaker

    I caught a nasty bug!

    The covid app alerts you that you have been in contact with the virus. Go through to the app and nothing there.

    They sweetly blamed both Google and apple who are apparently identical, saying the alert is "generated automatically".

    I have a chocolate teapot of more use

    1. MrMerrymaker

      Re: I caught a nasty bug!

      Absolutely incredible this nasty bug is not being covered!

  3. alain williams Silver badge

    Surely you just press buttons harder ?

    Is that not what the typical Brit does when in Costa del something ? It usually seems to work; but the words for wine & beer are usually well understood.

    Oh, wait: we are talking about non English speakers ... so, these people know that volume in not a key to universal understanding - apologies!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Surely you just press buttons harder ?

      More sneering bigotry from a user who can't seem to stop doing it.

      1. logicalextreme Silver badge

        Re: Surely you just press buttons harder ?

        It was totally in keeping with the headline though, really. And pressing buttons harder really does seem to dredge some vestige of functionality from the ether.

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Surely you just press buttons harder ?

        hows that bigotry?

  4. Snowy Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Very poor by design.

    Was their idea that those that read Romanian ,Polish, Somali, Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Turkish and Urdu could not understand English, while those you speak French, Spanish, German and Italian prwhere smart enough to Read English. This is a terrible way to go about designing anything and those languages should have been built in!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Very poor by design.

      Perhaps they based their decision on census data. A quick google gave an article by the Office of National Statistics, which reported that on the 2011 census:

      'Those who reported English (or Welsh in Wales) as their main language accounted for 92.3% of the population, except in London where proportion was much lower. Those who reported another main language accounted for 7.7% of the population, with Polish topping the list of "other" main languages. London and the West Midlands saw the highest percentage of people who could not speak English "well" or "at all".'

      It may be that those who reported French, Spanish, German or Italian as their main language in 2011 (the most recent census date) had very high percentages of also being able to speak English well.

      Regarding the app itself, a default should have been specified, rather than allowing blank boxes, though. I believe that English is language with the highest proportion of speakers able to speak it well in all four nations of the UK. It would therefore be the least-worst choice of default.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Very poor by design.

        > London and the West Midlands saw the highest percentage of people who could not speak English "well" or "at all".'

        I've always wondered how they count those.

        Q1: How would you describe your knowledge of English?

        — Qué?

        1. DavCrav

          Re: Very poor by design.

          "Q1: How would you describe your knowledge of English?

          — Qué?"

          I found a ¿ on the floor.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Very poor by design.

        "London and the West Midlands saw the highest percentage of people who could not speak English "well" or "at all".

        Would you adam and eve it me old china! Yowse awright? I'll get me coot!

    2. Howard Sway Silver badge

      Re: Very poor by design.

      I think you're assuming much more thought went into it than actually did. More probably something more like this :

      Select page_text where language_id = device_language_id

      So, nothing returned when a device language hasn't been included.

      I know this thing got written in a rush, but a decent developer would have spotted that using a default was necessary when doing this for unsupported languages. Which is worrying, as an app of rather some importance in a serious crisis shouldn't be written by inexperienced junior coders.

      1. SloppyJesse

        Re: Very poor by design.

        > More probably something more like this :

        > Select page_text where language_id = device_language_id

        The developer saw the potential problem but was told the world beating localisation would have all possible languages.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. The answer is 42

    Still waiting..

    I am still waiting for my government issue mobile phone. My android tablet and Apple phone are too old (a bit like me) to talk the talk so I expect to be given a suitable device.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Still waiting..

      You do know that installing the app is not compulsory?

  7. saxicola

    s/NHS/Serco/

    Please stop calling it NHS COVID-19 app, it's Serco's COVID-19 app. A private contract given to the mates and relatives of the present government.

    1. IDoNotThinkSo

      Re: s/NHS/Serco/

      Does the CT Scanner in your local hospital belong to Philips or the NHS?

      Also:

      https://fullfact.org/health/Serco-test-and-trace/

      Serco did not develop the app. This was fake news first broadcast on RT.

      Serco are running some aspects of test and trace.

      The developers were:

      Accenture, Alan Turing Institute, NHS Digital, NHSx, Oxford University, VMware Pivotal Lab and Zuhlke Engineering

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Due to my work, I have the tracing apps of multiple countries on my phone (iOS 14).

    The only one I found to actually work and enable this magic tracing feature is the Swiss one. I tried everything, including having only one app installed at a time to there would be no contention - nada. Where it gets really interesting is to then find support for it.

    We're a loooong way from having this work. I do like the protocol which, to a degree, protects privacy if one assumes the promise of short retention time is honoured (given one operator who shall remain nameless but whose name ends on "oogle" one is advised to treat that assumption with the contempt it deserves), but I get the impression that interfacing with the iOS API is not quite as debugged as it ought to be. Worse, I don't think anyone has seriously considered the fact that people live in more than one country and.or travel (an issue that, for instance, also the European online Apple stores are absolutely incapable of dealing with).

    So, good ideas, but as yet IMHO at best considered to be in alpha status.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      The Swiss one is even available in a non-offical Swiss language, English...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Most of the locals around these 'ere foreign parts have their phones and PCs configured for English as the translations for technical stuff don't make sense, keyboards are local though for all the ridiculous vowels

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Track and trace doesn't work anyway, as the Germans have now proven.

    Anybody with a brain could see that It was quite obviously never going to work.

    But it was a plausible excuse for funneling 12 billion quid of taxpayers money to a private company owned by mates of the government.

    A proper lockdown is the only think that has been shown to work, but that is very bad economically.

    At the end of the first lockdown, the government had the problem pretty much under control, but as soon as they opened the schools it all came back.

    They won't be able to get it back under control until they close the schools again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I wouldn't use the app - it turns out that it can now invalidate insurance, as per my banks recent mail.

      https://www.nationwide.co.uk/-/media/MainSite/documents/products/current-accounts/flexaccount/P3938-flexaccount-travel-insurance-summary-of-changes.pdf

      "You’re cancelling your trip because either you, a travelling companion or the person

      you’re planning to stay with during your trip has been advised to quarantine/self isolate (either abroad or in the UK), and it’s not for medical reasons. For example, if you’re contacted by NHS Test and Trace but don’t have symptoms of or haven’t been diagnosed with Covid-19."

      Nice. Therefore, don't feed into the system. If you feel unwell, isolate and maybe get tested.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        You do realise that the app is anonymise and any advice or recommendations on getting a test or self isolating are not legally enforceable. That's why the bit you quoted from the bank doesn't mention the app at all. It only talks about a direct communication and instruction from a human being at Track and Trace, which does have legal implication. Please don't spread FUD based on half understood information.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You realise the QR code is scanned using the App. If someone is positive, the wonderful Serco Track and Trace team check all those anonymised logins on the phone + the manual lists the restaurant has.

          The data is very understood.

          https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nhs-covid-19-app-privacy-information/nhs-test-and-trace-app-early-adopter-trial-august-2020-privacy-notice

          Don't use the app. Stay manual.

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