“…they didn’t know they needed a linguist…”

How does an applied linguist with an interest in language teaching become a sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist? How does that applied sociolinguist then become a computational linguist? How does that applied-socio-anthro-computational linguist ultimately wind up with an exciting position on Microsoft’s innovative design team? HCI (human-computer interaction) is at the forefront of today’s technological leap forward, but a critical danger many UX (user experience) developers large and small encounter when they try to improve on their product is a lack of insight into sociocultural differences among their user populations.

Greg Bennett, a former Georgetown graduate student in linguistics and current ESL teacher and UX researcher on Microsoft’s Cortana software, encountered no trouble convincing the Cortana development team that he was just the person they needed—his training as a sociolinguist having provided him with an intuition about the right questions to ask when examining the nuances around language use in interaction. Indeed, the way that cross-cultural misunderstandings can hinder effective HCI comes more and more into the spotlight as research teams draw nearer to their goal of creating the most human-like intelligent personal assistants. Greg’s experience in the world of UX has not been without its own lessons learned.

Stay tuned for his upcoming interview for Profiles in Linguistics on careerlinguist.com, Greg shares tips for linguists who have transitioned or are looking to transition into the field of speech product development and user research.

Thanks to all who contributed to The Bringing Linguistics to Work campaign to make this and more such posts possible!!!