The key to pay-off from the African localization of your product: the long-term growth that has begun and will continue across this massive continent. Evidence indicates that it may be slow and uneven, with numerous obstacles, but that early establishment of your company could lead to a profitable share of this highly populated consumer market within a few years.
Where to begin? On the continent there are 54 countries supporting 1.21 billion people and well over 2,000 languages, and like everywhere else in the world, consumers are more likely to buy a product if the information about it is in their language. It’s projected that by 2025 half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population (a billion or so) will have internet access, at least a third of these connecting via smartphones.
Currently, however, translation is a challenge in most African countries. Language service providers and other companies attempting to cultivate native African bi-linguals into translators face immediate infrastructure issues, such as:
- spotty internet connections for sending and receiving files
- unreliable computer access and security
- inadequate banking for service payment transfers
- compliance with complex labor laws, the violation of which can lead to heavy fines and taxes
Such issues, coupled with the overwhelming number of languages spoken by potential African consumers, can make the challenge seem like an invitation to hassles and failure. There are quite a few languages beyond the more commonly translated French, English, Portuguese and Arabic, that are spoken by millions of people in Africa: Afrikaans, Amharic, Hausa, Igbo, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Swahili, and Yoruba among them. Even a handful of these in some combination would provide a logical starting point for extension into the nascent African markets.
Many of the 2000+ African languages present the kind of problems that other non-codified languages do. There are no absolutes on what is correct or incorrect usage, and there are entire concepts that cannot be expressed, especially technical ones. Machine translation is likely to fall short of the nuanced interpretations and translations that professionals can provide.
These “long-tail” languages – so called because the numbers of their speakers trail off on graphs of world language usage – represent long-term possibilities for your company, not necessarily quick returns. This is not only because of the groundwork required and the ongoing evolution of conditions there, but also because there are many items and services African consumers have never had access to or possibly even heard of. Market awareness and desire must also be established.
Skrivanek has translated Amharic, Berber, Swahili, Somali, Tigrinya and other African languages. Our rigorous translator training practices and vast global network have put us in the position of being able to respond to your needs in Africa by building linguistic and subject matter teams with native speaker capability. Additionally, we will oversee their work with some of the best quality assurance practices in the industry. We can partner with you to de-mystify African cultures and choose the best market languages for your expansion to this land of future profits.
J. V. McShulskis