Making it in Africa: 5 tips for effectively localising your product

Selling Africa to investors, multinationals and enterprising entrepreneurs is becoming easier every day. The International Monetary Fund reckons by 2015, African countries will account for 7 of the top 10 fastest-growing economies. For the businesses that are lining up to enter the world’s second most populous continent, good language localisation strategies are set to separate the predators from the prey.

Research by Common Sense Advisory suggests that the majority of consumers are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. Things get interesting when you realise that Africa is one of the most multilingual regions in the world with an estimated 2000 native languages spoken today.

Ian Henderson, CTO Rubric South Africa, is in the business of helping companies in the tech, marketing, media and publishing industries translate their products and services. Since 1997, his company has translated to and from 103 languages through a network of 900 people for the likes of Microsoft, Oxford University Press, Pearson Education Group, National Language Service, Development Bank of Southern Africa, Amway, Toshiba, Adobe and SAP.

Henderson summarises his experiences with successful language localisation efforts in five points.

Gear up for greater human effort

Henderson says that translators in Europe and the Far East have it relatively easy. Terms like ‘IP address’ or ‘software’ have been thrashed out, codified and are available with the minimum of Internet-based research.

Not so in Africa. A huge amount of grind is needed to unearth local language translations for many modern concepts. Henderson notes that many African languages have not even been committed to books. Even beyond that, we’ve written about how some languages such as the Ghanaian KWA language group, cannot be written on computers because there is no computer keyboard and software for these languages, yet.

Henderson underlines the importance and need for human capital in language localisation — take care to connect with the right organisations.

Take care of quality

Quality assurance is a huge deal. Take one look at translation blunder site, Engrish, and you’ll understand why. It’s vital to test translations to avoid missing the mark or, even worse, causing offence.

Henderson says that community translation initiatives and projects such as those under the auspices of the African Network for Localisation (ANLoc) do fantastic work at heeding commercial and language preservation goals. ANLoc has also shown that quality control is very important with such ventures. The organisation is currently working with industry players to use commercially proven quality assurance processes for its own community translation initiatives.

Develop for – and by – Africans

“Localisation isn’t only about adapting to the language and cultural sensitivity of a specific country, but also about the value of a local footprint to tap into unique local thinking,” says Henderson.

Pay-as-you-go originated in a country with a very different world view from developed markets — South Africa. And M-PESA was developed by Kenyans, for Kenyans living and working abroad, as well as for other African diaspora.

Start small, but plan to scale

It’s good to start small, but look to the future. “20 years ago, Toshiba started its multinational ambitions with translations in three languages. Today, with competitive pressure from HP and Dell, the company translates into 24,” says Henderson.

He calls Toshiba’s language localisation solution clever and simple. “It uses a computer-aided translation solution that speeds up the translation-to-publishing process by cutting repetitive formatting out of the translation refinement process. Typesetting (in XML/DITA) is done once in English, and used to automatically typeset all the translated languages. This cuts days out of each new translation effort, reducing costs significantly. In addition, the existing language databases assist in future updates of texts, greatly expediting future outcomes,” says Henderson.

Localisation: It’s not just manuals

Finally, Henderson offers a few rudimentary checks before getting started.

  • When entering a new market, consider more than your literature – how will you deal with local-language support calls?
  • Consider your customer segment – do you serve businesses or consumers? For the former, English may suffice.
  • Plan long-term – for now, the bilingual person in your office may be enough, but for your next software release, translation automation by way of a database of phrases is the way to overcome this.
  • Get clean – experience has taught us that fragmentation is bad when multiple translations are under way.
  • Quality assurance of the master document will flow through to every subsequent translation in the same format. Before embarking on translations, clean up the English document first.
  • Ensure compliance with local regulations that have an impact on the text – such as business approval, foreign exchange, electric Type Approval etc.

Image credit: Zouzou Wizman



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