Understanding the Challenges of Translating African Languages

African faces, African rare languages

Africa is a continent of high linguistic diversity with over 2,000 African languages. Such variety, along with other aspects, imposes challenges on providing translation and localization services involving African languages, especially the rare ones. Language service providers (LSPs) must do their best to overcome such challenges because African languages such as Afrikaans and Swahili, and Bantu languages, like Zulu, are growing in demand.

A Look at African Languages
Africa has 54 countries that use a variety of languages, including some that are endangered due to the proliferation of other dominant groups and the influence of Western culture. Afrikaans, a language derived from Dutch, and English have become the most used languages for the government and businesses in South Africa. Some rare African languages are even prone to extinction with the risk of the philosophy, history and medical practices they carry vanishing along with them.
In the post-colonial era, African people have grown more aware of the value of their linguistic inheritance. Nonetheless, despite the spread of mid-sized African languages in media and primary school education, only a few are considered official at the national level, and colonial languages still prevail. Fortunately, language policies aiming at multilingualism are being developed to give power to rare African languages.

Challenges of African Languages Translation
Languages across Africa have witnessed a lot of changes and Bantu groups make a very good example of this phenomenon. Even though Bantu languages have managed to expand over a broad territory, their translation is hindered by several challenges. Problems that are normally faced in translation—such as ambiguity, need for paraphrasing and mismatching—seem to be more prominent when translating a Bantu language to English. This is because available resources like corpora and dictionaries are undeveloped or inadequate. Therefore, translators of African languages need to be exceptionally resourceful and be able to create their own glossaries.
 Another obstacle  translators  of rare African language face is the expensive and low-quality internet connection in several African countries, adding insult to injury. The impact of such challenges can be significantly diminished when dealing with professional LSPs who are experienced and equipped with all the necessary translation and localization resources.

Rise of Localization Services in Africa
The booming of the middle class in several African countries like Tanzania, South Africa, and  Kenya has attracted many industries to the African market. Interest in this market has given English to African translation great importance because even though locals know English, French or Portuguese, they prefer to read manuals and use mobile applications in their own languages. Somali, Swahili, Afrikaans, Zulu, Amharic, Xhosa, Malagasy, Hausa, and Tigrinya are some of the most requested African languages for localization.
Apart from the localization of websites and mobile applications, there is an increasing demand for translating contracts as well as educational and medical materials into African. Moreover, financial institutions have recently received numerous requirements for English to Zulu translation due to the expansion into South Africa and other countries that speak in Zulu.

Zulu Translation Services
Zulu language, otherwise known as IsiZulu, is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa and is written using the Latin alphabet. Like other Bantu languages, Zulu is distinguished by clicking sounds referred to as click consonants, which are classified into dental, alveolar, and lateral clicks.
This Bantu language is of special significance as it is understood by more than half the population of South Africa and by several people in Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini (Knowing as Swaziland), and Mozambique. The demand for Zulu translation services usually originates from government bodies who would like to communicate easily comprehendible messages to the locals. However, private sector organizations also seek to translate and localize into Zulu in order to reach their African target audience with their native language.
Until the 19th century, Zulu did not exist in written form, but later missionaries changed that by transforming the sounds of the language into Latin alphabet. Translation of Zulu and other rare African language is heading towards a brighter future with more digitally literate speakers, more government documents produced, and more educational materials were written.
All you need to receive reliable translation and localization services for African languages is to choose the right LSP.