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India and Africa – Emerging Localization Markets and Challenges
Posted by Vijayalaxmi Hegde on December 11, 2013  in the following blogs: Supplier Business Issues
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CETRA Language Solutions, one of the top 100 language service providers (LSPs) in Common Sense Advisory’s annual ranking, recently set up shop in Accra, Ghana. It’s not the first major LSP to do so: Rubric and TransPerfect have preceded it. But it seems a good time to comment on how Africa is steadily gaining mind and market share of the world in general and the language services market in particular. 

At the same time, we would also like to summarize and relate some of Common Sense Advisory’s research findings on challenges in the Indian translation industry and what we saw and heard at GALA’s think! India in New Delhi, where we presented last month. 

Why bring Africa and India together? We see some common threads, especially when it comes to challenges for the localization industry and lessons for LSPs and buyers of translation in Africa. Of course, we know that we are comparing a country to a continent, but it’s not exactly an apples-and-oranges comparison. Why not? When it comes to size, language, and culture, geographers and ethnographers label India a sub-continent for good reason. Secondly, we can’t really compare all of Asia to Africa, because some countries like China and Japan have a more established and robust language services economy. 

What are the challenges, then, that are common to India and Africa?
  • Both regions lack awareness about the language industry. It’s not uncommon for people in the two markets to raise an eyebrow when they hear about the “language services industry.” People do know about translation and interpretation (though of course the distinction is not always clear in their minds), but it’s usually in a literary context. It’s certainly news to many that translation and interpretation have the potential to be fulltime jobs and that the language services market is worth US$34.7 billion globally. What follows from such lack of awareness of the market is buyer immaturity and a lack of skilled workers. 
  • New buyers of translation show immaturity. It’s not that translation is a brand new activity in these markets, but it has to yet become a mainstream business process for many companies. As such, a localization manager in an Indian company might apply the procurement expertise she acquired from buying commodities such as office supplies or raw materials to translation, causing much pain to herself and the LSP she’s working with. 
  • Training institutions are in short supply. Our report on “The Need for Translation in Africa” (May12) noted that 32.6% of African translators and interpreters had formal training in their disciplines. However, most survey respondents were trained abroad at significant cost. This absence of training institutions at home coupled with the lack of awareness of the industry gives rise to a serious shortage of skilled labor. Indian LSPs face the same problems, but so do suppliers in more established markets (see “Translation Future Shock,” Apr12). 
  • Translation technology still has to catch up with the demands of these markets. Even if the visibility and labor challenges disappeared, there're still the questions of technology and content. Translation automation tools rarely provide user interfaces, documentation, support, or training in the local languages. On the content front, specialized terminology in African and Indian languages needs to be developed for some industries. And the nascent state of the translation industry means that there's not enough bilingual documents that LSPs or buyers can use to train machine translation, thus limiting the practice of post-editing and unattended translation (see "Transformative Translation," Oct13).
  • Selling to multi-language vendors (MLVs) is trickier than you think. LSPs in India, more often than not, service translation demand from MLVs for the dominant European language combinations. This presents a two-pronged problem. First, buyer insistence on quality drives LSPs to recruit native language translators from the same markets that buyers come from. This, in turn, robs them of the price advantage that they are “supposed” to offer. The irony of the situation is usually lost on buyers, who come to India usually with the expectation of cheaper prices. The only saving grace is that Indian LSPs can still offer project management at lower costs. Perhaps African providers can find a similar niche in the translation value chain.
To add to the above, both India and Africa use global languages such as English in both regions and French in Africa. People aspire to speaking English, and some goad their children to learn as well as or even better than their mother tongue. As such, the clamoring for local-language content that we see in European markets doesn’t manifest itself here, which means that LSPs have to predominantly find their markets in foreign languages. It could also affect the willingness of people to be trained in local language>local language translation, because it’s not seen as something prestigious or lucrative. 

However, that preference for English is temporary. In many countries web users have little choice but to embrace English because there is little or no content in their local languages. That will change. The widespread reach of feature phones has begun to change how the average African consumes data. Similar mobile phone miracles are being worked in India. 

The mobile-driven consumer will push for content in languages they can understand, speak, and transact in. Companies will then take notice and start catering to such a need, in turn setting off a huge demand for language services to translate the content and localize the experience. That’s when the language services market will reach the tipping point in Africa and India. 


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The Language Services Market: 2013
The Top 100 Language Service Providers: 2013
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