Why most tech devts ignore local languages

Tuesday November 26 2019

A customer completes a transaction online.

A customer completes a transaction online. Applications and developments are mostly in English, which creates difficulty for non-tech savvy users and the illiterate to navigate. Photo by Eronie Kamukama 

By Christine Kasemiire

Technology giant, Facebook is a source of amusement for many when they apply its translate feature for statements written in other languages to English.

Whilst it may often get the translation wrong, Facebook is one of the daring applications globally that offers a translation feature. Twitter also offers translations.

The phenomenon of applications developed only in English is global, not excluding Uganda.

In essence, technology is meant to be easier and convenient for everyone to use.
However, applications and developments are mostly in English, which creates difficulty for non-tech savvy users and the illiterate to navigate.

To bridge that gap, Agriculture Development Centre (ADC), in partnership with dfcu bank and Rabbo bank have created an e-learning platform to support farmers through trainings on record keeping, advice on investment as well as access to credit.

Ms Joy Kabatsi, State Minister of Agriculture, advised farmers to create cooperatives to benefit from credit and other financial services.

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Benefits
The e- learning platform, a development that took two years to create, can translate content to different local languages.

“We have a content provider who is going to source all these languages. For instance, the audio feature on the platform, they are going to have to go to studio, read and translate the texts into the appropriate language,” Mr William Ssenyondo, Software engineer ADC, explains adding that this will bridge language barrier amongst different farmer groups.

The e-learning platform, he says, will also have a call centre service which asks for the preferred language by the caller.

To translate written text, ADC while currently relying on Google, is in talks with another provider to ensure the content translation is reliable and not distorted.

“Most developers depend on third parties for translation. There are parties like google that have offered an open Application program interface (API) for translation but sometimes, translating English to local languages can distort the meaning of the sentence,” Mr Ssenyondo says mentioning google translator as one of the translation providers.

Some of these third parties come at a cost, which the developer would need to incur.

Inclusion of local languages without a third party takes a lot of work and time yet it could be included in the upgrades, after the development has been launched.

“Those are things you can plan for the future. For the start, you can offer what is available,” he explains.

Local languages
Mr Japheth Kawanguzi, founder Innovation Village, says most developments are created in English to have widespread acceptance and target a bigger market.

English, which is the spoken language in many countries, allows developers create for the vast majority as opposed to a group of people which would not be economically viable.

“It depends on scale. For example, if you build Facebook in a local language, how many people will you be able to reach? When you build in local languages, you build for a small market. It depends on who are you building for and why?” he justifies adding that Uganda has only started developing its own technology platforms and applications which can be used by different people in different locations, a situation which can change with increased future technology adoption.

However, Mr Kawanguzi stresses the need for developers to understand the role of technology especially in some sectors such as agriculture.

He urged developers to understand the needs of their market and not create what they (developers) want.

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