Multilingual Tech

African languages in the tech world

The evolution of technology in Africa has mainly been directed to producing alternative solutions to social economic issues, modern connectivity as well as access to information to provide seamless digital services. As technology modernises the lives of African people in various sectors, there has been whispered concerns that African languages have not been widely introduced to digital platforms targeted to the African consumers. The lack of representation of languages such as Shona within digital platforms has seen African innovators capitalising on the opportunity to preserve and incorporate African languages within the development of the digital space. African digital entrepreneurs are creating multilingual digital platforms that educate, preserve and modernise African languages. Which allows for a broader Pan African opportunity for businesses. The creation of multilingual technology is noted through education apps, African based digital dictionaries and intelligent personal assistant

The continued mobile penetration in the continent will see more entrepreneurs and innovators shifting gears to not just creating digital, efficient products. Instead creating products that can interact with consumers in the different African regions due to the multilingual  features.

African language goes digital

As technology services progress from mobile devices to connected voice active tech, the ability for the likes of Alexa speaking various languages will be important in order for innovators to nab a broader spectrum of the African consumers. Innovators such as Omolabake Adenle are leading in the inclusion of African language in modern software. The AJA LA Studio’s founded by Adenle created a voice recognition and speech synthesis software for African languages. The software is able to digitise African languages and synthesis speech from various African languages presented as digitalised text, consider a Siri speaking and reading in Swahili. This will enable for Africans to interact with a wider range of devices. Nigerian Yorubaname.com has a similar approach to digitising African languages. The company’s app is a Yoruba text-to-speech app that caters to Yoruba speaking people in Nigeria.

Representation of languages

South African fast food chain Nando’s has set a campaign which aims to acknowledge African names within the digital space. In many cases African names are typically underlined as incorrectly spelt or simply not recognised by digital spell check. The #rightmyname campaign challenges consumers to assist the brand in creating a South African data base of names. Consumers simply add their names to the list. Nando’s states that by the 21 March 2018 on Human Rights Day in South African consumers will be able to update their spell check dictionary and get rid of the red line underneath their names.

An additional platform promoting African languages is Zivo. Created by Zimbabwean Greg Kawere, Zivo is an African language learning app which is said to be the African version of the globally used Duolingo. The widely used international app does not include languages such as Swati. Thanks to the creation of Zivo users are able to learn languages such as Afrikaans, isXhosa, Shona through a series of speaking, writing and translating exercises.

Visual Inclusion

In a hyper visual era, representation plays a key role with consumer interaction. The fourth industrial revolution is not just about the evolution of digital technology but the inclusion of languages, race and various traits people identify with. Creator Ayoola Daramold took note of the lack of visual representation of Africans in the digital space even though elements of local lingo are widely read through text. Thus the creation of African emoji’s.

Mobile is key in Africa, it is the tool for communication and media consumption. So we expect the Afro emoji to become a key component in African messages and chats in the same way emoji stickers have become popular in the East and West’

Ayoola Daramold – Afro emoji

The Nigerian parent company Genii Games limited created a sub company Asa which means culture in Yoruba. Asa is an app which features video games, animation, voice, text and graphics that cover topics such as languages, folktales, ethics and etiquette.

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