(EN) Africa is a growth market

A large but diverse market

With a rapidly growing SME sector, the African market is becoming increasingly important to many companies. Successful market entry involves gathering knowledge about target customers, establishing relationships with local suppliers and distributors, and adapting product information and advertising to the linguistic habits of customers – which has led to growing demand for translations into African languages.

But with a total population of 1.21 billion and approximately 2,100 spoken languages and dialects, the African market represents a major challenge for companies and investment firms.

Translation requirements are changing

In the past, demand for linguistic services on the African continent was primarily driven by diplomatic, government, religious and humanitarian projects. Some commercial work took place in the fields of consultancy, mining, finance and technology. Translations into English, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Swahili and Amharic dominated.

Translation in continental Europe was once dominated by the so-called “FIGS” languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish). And for a long time, Japanese, Chinese and Korean were the only Asian languages that companies translated information about their new products into. However, linguistic diversity has become increasingly important in Europe and Asia, and political and economic factors mean that process is spreading to other contexts, writes Don DePalma of the market research company Common Sense Advisory (CSA). A study by CSA concluded that 72.4 % of consumers are more likely to buy a product if they receive information about it in their native language.

Rich diversity of languages in a single country

Although English is an official language, or in some cases the only official language, in 24 of the 56 African countries, it is often not the language that the majority of the population use in their everyday lives. South Africa is an example; English is one of the country’s 11 official languages, but only 8.2 % of its residents speak it well, or as a native language. In Nigeria, English is the only official language, but the country’s 186 million residents speak an estimated 500 languages and dialects.

That is why Microsoft and many other companies are increasingly expanding their services to cater to users of other languages, for example by offering software language packages in Kinyarwanda, a language spoken in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Igbo, a Nigerian language that uses the Pan-Nigerian alphabet.

New challenges

Growing companies have to decide which of the many available languages to commission translations for, and which target groups they want to address – while also dealing with structural challenges:

  • Very few professional associations or companies
    Germany has the BDÜ (Bund Deutscher Übersetzer – Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators), which offers translators professional support, for example by developing norms and quality standards for education and training programmes, offering certifications and working with universities. There are only eight such institutions on the whole African continent, and there are limited academic opportunities.
  • Languages without a written form
    Historically, many African languages were primarily oral, and have only recently developed a written form. That has a significant effect on what is considered correct or incorrect in a language. Such languages often use a variety of spellings, sentence structures, etc.
  • No control over language
    Germany has seen a number of spelling reforms, and the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Society for the German Language) keeps a critical eye on the development of German and makes recommendations regarding usage. Language rules can be looked up in Duden. But where can a translator translating into Wolof or Mende turn for guidance?
  • Outdated technologies
    The global translation industry has shifted strongly towards computer and machine-assisted translation. Dedicated software, terminology databases and glossaries support translators in their work. Last year in Sierra Leone, students were still translating with pens and paper and using only physical dictionaries because the university has insufficient equipment, and the unreliable power supply makes it difficult to work with elect devices.

Stay up to date

While the challenges are considerable, there is a clear trend towards greater linguistic diversity. It will be exciting to see how the situation develops over the coming years, and which innovative solutions emerge. As a strongly networked translation agency, we will keep you updated and are here to support you as you expand into new markets.


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(EN) Africa is a growth market
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