by Anja Drame

New study highlights the state of the art for translation and language industry in the African languages

Common Sense Advisory has published its study about the need for translation in Africa. The study was conducted in 2011 in cooperation with Translators without Borders, and received quite an impressive feedback of more than 300 translators in the African languages. Almost 77% of the responses came from people living in Africa, the rest from the various regions in which Africans form a large Diaspora. However, as Common Sense Advisory stresses, the regional distribution is somewhat heavy on South Africa, followed by Kenya, Cameroon and Nigeria.

The results are interesting. One of the major findings is the high level of training and education received. More than half of the respondents are university graduates and one Third have a Bachelor degree. But with the large Diaspora and the various possibilities of language related studies one can conduct in South Africa this is perhaps less surprising. What I find most surprising is the fact that 46.3% claim that African language translation is their prime source of income. On the other hand, the lack of organization and trade union representation is felt as severe as payment morale appears to be low and political repression an issue.

Most translators work also as interpreters which makes a lot of sense if one considers the high place of oral communication and the relatively low literacy rates in the continent.

There was also a result that is interesting, although hardly a surprise for terminologists. A majority claims the lack of equivalents for terms in the major languages is an immense problem. Common Sense Advisory uses the terms cancer and clinical depression as examples from the heath sector, where translation and interpreting has such a strong and directly influencing place.

Of course we are aware of many projects addressing exactly this lack, both from governmental and public side and private initiatives. This is the case especially in South Africa with its elaborate language policy, but not only there. However, it still seems that the lack of access to and information about available sources is a major problem, especially for those translators with limited access to the Internet (although the study suggests that more than 80% are online while translating). And these are just responses from professional and educated translators and do not count the numerous translators who do the job while actually being employed as administrators, logisticians, nurses, etc. These people will hardly know where to find and how to access online resources. I can tell because I have worked with them in the field with an International NGO. And they do an impressive and tremendous job!

As for their future, African translators expect an upward trend with South Africa joining the economic bloc of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), making it BRICS. The expectation is an economic rise and the new trade partners creating additional demand. Generally, research shows that the translation market in Africa has been growing steadily. But it comes along with the fear that this demand will create a blooming of unqualified service providers which ultimately damage the reputation and industry. There are experiences all over the world with this problem and surely some action needs to be taken. Be it through organization and representation, quality assurance measures and partnerships. Any other ideas?

Africa is home to 2000 – 3000 languages (depending on who has counted them), belonging to only a few large language families. The major European languages of the former colonizing powers, such as English, French, Portuguese and to lesser extends German, Afrikaans and others, as well as Arabic dominate education, business and politics today. New languages such as Chinese were introduced with this country’s growing influence on Africa. Regional linguas francas such as Swahili or Hausa fight a battle against these languages. Sometimes with more success, sometimes with less.

I am curious to hear about your experiences!

Cheers, Anja

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Common Sense Advisory, Inc. is an independent research firm committed to objective research and analysis of the business practices, services, and technology for translation, localization, and interpreting. With its research for both Global Leaders and Industry Providers, Common Sense Advisory endeavors to improve the quality and practice of international business, and the efficiency of the online and offline operations that support it.

www.commonsenseadvisory.com

Download the full study:  http://www.commonsenseadvisory.com/AbstractView.aspx?ArticleID=2869

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