Translation (and terminology) in the African languages


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


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.


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

SDL at Bloomberg TV: managing global content, trends and predictions for the future

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Watch this interview with Mark Lancaster, Chairman of SDL, at Bloomberg TV giving some hits about what is to come for the market of the global content management:


Updates about the ISO 12620 and some useful links

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In the last conference that TermNet was attending to, we have heard that the new version of the ISO standard 12620 does no longer contain data categories but descriptions and a reference to the isocat.org.

If you wish to read more about data categories and why they are some important for your terminology work, have a look to this presentation by Sue EllenWright during the International Terminology Summer School 2011 in Cologne. She is also initiator of the isocat.org project.

Sue Ellen will give us an update about this in the next International Terminology Summer School, this July in Vienna and then we will blog you with further information.

We thought this could be interesting for some of you…. Cheers!


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For those who have German as a working language, this forum for terminology questions can be of  great help.


The forum is thought to be a free place for translator, technical writers, developers, engineers and experts in other fields of knowledge to ask and talk about terminology issues.  The forum is not aimed to be a meeting point for experts in terminology but for everyone to have the possibility to interact and exchange experience and information, no matter if it is about general questions or very specialized aspects.

This forum is an initiative of the German Terminology Day association (DTT –  Deutscher Terminologie-Tag e.V).

TermNet celebrates May Day in solidarity with workers around the world

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Standing in the middle of hundreds of demonstrators in Frankfurt’s Roemer this sunny morning, my colleague and I could not but think how lucky we are to work at one of the nicest organizations (true!) in one of the most fascinating and diverse industries. I am talking about terminology, of course. For me terminology means first of all the greatest variety possible. I used to say that terminology is everywhere and in everything. It is never boring because terminology projects span all sorts of subject fields and go in their variety of tasks way beyond “simply” creating databases. Terminology is all about cultures, specialized communication, and yes, all subjects and working areas one can think of. And this brings me back to today’s meaning – it touches the lives of workers of all areas in all the places of the globe. Workers of all countries unite! Cheers, A.