Windows 7 to be available in 10 African languages

It’s estimated that more than half of all South Africans lack access to modern computer technology — and even if they had access, they would not be able to use it, as the interface would not be in a language they could understand.

That’s according to Vis Naidoo, the citizenship lead at Microsoft South Africa. Speaking at the Local Language Programme (LLP) Africa Summit in Sandton, Naidoo said providing access to computer technology in local languages will open up new worlds for education and economic participation for millions of South Africans.

“UNESCO-funded research in 2006 showed that development and learning is only possible through languages familiar to the people. There’s tremendous empowerment in working in your own language,” said Naidoo.

Naidoo outlined Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to make software accessible to people in their vernacular. The company plans to make its newly-released Windows 7 operating system available in 10 African languages – including five of South Africa’s official languages – by the end of 2011.

“Translation teams from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia have already started translating Windows 7 and the upcoming Office 2010 productivity suite into languages like Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, kiSwahili and Amharic,” said Naidoo.

In South Africa, the Microsoft LLP team has worked closely with government, universities and local language experts like the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) and Web-lingo to create freely downloadable language interface packs (LIPs) so that indigenous language speakers can access Office 2007, Windows Vista and XP in their mother tongue. These include isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho sa Leboa and Afrikaans.

“Translating software to an indigenous language means more than just linguistic translation. Localisation – adapting to a particular language, culture and preferred ‘look and feel’– requires that idiomatic expressions be adjusted so the software appears as if it were first developed within the local culture,” says PanSALB Chair Professor Sihawukele Ngubane.

“Take words such as ‘broadband’ and ‘network’. In languages like isiZulu, isiXhosa and Sesotho sa Leboa, a direct translation simply doesn’t exist. It was important to protect the language and address the specific needs when doing translations.”

The implementation of the isiZulu version of the Microsoft Local Language Programme Interface enables KwaZulu-Natal’sKwaDukuza Resource Centre – the country’s biggest digital village – to provide computer literacy training in local vernacular for members of the rural community. For the learners at the centre, this couldn’t have happened at a better time.

“There are an estimated 13 million native isiZulu speakers in South Africa, more than 10 million of whom live in and around the KwaZulu-Natal province. As South Africa’s 11th official language, isiZulu is the most widely spoken first language in South Africa (almost 24% of the total population) as opposed to the 8,2% whose first language is English,” says Alan Govender, the centre manager.

“The isiZulu interface has been wonderful for us as it has brought more people from the rural areas to our centre, enabling them to make use of the programmes we offer. It allows people who are literate in isiZulu – but not English – to finally learn and understand the workings of a computer in their own language.”

Microsoft plans to translate Windows 7 and Office 2010 into 59 local languages by the end of 2011. Its most popular software packages have already been translated into 101 languages – including include Azeri, Georgian, Macedonian, Uzbek, Bosnian, Punjabi and Kyrgyz.

In South Africa, more than 4 million Afrikaans, isiXhosa, Setswana, isiZulu and Sesotho sa Leboa words were used to translate Microsoft’s Office 2007 suite and Windows Vista operating system. A team of 40 linguists and two project managers had the task of ensuring the most correct technical lexis for each vernacular.

“Studies show that we learn better in our mother tongue, so we are not only driven by getting more computers to more people, but also by offering software and services in local languages,” said Naidoo.

Users can download the language packs from


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