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Multilingual applications and Africa: why are they a great opportunity for the future?


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Africa is home to something between 1000 and 2000 individual languages, which is about one-third of all of the world’s languages.


Which such diversity embedded in its culture and a digital gap to fill over the coming decades, we decided to look at what role multilingual applications can play in fostering the democratization of knowledge, and professional and digital skills within local communities.




 

What is multilingualism?


Multilingualism is the ability to speak, write, read, or understand more than one language. It is a common phenomenon in many parts of the world where people are exposed to different languages in their daily lives.


In the context of software and mobile app development, multilingualism refers to the ability of an app to support multiple languages, allowing users to interact with the app in their preferred language.


This is important for reaching a wider audience, especially in countries with multiple official languages or where large portions of the population speak different languages. Inclusive multilingual app development can ensure that users from diverse backgrounds can access and benefit from an app, regardless of their language proficiency.



How does multilingualism affect app development?


Multilingualism can significantly affect app development in various ways. Here are some of the most notable impacts:


Development Time and Cost: Developing a multilingual app takes more time and resources compared to developing a single-language app. The developers need to design, implement and test the app in different languages, which adds to the overall development time and cost.


User Interface Design: User interface design is critical for any app, and it becomes more complex in multilingual apps. The design needs to cater to different languages' unique features, such as text direction, font style, and character sets, to ensure the app is user-friendly across different languages.


Content Translation: One of the significant challenges in developing a multilingual app is translating the app content accurately. It requires high-quality translations and localization services to ensure that the app's content accurately represents each language and culture.


Maintenance and Updates: Maintenance and updates for a multilingual app can also be more complicated. Developers need to ensure that changes made to the app do not break any of the app's language versions, requiring additional testing and validation.


Improved User Experience: However, despite the added complexity and cost, developing a multilingual app can significantly improve the user experience for people who speak different languages, ultimately leading to increased user adoption, retention, and revenue.



Why is multilingualism an important factor in technology adoption?


Multilingualism is an important factor in technology adoption because it allows for greater accessibility and inclusivity for users who speak different languages.


By making mobile apps, websites, and other digital platforms available in multiple languages, developers can reach a wider audience and increase user engagement and satisfaction.

Research has shown that people are more likely to engage with an app or website that is available in their preferred language, and are more likely to recommend it to others.


Furthermore, in some regions where multiple languages are spoken, such as parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, multilingualism is not just a matter of convenience but a necessity. In these areas, apps and digital services that are not available in local languages may struggle to gain traction and be adopted by the local population.



How can you make a multilingual app from a WhatsApp chatbot?


With more than 2 billion active users worldwide, WhatsApp's multilingual approach has been a key factor in its widespread adoption.


Leveraging the reach, ease of use, and multilingual versatility of Whatsapp through a well-designed chatbot solution can help you partially avoid costly localization efforts and focus your attention on the value provided and user experience.



3 questions with…


Picture of Tochi Precious

Tochi Precious, MSc, MPM, DBA in view


Multilingual program and project manager for organizations including schools, non-profits, and government departments in Nigeria, Italy, Germany, and the US. Tochi is specialized in the education and leadership sector and has developed and implemented innovative development programs for young people in developing markets.


She says of herself: “My objective is to make a meaningful contribution to the field of program and project management, inspiring and motivating young people to achieve their goals and create positive change in their lives”.


Q: How important is it to communicate in local languages to local audiences through digital channels in our global and interconnected society?


I would say: extremely important.


Let's imagine you were at a big party with lots of people from different places. Everyone speaks a different language, and you can't understand what anyone is saying. It would be hard to make friends or have fun, right?


The same thing can happen with digital channels like websites and social media. If people in different parts of the world can't understand the language on a website or in a message, they might not be able to use the website or know what the message says.


That's why it's important to communicate in local languages on digital channels. It helps people understand what you're saying, and it makes it easier for them to use your website or social media. This is especially important in our global and interconnected society because we all need to work together and communicate effectively to make the world a better place.



Q: What is the impact of business interactions in the local language vs English-based communication?


Let me take your imagination to another angle: take for a moment you go to a new school where everyone speaks a different language than you. You try to talk to them in your language, but they don't understand you. It's hard to make friends and work on projects together, right?


Now this is exactly the same for businesses that want to interact with people who speak a different language. If they only use English, people who don't speak English will not be able to understand them. This could make it hard for the business to sell its products or services to people in other countries.


On the other hand, if a business interacts with people in their local language, it shows that they care about the people and their culture. This can help the business build trust and relationships with local people. It can also make it easier for the business to communicate important information and understand the needs of local customers.


So, localization in business interactions can have a big impact on how successful a business is in a new place.



Q: What role do you foresee for Multilingual applications in favoring the growth of digital know-how?


Multilingual applications are like special helpers that can speak many different languages. They can help people who speak different languages understand and use digital technology, like websites, apps, and software.


When people can use digital technology, they can learn new things, communicate with others, and create new things like art and music. This helps them grow their digital know-how, or how much they know about digital technology.


Multilingual applications can also help people from different countries work together on projects and share their knowledge with each other. This can create new ideas and innovations that can help make the world a better place.


So, by using multilingual applications, we can make digital technology more accessible to more people, which can help them learn and grow their digital know-how.


For example, I'm currently running a language acceleration program with Wikitongues and we have people from different parts of the world who do not speak English. We use Worldly Translations in our Zoom Meetings; even though it has its limitations, it has helped us understand ourselves better.


Now, imagine if that app never existed…Your thought is as good as mine.



Conclusion


In conclusion, multilingualism is an essential factor in app development and adoption.

When taking into account the great diversity of the world, providing multilingual support in mobile apps can make a significant difference in user experience and market reach. By creating an inclusive environment, apps can appeal to a wider audience and provide equal access to all users regardless of their language and cultural background.


Additionally, multilingual apps can drive user engagement and loyalty, as users are more likely to stick with an app that caters to their language preferences. Companies that provide multilingual support in their mobile apps can also gain a competitive edge in the global market and increase their revenue potential.


Overall, investing in multilingualism is a smart and effective strategy for app development and adoption. It helps companies reach a wider audience, increase user engagement, and create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all users. As the world continues to become more interconnected, multilingual apps will only become more crucial in ensuring equal access to technology and promoting diversity and inclusion.



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