Windows 7 and Office 2010 in Amharic

November 26, 2009

Microsoft SA is going local, with its release of 10 African language packs for the Windows 7 and Office 2010 suite of products.

The company has pulled translation teams from SA, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia to translate the company’s new products for release on the continent.

According to Vis Naidoo, the citizenship lead at Microsoft SA, the company plans to have Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, kiSwahili and Amharic versions of its software up and running by the end of 2011.

Many of the language packs are already available for download on the company’s Web site.

“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,” explains Naidoo.

Microsoft SA says it 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.

“Translating software to an indigenous language means more than just linguistic translation. Localisation – or 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.

He says words such as ‘broadband’ and ‘network’ don’t exist in many languages and a translation needs to be developed for those. “It was important to protect the language and address the specific needs when doing translations.”

Naidoo says 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.”