Startups reach out to the 1 bn lost in translation

The 88% who don't speak English cry for attention

Startups reach out to the 1 bn lost in translation
‘India is a mobile first-nation’, ‘India is leapfrogging technology’, etc., are statements that have echoed far and wide within the startup sector in India. However, specialists in the industry put a new model into perspective, ‘India is a local language country.’

At a panel discussion organised as a part of the sixth edition of TechSparks in Bengaluru,  Arvind Pani of Reverie Technologies, Rakesh Kapoor of Process9, Raja Hussain of Air Loyal, and Ishwar Sridharan of Exotel deliberated on how India, a country of over 150 dialects, has only one language ruling its digital platforms. “Be it TV or print, about 90 per cent of the consumption in India is happening in the local language,” said Pani, to which Kapoor added, “Some 88 per cent of the Indian population does not speak English. This roughly translates to about a billion people. So now it is about reaching this billion,” he said.

“There is fundamental flaw in the approach here. We do everything right for English right at the inception stage, and consequently local languages just become something of an item on the checklist,” said Pani. “To penetrate into rural India, you have to solve their problems and you have to do it in their language,” said Kapoor.

Besides, problems in non-urban areas are different from those in urban areas. “In non-urban areas, the primary mode of digital communication is still voice and SMS,” said Sridharan. “Internet has far reach, but it is about whether people are able to understand the internet, and are able to benefit from it,” he said.

Context is King
With language, the meaning is tied to the context, says, Sahil Kini of Aspada Investment Advisors, who invited anyone who wishes to work on the domain onto their boat which is headed in the same direction. A lot gets lost in translation, and with algorithms the translation maybe too literal to make any sense.  “The opportunity here is huge. A large portion of the population that is learning to use the internet is waiting to have more relevant, meaningful and easy-to-use tools to make use of,” he said.

“We have learnt that one solution cannot do everything for everybody. You have to be grounded-focused to be able to bring out a valuable solution to the problem you want to address,” said Hussain. “To retain users, the initial set of experiences have to be solid,” he said. For this to be accomplished, the panel agreed on facilitation of smart regional languages tools on mobile apps and internet as the foreseeable solution.
 

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