Online translators add more African languages

STORY: Kampala resident Hussain Bharmal is originally from India. He has fought a lifelong battle to understand Luganda - Uganda’s official language.

Despite being spoken by millions, Luganda is not taught in schools.

Bharmal says he has struggled to find resources to study the language he hears on street corners.

But now his struggles may be over.

Luganda was one of 24 languages added to Google Translate last month.

Bharmal says the announcement filled him with excitement.

“It was exciting for me because I finally know now that there is a translator app available. Yes, we have Luganda dictionaries in book shops and things like that, but there are very few resources on the internet. There are some Luganda handbooks and materials, very very material online to learn Luganda, but there's now a proper translation app or service that we can use. So that's amazing.”

The new batch includes ten sub-Saharan African languages, bringing the number of African languages on the profile to 23.

Ugandan IT student Andrew Njuki spend his childhood hunched over English-language textbooks and grappling with material that would have been easier to grasp in his mother tongue.

He says the instant translations available on his phone will help bridge that gap.

“I think it's a great opportunity for us, and for students like me, it's really good. Because for anyone to understand something better, you need to first understand it in your mother tongue, and then you can get it better."

And the trend is spreading.

Translation and language-learning giants like Google and DuoLingo have joined nonprofit-led efforts to expand language databases available online.

DuoLingo, which currently offers eight under-represented languages out of 40, is working to add Zulu and Xhosa - spoken by 20 million people mainly in South Africa - later this year.