India — Marketing in Babel

23 09 2015

With over one billion people speaking 780 languages that use 86 scripts*, India clearly presents staggering marketing challenges. Add to its size and diversity the digital immersion of its citizens, and the picture begins to come into view of an enormous population of potential buyers for which the traditional western buying infrastructure may be obsolete.

india-416777_1920While some of those approximately 780 languages are sustained by only a few thousand speakers or less, many claim millions, and 22 are official, using 11 scripts: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithill, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskirt, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

A common western perception is that India is linguistically highly anglicized. But in fact, only 1/10 of the population count English as their first, second or third language.  About 1/3 speak Hindi and/or English. To ignore the others when trying to develop a long-term market for your product in India would be risky. Bengali, for example, has 83 million speakers, and Marthi, Telgu and Urdu have over 70 million each.

All languages share common issues for the company wishing to translate and localize their marketing for India:

  1. Non-Latin scripts are often incompatible with CAT tools.
  2. Lack of translation standards for Indian translators, frequent inability to afford CAT tools, and lower experience and availability of translators, among other conditions, lead to slower translation times and less reliable quality.
  3. Religious and cultural sensitivities that widely vary are complex but must be assessed and accounted for.

Where to begin? With a limited budget, perhaps a logical start is localization for marketing to Hindi speakers. Remembering as you go forward from there into other languages that every one of them must be examined carefully and handled in a unique fashion, as opposed to using one strategy for multiple languages and cultures. With experience translating numerous Indian languages, Skrivanek Group has the linguistic resources and experience to help you implement a localization strategy in India.

*The People’s Linguistic Survey of India

Jacquelyn McShulskis


Sources:

  • Multilingual, April 2014, Conor Bracken’s article about emerging markets
  • Thepeopleslinguisticsurveyofindia.com
  • Forbes.com, January 2014, How India Could Change Marketing as We Know It
  • Qz.com
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