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


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

For more details, please refer to our website:

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Skrivanek Opens New Branch in Austria

22 09 2014

Skrivanek Group opens its 17th branch abroad, in Vienna, Austria.

“The Austrian business market is sophisticated,” said the company’s founder, Pavel Skrivanek. “We believe that our customized, high quality language services are needed and will be valued, at both the corporate and the consumer levels.” Skrivanek’s experience opening new offices abroad since its inception in 1994 is extensive, but in every country there are unique challenges.

Skrivanek_Austria“While German is the official language in both countries, Austria is quite different from Germany,” Pavel Skrivanek said. “The Austrian people have a different mentality, and their culture is unique. Therefore, business in Austria requires an individualized approach. Our new branch in Austria is essential for optimizing the services we offer our Austrian clients.”

Skrivanek Group’s twenty years of experience integrating new offices into foreign business cultures has prepared it well for expansion into Austria. A presence in this country with a steadily growing population of almost 8.5 million people will allow Skrivanek to establish its expertise in a location that will facilitate excellent regional networking.

Localization: Targeting Africa

22 08 2014

Consumer goods markets in African countries are rapidly expanding due to numerous factors: population growth and urbanization, emergence of a middle class and shrinking poverty levels, youthful demography, vast natural resources and inward investment, improved business and trade environment, and expanded use of technology. For exporters to Africa, the good news is strong, but challenges remain from such issues as segmented markets, cheap local competition, flawed distribution channels, and untrained workers.*

African Languages

Projected 2020 consumer spending** predicts the highest growth in South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Angola and Senegal. But when looking for your next target market, the viability of your efforts is a complex issue. In the World Bank’s 2014 “ease of doing business” index, for instance, the only countries included in that top ten from the top nine projected consumer markets listed above are Ghana and Zambia (see below).

Localization for Africa may be tricky, but pay off in the long-run. While English and French are common throughout the continent, the range of consumer languages is vast, as you can see in the AllAfrica’s “ease of doing business” list below.*** This list, drawn from World Bank analyses, is based on the overall effect of each country’s government regulations on doing business there.

1. Mauritius  (19th of 189 globally)
No official language. French and English spoken, Creole as mother tongue.

2. Rwanda  (32nd)
Official languages: French, English, Kinyardwanda (which is the most widely spoken and is the language of government). English used in schools. Swahili spoken by many.

3. South Africa  (41st)
Eleven official languages. Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa most widely spoken, with English used in commerce and science.

4. Tunisia  (51st)
Official language: Arabic. Used in daily life: Tunisian Arabic of Derja. French often used in press, business and education.

5. Botswana  (56th)
Official language: English. Many speak Setswana. Afrikaans and three other languages also spoken there.

6. Ghana  (67th)
English is official language, spoken by 90%. Also Akan and Twi by 75%, with Niger-Congo languages also spoken.

7. Seychelles  (80th)
Official: English, French and Seychellois Creole (based on French).

8. Zambia  (83rd)
Official language: English. Seventy-three different languages in the country, but Nyanja is the main one.

9. Morocco  (87th)
Official languages: Berber and Arabic (with dialects called Darija). French often used for governmental and international matters.

10. Namibia  (98th)
Official language: English. Half of population speaks Oshiwambo as first language, but the most understood language is Afrikaans, with other minority languages.

J. McShulskis

*African Development Bank Group,
**Euromonitor Africa Consumer Spending,
*** from World Bank data:

Traditional or Simplified? On Mainland China, Simplify.

3 02 2014

The population of mainland China is well over one billion now*, and millions of people in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and widespread overseas communities also speak Chinese. But this single language is represented by two different written languages, “Traditional” Chinese, and “Simplified.”

Chinese TranslationAdopted in 1949 in order to increase literacy and ease communication with the outside world, Simplified Chinese is comprised of about 2,000 characters which are stripped-down, more geometrical forms of the Traditional characters, and the total number used is also reduced. Taught in schools and used throughout mainland China and Singapore, these characters are either commonly used abbreviations of the Traditional, portions of Traditional characters, or compacted characters that phonetically resemble the originals. Some of the Simplified characters represent several different Traditional ones.

A practical and political problem with Simplified Chinese is that it is not used in Malaysia, Taiwan, Macau or Hong Kong. For this reason, as well as aesthetic and scholarly inclinations, there are Chinese speakers who oppose Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese is often still chosen for communication that seeks emotional impact, such as slogans, signs, advertising, and artwork. But for most text intended for an audience in mainland China or Singapore, Simplified Chinese is the language to use.

This is not a new issue raised by a more global and industrial society; simplified versions of Chinese have existed for over 2,000 years, and criticism of the complex, abstract Traditional Chinese has ranged from declaring it the “writing of ox-demons and snake-gods”** to blaming it for the country’s economic problems.

Both versions have, however, been integrated into modern life, as evidenced by the development of computer code for each: GB for Simplified, and Big5 for Traditional. As it happens with languages – all of which carry forgotten histories in their forms as they morph to our needs – some of those computer-encoded characters descend from Oracle Bone Script used more than 3,000 years ago to divine answers about weather, hunting, warfare, and the best days to hold sacred ceremonies.

*2010 census: 1,339,724,852
**FuSinian, a leader of the May Fourth Movement

J. McShulskis

Read more on Skrivanek’s Chinese Translations here



Do you think Machine Translation will replace human translation in time?

27 11 2013

It’s Fast and It’s Free: Fansubbing

25 09 2013

In China, prolonged economic growth, the internet, censorship and a generation of educated young adults have bred an entirely new kind of translator: the fansubber. Translating foreign media without any financial reward, the fansubber’s motive seems to be a passion for broadening Chinese horizons, according to writer Xiaochun Zhang (Mulitlingual Magazine).

Fansubbers form networks of participants on the Chinese mainland and overseas, acquiring copies of television shows and movies primarily from Japan, Korea and the U.S.  to create subtitles of varying quality. Translation of a t.v. show people are waiting impatiently to view can be extremely fast and somewhat imprecise, while other products (including educational materials) are processed more carefully. Both fansubbers and their audiences get hearty doses of culture and language beyond their borders, and this is the main goal that these new world translators share.

The YYeTs for example, are a group of fansubbers whose slogan is “Share, learn, progress.” Their website,, looks like an arcade of media graphics with hundreds of available titles represented by pictures and trailers, with portals to discussion groups and postings telling how many hours ago the subtitled version was made available. It’s electric, alive – a global conversation that seems destined to increase the interaction of the Chinese people with the rest of the world.


J. McShulskis

If the Hispanic market in the US…

27 05 2013

If the Hispanic market in the United States were a standalone country, it would rank among the top 20 economies in the world.

At 15.4 percent of the population, Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States. They are a growing presence in all sectors of the economy, play an increasingly important role in government and politics, and are influential across a wide range of cultural domains.

Gala hosted a webinar on the importance of the Hispanic US market, based on the reports of The Nielson Company – and on the importance of translating your materials into Spanish, to reach this growing target group.

The concerning report of The Nielson Company can be found here: