If you’ve ever had any problems dealing with any foreign text one tool that likely turned up as an option was Google Translate, the machine learning-based translation service from the search engine giant.
The good news is that it has added 13 new languages to its roster, including one of Zimbabwe’s own native tongues, Shona. This brings the language total for Google Translate to 103 and according to Google, these languages cover 99% of the online population.
Google Translate has been offering multi-lingual translation services for text, speech, images and real-time video for almost 10 years. In its statement, Google Translate pointed out that the latest addition of these 13 – Amharic, Corsican, Frisian, Kyrgyz, Hawaiian, Kurdish (Kurmanji), Luxembourgish, Samoan, Scots Gaelic, Shona, Sindhi, Pashto and Xhosa – will help bring approximately 120 million people into its fold of Translate users.
The announcement from Google Translate also carried an outline of how a language is added to the tool. Each language must be written in the first place and a significant amount of translations in the new language must be available online. These texts are then scanned and analysed for patterns with machine learning helping Google “learn” the language in the process.
All this is assisted by contributions made by volunteers from the Translate Community who help improve the Google Translate languages that are already in the roster and adding new ones to the lineup.
One reason why Shona probably got selected was that it is the most spoken first language Bantu Language in a pool of over 535 Bantu Languages which are spoken in parts of West Africa (Cameroon), Southeast Africa, Central Africa (in the Congo, for example) and in Southern Africa.
Despite its wide reach, Shona hasn’t developed a notable footprint online with just a few websites using the language. Publications like VOA News, Kwayedza and tools like the Shona to English dictionary from Martin Shumba.
While there has been some debate on how Shona will evolve in a world inspired by technology, this inclusion in a global platform is a positive development for the language. Hopefully, it will encourage an increased participation from Zimbabwean content creators that have material in Shona only.