Google Translate adds Shona and 12 other languages to its roster

Nigel Gambanga Avatar
Google Translate

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.


    1. Curious

      Just tested it out too Simba and it seems off in lots of ways… For a beginner ts ok, baby steps…

    2. Random User

      The first paragraph (the only one i went through) is word for word. There is room for improvement.

  1. Tapiwa✔

    The translation is terrible, but I guess that’s because there’s not much pre-translated Shona to apply their Google bots. With enough people clicking on “Contribute better translation”, the service should improve greatly.

    Vashona ( seems to be doing a better job at the moment, and I am super-curious to learn what technic they are using for translating

  2. Eddie

    Technology currently doesn’t beat a qualified human translator. In Turkey, I use the Google Translator and it works okay for very basic translations and simple encounters. I wouldn’t use Google Translate for an entire paragraph of text. Many Turkish business people avoid hiring translators and as a result, some of their English notices don’t make grammatical sense and sometimes are incomprehensible. For example, a notice at a print and copy centre says “Please have your work already because homework is done in the long time” – the notice essentially is trying to say “don’t do your homework on these computers, have it ready by the time you come”

    Translations also have an element of grammar, syntax and culture to them. One of the most difficult things to translate are figurative expressions, which are quite frequently used, but which do not necessarily apply to all languages. For example, phrases such as “How did you arrive at such a conclusion” may not have Greek, or French equivalents, even though in Shona you can closely translate it as “wasvika sei papfungwa iyoyo” (pardon my Shona, I am of mixed origin 🙂

  3. Prisca Tamayi

    Shona dying a slow and steady death yet it’s a rich language and interesting.

2023 © Techzim All rights reserved. Hosted By Cloud Unboxed