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Enjoy The Web In Shona Using Google Translate

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Although a lot of people might not know this Google has had Shona support for years. Support for the Shona language was added to the translate tool just under three years ago back in February of 2016. Back then the tool was the butt of many jokes as its Shona translation was just horrible and pathetic.

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It seems the machine has been quietly learning

Launched back in 2006 the Google Translate tool now relies on machine learning and it seems the machine has been quietly learning Shona over the years. While there is definite room for improvement the translations can no longer be dismissed as gibberish as was the case in the early days.

In fact when it comes to translating short phrases and sentences the service’s translations are quite good indeed. Translating whole pages is a bit of a lottery though. Tech sites like our beloved TechZim that tend to have some jargon can create quite unexpected translations and entire sentences that do not make sense.

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Translations of everyday passages like the Herald are a different matter. You can have whole sentences that do make sense and it is possible, at the very least, to get a gist of what articles are talking about by just reading the translation.

This tool will be useful for who struggle with English

There are a lot of people who are literate out there who cannot enjoy much of the web because their English skills are not that great. If Zimbabwe is to prosper and become a fully digitised nation these people must be brought on board. While it would be impossible to manually translate all the information on the web into Shona these people can translate the bits they need using tools such as Google Translate.

Shona is a pretty limited language though

There are many Shona dialects out there and Shona has many unique grammar rules that Google Translate is still to learn. Right now there is a lot of direct translating which leads to pretty humorous renderings. Idioms and idiomatic expressions are especially funny.

All languages have their nuances.However some of the errors Google is making are there due to a prevailing mentality that afflicts most former colonies in Africa which make languages such as Shona limited in what they can do. I remember trying to lead an Ubuntu Shona translation years ago. We hit a snag when it came to technical terms.

The Radio Zimbabwe led school of thought insists on inventing idiotic names that are met by normal users with derision. How many people do you know call a computer “potonjere”? Such out of touch nonsense is also championed by the clowns in charge of the Shona curriculum at ZIMSEC.

In case you are wondering I have always been a member of the evolution and adaptation school. We should shamelessly adopt foreign words and tweak them for our use. Computer should be Kombiyuta or something similar. It’s what most languages do. If you don’t believe me consider the word for computer in other former colonies:

  • Bengali-কম্পিউটার (pronounced Computer)
  • Hindi-कंप्यूटर (pronounced Computer)
  • Zulu-ikhompyutha
  • Xhosa-khomputha

Try using words like cellphone and you get the same result it’s called cellphone because that’s what people call it. People only call it Nharembozha in an exam,  on Radio Zimbabwe or when they are being deliberately bombastic. In the words of PW Botha Adapt or die. Shona is still pretty limited by this rigidity especially when confronted with technical terms.

It means there is no translation for nuclear radiation. Somebody told Google to call this nheyukireya. Shame on them. Thankfully it translates nuclear as nukireya.

Examples: Shona to English

  • Murume murefu anemazino machena-A tall man with white teeth.
  • Uri zibenzi remunhu-You’re a human crazy
  • Zvinonzi akange aba mbudzi idzi mubhuku rekwaChigodora, kwaMutare-He allegedly had stolen goats in the book of Chigodora, Mutare.

Examples: English to Shona

  • An adult does not do that-Munhu mukuru haaiti izvozvo.
  • Cholera outbreak hits Mt Darwin-Cholera kuputika kunokwira Mt Darwin (here Google was tripped by the context. It thinks Mt Darwin is an actual mountain)
  • The State conceded that its case was weak and that there was no evidence that our client would interfere with witnesses or abscond,” he said.-Hurumende yakagamuchira kuti nyaya yacho yakanga isina simba uye kuti pakanga pasina humwe uchapupu hwokuti mutengi wedu angavhiringidza nehuchapupu kana kupera, “akadaro.
  • In response Pfunde told the court that she was the second wife-Mukupindura Pfunde akaudza dare kuti ndiye aiva wechipiri mudzimai

We hope and live for a day when Google learns and gets better than us. Now I think it can proceed on to Grade 3 as it has passed Grade 1 and 2.

Zimsec

The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) is an autonomous parastatal under the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. ZIMSEC was setup as a result of the 1994, Zimbabwe School Examinations Council Act. Amoung other reasons, the examinations were localised to ensure the end of colonial... Read More About Zimsec

2 thoughts on “Enjoy The Web In Shona Using Google Translate

  1. He had a point. Him and his buddies had to adapt and I think they did well don’t you? All they had to do was stop calling people Kaffirs and they got to keep their loot. All we need are a few (tens of thousands) of English words and Shona will survive.

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