September 2008

Translating Success

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Nowhere, can the benefit of localisation and public-private partnerships be seen more clearly than in e-Governance initiatives. e-Governance, by nature, is citizen-centric rather than officer-centric. Therefore, it is necessary to be interactive, rather than just presenting information. For e-Governance to be truly effective and sustainable, it will have to go to the very doorsteps of the people – and this cannot happen without localisation.

Looking at India today, there exists a somewhat paradoxical situation in the country as far as the language is concerned. On one hand, almost 95 per cent people use a local language in their work and personal life; and on the other, most computing happens in English. English is also the primary language of business for the private sector; and a majority of young professionals are proficient in at least two or more languages. That does not take away the fact that for initiatives, say, in the space of e-Governance, to be effective, computing needs to happen in local languages. So bridging the language gulf is both a challenge and an opportunity for both the government and players like Microsoft.

Understanding the lingo

LIP or Language Interface Pack It is the localized ‘skin’ for existing software. Based on Multi-Lingual User Interface (MUI) technology, a LIP also requires the software to have a base installed language and provides users with an approximately 80 percent localized user experience by translating a reduced set of user interface elements.

Locale

It is a set of parameters that defines the user’s language, country and any special variant preferences that the user wants to see in their user interface.

CLIP or Caption Language Interface Pack

Provides captions in local language to English terms on the skin, uses tooltip captions to display results

The undeniable fact is that India is a vast country – and plurality is its hallmark. Given this backdrop, localisation should probably have been the salient feature of Information Technology (IT) in the country. But in a country with a population of over one billion, access to IT is available to only about a 100 million people. Most of these are urban population, with a fair to excellent knowledge of English. So is the modest IT penetration a cause for the lack in localisation – some argue that there has been no ‘market need’ for it – or is the lack of localisation the reason computing has not been taken up by the rural masses? It’s a classic case of what-should-come-first, but each influences the other. There are multiple reasons for the relatively low penetration of IT within India such as factors of affordability, accessibility and relevance. Localisation issues are a huge factor where accessibility is concerned. So, if localisation is taken as a crusade, IT penetration will definitely increase. As that happens, more and more companies and individuals will see merit in investing in the initiative.

So where do we begin?

Key Microsoft India localisation Initiatives

  • Language Interface Packs (LIPs) in 12 languages:
  •  Assamese
  •  Bengali
  •  Gujarati
  •  Hindi
  • Kannada
  •  Konkani
  •  Malayalam
  •  Marathi
  •  Oriya
  •  Punjabi
  •  Tamil
  •  Telugu
  •  BhashaIndia – India’s leading Indic computing community portal, has more than 40,000 registered users. It is a one stop center for all resources related to Indian language computing.
  •  CLIP (Caption Language Interface Pack) is available for Visual Studio in
  •  Tamil
  •  Malayalam
  •  Oriya
  •  Hindi
  •  MS Office website http://office.microsoft.com/hi-in/default.aspx is available in Hindi to provide a localised user interface for the four most popular applications of Office – MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
  •  Part of the support website http://support.microsoft.com/ in Hindi if you set your location as India

As a global industry leader, we believe Microsoft has a responsibility and the resources to make some difference. Microsoft, under its global Unlimited Potential (UP) effort, aims to deliver computing to the next 5 billion people through accessible, relevant and affordable solutions – the three issues we identified as being bottlenecks above. In India, Unlimited Potential is a key guiding factor for our growth with regard to the middle and bottom of the pyramid populace.

Language Interface Packs (LIPs) are also available for Office 2003 and Windows XP SP2. Microsoft have been working on LIPs for 7 years and today there are LIPs for 12 Indian Languages – Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam, Punjabi, Konkani, Oriya and Assamese. There is also a Sanskrit locale – san-in.  As Unicode encodes more Indian languages, we are reviewing the need for support. Also, we now provide the visual studio CLIP (Caption Language Interface Pack) in four languages:  Hindi, Malayalam, Oriya and Tamil. The Microsoft CLIP is a simple language translation solution that uses tool tip captions to display results – you can use it as a language aid, to see translations in your own dialect, update results in your own native tongue or use it as a learning tool. Besides, by enabling the Indian locales in Windows, Microsoft enables third party developers to offer a complete localised application on the Windows platform, thus enhancing the local languages ecosystem.

Developing the ecosystem is the most imperative thing to do in this initiative. Localisation is too big an area for any of the concerned players to tackle in isolation, and obviously the results will be better and quicker if we all contribute to the same clear goals. Microsoft India’s Project Bhasha attempts to do exactly this – it is a cohesive programme for bringing together government, academia and research institutions, local Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and developers and the industry associations on a common ground for promoting local language interface packs.

Nowhere, can the benefit of localisation and public-private partnerships be seen more clearly than in e-Governance initiatives. e-Governance, by nature, is citizen-centric rather than officer-centric. Therefore, it is necessary to be interactive, rather than just presenting information. For e-Governance to be truly effective and sustainable, it will have to go to the very doorsteps of the people – and this cannot happen without localisation.

In other countries, it is the government that is responsible for and provides documentation for every stage of a citizen’s life, right from birth to demise. As the services provided by the government move increasingly online, the need for making them available in local languages is crucial. At times, both the parties benefiting from the service – the citizen – as well as the service provider – for instance, a kiosk operator – is monolingual, so the very success of the application depends on the language it is presented in.

The central government and the state governments have embarked on an ambitious National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) and several Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) have been identified under the NeGP. Some state governments have deployed citizen services in local languages and the early benefits are clearly visible. Earlier government-to-citizen portals such as e-Seva have proved the feasibility of the model. Frost and Sullivan expects this trend to extend on both scale and scope: a wider bouquet of services will be available to a larger section of citizens.

An ideal front-end of all government websites and service delivery mechanisms would be simultaneously available in twenty-three languages – the twenty-two languages recognised by the Constitution of India, plus English. Localisation has to be the building block of the NeGP architecture.

As the penetration of personal computers and other electronic devices increases and connectivity becomes widespread, there will be an increasing demand for local content. A little more than a decade ago, not many of us could see the financial viability of regional channels on cable TV. Today, these channels cater successfully to a whole lot of local and special interests, while at the same time informing the viewers with news from the rest of the world. Once the barrier of language has been dealt with, every region in the world will come closer to its linguistically distant geographies. Hence, more local the information delivery, the more globalised the recipient becomes.

ICT Making Great Penetration in Kerala

Availing services at the click of the mouse is no longer a service reserved for citizens of metropolitans instead, people from the villages of Kerala are also doing just that. A new initiative by the state government has seen the contact details of all types of day to day information made available on the community portals of villages in Kannur district. These portals not only give informations regarding job opportunities but also give such informations like the availability of coconut tree climbers to pluck coconuts. They have become operational in nine village panchayats and one municipal area in Kannur since last month. A pilot project by Akshaya, the ICT initiative by the government, these portals can be accessed by the links (www.entegramam.gov.in) which is provided on the website. The contents of all these portals are in Malyalam. These community portals provide locally relevant informations on such fields like agriculture, health, education, tourism, employment, and government announcements from time to time. Each portal also has specific information relevant to that area. For example the portal of Sreekandapuram village panchayat has a list of blood donors with phone numbers and their blood group. Each portal has a section called the labour bank which contains the list of phone numbers and addresses of people in different trades. Education section has the list of schools, collages, teacher’s training programmes as also the poems and articles written by school children.

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