Muqarram Khorakiwala has been associated with the software localisation sector for more than two decades. Currently based in Ireland, Muqarram has worked in a number of multinational companies in India and Europe. Having experience on the client as well as vendor side of localisation he has performed roles ranging from translator to program manager. Since 2014 Muqarram is engaged with localisation projects for Indian languages and below he shares insights on the opportunities and challenges for translators and LSPs in India.

Q: Being a veteran of the localisation industry and having held key positions across major multinational companies, how have you seen the localisation landscape change in India?

A: There has been a dramatic shift in the localisation sector in India. Twenty years ago, we had a handful of translation agencies mostly dealing with languages like French, German, Spanish and Japanese. The need for translation from these languages into English was largely driven by Indian IT companies with clients in these countries. In a way, most of the content that was translated was for internal consumption only and translators were not able to see their work in action. The demand for translation into Indian languages was practically non-existent. There were hardly any consumer IT products available in our regional languages.

Today, there is an exponential growth in consumer software, digital media and content. Increasing access to technology in India has prompted many multinational companies to offer their products and services in Indian languages. There is increased awareness for the need of localisation professionals proficient in managing requirements for our local languages. We also see the use of sophisticated localisation tools and processes being brought into India by leading international LSPs and their clients. This is very positive and encouraging for the entire Indian language industry with solid potential for innovation and growth. However, this is the beginning of a very long journey towards delivering consistent and scalable linguistic excellence so that the localised content is usable and makes sense to the general public.

Q: Many multinational companies are betting heavily on using Indian languages to penetrate deeper into Indian pockets. What can you tell us about the localisation challenges for Indian languages?

A: There are several challenges for Indian languages that we must solve swiftly in order to cope up with the enormous volume of content that needs to be localised into Indian languages. Finding the right balance of contemporary local language skills and advanced knowledge of English, coupled with the necessary skills required to work with translation tools and technology is the number one challenge that heavily impacts scalability and quality.

We are so habituated to using digital devices and content in English that even when we have equivalent terms for such technical concepts in Indian languages, they are unfamiliar to most users. Even technical translation into Indian languages requires complete restructuring of the source content in order to achieve parity with the way language is spoken by the Indian audiences. While we have accepted hundreds of words from English into the day-to-day use of our regional languages, we need to define stylistic, grammatical and transliteration rules for dealing with such terminology from English. This problem is unique to Indian languages where loan words often exceed the native terminology requiring translators to impose the local language’s rules for such borrowed words. There is a strong need for standardisation of rules for dealing with such blended language across products and platforms.

Additionally, we need to systematise typography rules and input methods for Indian languages. We have so many different and acceptable ways of writing the same words and unlike writing for the print media, translation requires consistency. Companies rely heavily on reusing content from translation memories to optimise on cost and quality. This is even more important when machine translation, machine learning and artificial intelligence systems come into picture.

We need to invest continuously in upskilling linguists to meet the exponential demand in the next few years. Style guides and content authoring guidelines that help to produce high-quality localised content that makes sense to people from urban, semi-urban as well as rural areas need to be adopted at the industry level.

Q: What technical, linguistic and other capabilities do multinationals look for in its LSP vendors?

A: LSPs need to develop a partnership and ownership mindset to help their clients succeed in India. Most multinational companies have their own proprietary translation tools and very specific style and terminology requirements. In addition to possessing good linguistic skills, LSPs need to make sure that linguists are well-trained in all aspects of translation memory tools, post editing machine translated content, using translation management systems, term bases and quality control tools. Additional care must be taken in translation of UI elements for software, websites and apps because the structure of most Indian languages is very different from English and sometimes the entire sentence needs to be rearranged if it has to make sense in the regional language. These products are used by lakhs of people every day from calling a taxi to doing online shopping or for staying connected with friends and family, so we need to ensure a seamless user experience to increase adoption in local languages.

The majority of multinational companies engage a third-party reviewer to evaluate their localised content and provide continuous feedback. Translators need to be able to work collaboratively and constructively with the reviewers. The style guide and term base play an important role in driving an objective feedback loop, so it is very important for translators to use these tools efficiently.

The majority of Indian language scripts are classified as complex, so it is very important to be able to type using traditional keyboards and not rely on phonetic keyboards. This is essential for typing conjunct characters in the correct sequence as not doing so may cause system crashes or text rendering issues.

And finally, translation and DTP are not the only services that multinationals need for Indian languages. There is tremendous scope in terms of localization services for language data modelling and linguistic requirements for enhancing AI and ML related to smart devices and digital assistants.

Q: What message would you like to give the Indian localisation fraternity?

A: This is an exciting time for the localisation community in India. Linguists play an important role in making content accessible in our regional languages. Most of the content being localised in Indian languages today is for everyday use by non-technical people. We need to keep the language simple so that we are able to appeal to all types of users.

Indian LSPs have a unique opportunity to define and set the standards for stylistic and terminology excellence for Indian languages. Alliances like the CITLoB can play a key role in partnering with academic institutions and LSPs for training linguists and reviewers to keep abreast with the latest developments in translation technology and tools.

We need to actively embrace AI and ML in translation and contribute to making them better for Indian languages. Localization professionals have an important role and a great responsibility in enabling inclusive access to information for everyone in the new Digital India.