When Wolfestone clients think of localisation projects, their focus is usually on website translations or marketing translations from English into another language. True localisation, though, often involves converting one form of the English language into another, respecting the linguistic and cultural nuances of a target region and putting in just as much effort as if the languages were completely distinct. We’ve learned from experience that the billion people across the globe who speak English certainly don’t speak with one voice.
South Africa, the economic powerhouse of the African continent, is the member of the BRICS group of emerging economies where English is most widely spoken. 28% of South Africans speak English and 8% speak it as a first language. British exporters still find that translation and localisation services add enormous value to their business development, and Wolfestone partner Debbie Bouwer, Director of TheWordWright in Johannesburg, gives us an insight into why.
“We offer copywriting services to English speaking clients everywhere, and the variations between what’s spoken and written in South Africa, Australia, the United States and the UK are significant enough to cause major problems for clients who ignore them. Consumers respond to what they understand, and it’s reasonable for them to expect promotional material to be localised and focussed on them. Our most successful campaigns always involve partnerships with clients who understand this”.
Unlike French, which has a central linguistic authority, English has no official “standard” version. Wolfestone clients seeking to trade in South Africa should be aware that their target consumers have as much right as anyone to claim their version of English as the “norm”. Where South Africa does differ is that it’s home to eleven official languages. The most common language spoken by South Africans in their own homes is Zulu (24 percent), with English only sixth on this list. The “rainbow nation” is home to one of the most diverse cultures on the planet and recent developments have made it a land of rich potential for exporters.
Trade agreements with other BRICS nations and investment from partners such as Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company have highlighted South Africa’s appeal. Purely intra-BRICS trade is expected to reach $500 billion per annum by 2015. Closer to home, South Africa is also a key player in the ongoing work to establish a free trade area among twenty six African countries. By the mid-point of this decade, this complex nation promises to be the engine room of a major global trading bloc.
Encouragingly, the signs are that Britain has recognised this potential and is keen to step on board. Last summer Prime Minster David Cameron made his first official visit and publicly committed to doubling bilateral trade with South Africa by 2015. With a major focus on projects in the healthcare, engineering and energy sectors, opportunities exist for British specialists to export their knowledge and talent to a highly receptive market.
The South African consumer has embraced social media, and spending on mobile advertising, always a useful barometer, has skyrocketed. Vodacom and Google have predicted that it will reach 1 billion Rand this year. With a highly developed, well regulated banking system and solid infrastructure, there is a great deal to recommend this market, and in 2011 Britain pledged £76 million to a four year investment programme supporting efforts to improve health, tackle climate change and reduce violence against women.
Some issues remain culturally problematic, however, and the build-up to the 2010 football World Cup raised one in particular.
Plans to ritually sacrifice live animals to bless each of the ten stadiums used for the tournament caused widespread offence and led to a concerted protest. Debbie Bouwer, who played a leading role in this protest, is philosophical about the clash of traditional African culture with modern sensibilities:
“I’m proud of my country and of our culture, but our first duty must be to our own ethics. I find it encouraging that so much of our economic development goes hand in hand with ethical business practice. What’s good for us environmentally and socially can also be very good for us economically”.
We couldn’t agree more, and Wolfestone is delighted to be working with strong partners and talented clients in this fascinating market.
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