Why Translation is Important to Africa

Last Updated On: February 7, 2018

inTranslation News, Translation Tips

legal translationsBetter access to effective document translation or legal translations across Africa could save lives and improve the welfare and well-being of millions of people in that continent according to a new study that has been done by Common Sense Advisory who has completed the study for an organization called Translators without Borders.

According to the study, better access to translation services could mean improvements in the present yawning gap in information inequality in Africa as well as have long lasting effects on the health and safety of Africa’s citizens by improving economic development and political stability.


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    The survey analyzed responses from a total of 364 translators from some 269 African languages in 49 different countries. The results of the survey are published in a report titled “The Need for Translation in Africa”.

    A spokesman for Translators without Borders said that the results of the survey confirmed what the NGO had expected from its own experience in Africa. Translation in Africa is so obviously lacking that it cannot be ignored any more. As an example of the importance of effective translation quoted from the survey, just over 63% of the surveyed respondents said that better access to translation could have prevented someone close to them – a member of their own family or a friend from needlessly dying.

    Africa is a huge continent with a population of nearly one billion. That translates into one in ten of the world’s population. There are six major language families across the continent with a total of some 2,000 languages or dialects spoken. In some individual countries in Africa there may be dozens of different languages spoken even if there is a consensus about which of these languages is to be used as a national language. Because much of Africa was colonized at some point by a European power, there is also an added complication of having a European language which may or may not be a widely used second language for a nation’s own citizens.

    Some African languages are very widely spoken – for example, Amharic (Ethiopia), Arabic and Berber (the North), Hausa and Ibo (Nigeria and West Africa), Kiswahili (East Africa) – all have several tens of millions of native speakers as well as being used as a lingua franca by many others. Over 60 languages are used by African judicial systems necessitating effective legal document translation and nearly the same number is used by African governments in public administration.

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