Breaking the language barrier with AI

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Image Courtesy ItsFoss.com

In a historic Man vs Wild adventure Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bear Grylls had their journey in one of the harsh environments of Jim Corbett. Bear Grylls, a British citizen did not understand Hindi. While the Prime Minister did not use a single word in English. It was the technology that broke the language barrier between Prime Minister and adventurer Bear Grylls in the Man vs Wild program.

With 23 officially languages and more then thousand local languages India is one of the most linguistically diverse nation. But with majority of the internet content in English Indians do face an issue with the language barrier. A survey by KPMG shows that, more than 50% of Indians prefer their local language over English to read or write. More than 60% Indian language internet users stated limited language support and content to be the largest barrier for adoption of online services. Around 68% Internet users consider local language digital content to be more reliable than English.

  • 50% of Indians prefer their local language over English to read/write
  • 60% Indian language internet users stated limited language support and content to be the largest barrier for adoption of online services.
  • Around 68% Internet users consider local language digital content to be more reliable than English.

Existing solutions

Automatic translation with AI is one of the hot research that is happening right now. Indian companies like Reverie (acquired by Reliance) has the translation support for 9 languages. Google Translate provides also provides translation support for 9 Indian languages.

It has to be noted that there are multiple open-source NLP (natural language processing) solutions for several European languages while they do not have the support for Indian languages. StanfordNLP, OpenNLP, NLTK, Spacy.io are some of the open-source resources. While most of them have language supports for English, German, Portuguese, Spanish etc. but not for any Indian language (including Hindi). Though these solutions do not provide out-of-the-box translation they form the building blocks for the translation process. Hence adoption of these natural language solutions for Indian start-ups becomes much more challenging.

What efficient language translation can do to the system

  • Increase in the online transactions: Research by KPMG and Bain & Company says that the content and e-commerce adoption can significantly increase with the use of local language. 68% of the users consider that the digital content in local language to be more reliable than in English.
  • Reduction in the urban-rural internet penetration skew : The research also shows that more then 90% of product transactions happen from the Urban areas with more than 50% from the Top 9 Metro cities. Increase in local language content can reduce the urban-rural skew in the e-commerce adoption.
  • Reducing the gender skew in internet penetration : Research shows that internet penetration is upto 33% amongst men while its only 22% amongst the women. It also shows that women are more likely to engage with the content that is local language than men do. A local language self-publishing app Prathilipi claimed that 72% of its total users are women.

Resources :

  1. Indian languages define Indian Intenet : by KPMG
  2. Unlocking the Digital Bharat : By Omidyar Network, Google and Bain & comp