Ghana Languages: Developing our Translation Services

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I am currently in Ghana developing our translation services for local languages spoken in Ghana. You may have read my colleague Caroline’s blog yesterday about her first day over in Accra? We are here developing Kwintessential’s skills and know-how and we plan to blog each day to give insight into our trip.

So, why Ghana?

Essentially we have been driven here through client demand. You may or may not have noticed that the world has woken up to Africa’s potential; not least the Africans. As a result more of our clients are doing business in Ghana and West Africa. In order to meet our client’s growing needs we have to push ourselves and start investing in Africa in order to help our clients.

Ghana is known as “the gateway to Africa” in that its stability and familiarity with Europe makes it an ‘easy’ place to do business. How easy that easy really is, well let’s save that for another blog. Ghana is one of many countries on our list where we need to develop our translation services, our interpreters, localisation services and of course our cultural awareness training. At the same time we are also monitoring developments in the social media and creative spaces which we see as having big potential in the very near future. For example, the proliferation of mobile phones in Africa is very high. Someone told me that more than 50% of Africans don’t have a bank account but guaranteed they have a mobile phone. Social media, SMS marketing and other mobile related industries such as m-payments are blooming but will soon be booming.

Street Sellers in Accra selling SMS cards and mobile phones
[SIM cards and top ups available at every traffic light in Accra]

Within this blog I wanted to briefly write about the languages of Ghana. What has so impressed me about this country is that pretty much every single person you meet is multilingual. I don’t think I have even visited such a multilingual country in my life. Within the cities of Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi, English is very common and spoken to a high degree. You see all advertisements, signs, newspapers and media in English. A leftover of British colonial days, many people we have been speaking to cite it as one of the reasons for Ghana’s stability; i.e. a common language that all tribes shared. On top of English, all Ghanaians speak one or two of the 50 or so native tribal languages. Some of the most common ones are Twi (pronouched chwee), Fante, Ewe, Ga, Hausa and Nzema. If you want to know more about the specific languages then visit GhanaWeb. Another interesting local language phenomenon is the mixing of English with local languages within the media. When listening to the radio here in Accra, you will be listening to someone waxing lyrical about politics in Twi but suddenly break out in a sentence of English before reverting back to Twi.

The variety of languages is simply incredible. I spoke with three men from the north of Ghana all of which came from the same area yet spoke a different language. I even checked to see if the languages sounded similar but no, they have different vocabularies (as well as some shared words). Even our host in Accra grew up speaking one language in school, one to his father and one to his mother as well as learning English. Amazing.

Although there is a huge variety of languages, marketers, advertisers, exporters and those wanting to do business in Ghana will be relieved to hear that English is the language of communication. You won’t need an interpreter and you won’t need to translate documents as English is the official language. So why are we in Ghana developing local translation capabilities you ask? Good question and the answer is two-pronged.

Firstly, although English is the shared language, if you really want to communicate to the heart of the people, in their culture, in their humour, then you need to use a bit of Twi or one of the other key languages. I have noticed that those companies that project a modern, hip and cool image use Twi for things like slogans or tag lines. You will see an advert mainly in English, but then a slogan or message in Twi that appeals to a younger generation or may simply be some local bit of humour that sends the message home. The picture below is one I managed to grab in a taxi today.

Twi advert in accra ghana
[Common advert format with English but supported with a line in Twi]

Secondly, we do a lot of work from the local languages into English. We are not new to languages like Ewe and Twi – we have been providing translation services to NGOs, media companies and commercial enterprises for years in these languages as well as other common African languages like Yoruba and Swahili. We now believe the demand will grow so we are investing in developing our skills in these languages through training people on the ground in order to develop skills (i.e. creating translation memory, subtitling, etc). Through increasing our scope, our capacity and our skill base, we aim to become to go-to company for all languages African.

Going back to my point about doing business in Ghana, the common language, i.e. English, makes Ghana a very attractive export destination in West Africa. The desire for goods, products, services, education, food, experiences, etc is growing and growing as wealth increases, infrastructure develops and the people aspire. We hope to write a blog this week about business opportunities in Ghana, so I will save this insider information for later.

So next time you are looking for translation services that specialises in African languages – think Kwintessential. Twi, Ewe, Ga – you name it, we can translate it!

If you’re interested in our work over in Ghana and West Africa, then follow our blog this week as there will be plenty more information going up.

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