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Localization in Vain

Localizing software for Indian languages is an interesting task, but has little practical value other than preserving the agendas of assorted state governments. Software developers (especially open source ones) looking to reach ‘untouched’ users would be better off spending volunteer time adding better internationalization support to applications, better fonts, IMEs and input technologies. (This is a bit of a long post, so hang on.)

It started with an interesting thread at india-gii on localizing Linux for India, especially the quality of translation. This screenshot is symptomatic — it relies far too much on English technical jargon and is therefore totally out of touch with the language actually spoken by those who most need localized software.

It’s easy to dismiss this problem as poor translation by volunteers (indeed, Microsoft’s translations have been consistently better), but there is a deeper point hiding here.

The point is an interesting, hard, problem — especially for India. India’s approach to education is peculiarly skewed: the majority of children, especially lower income groups, attend state-run schools that teach in the local language. A minority (usually better-off) go to private schools that teach English (a proliferation of private English schools has ensured that more children today go to private English schools compared to, say, a generation ago). After school, however, the tables are turned. The majority of state-run colleges and nearly all private college