Swahili, Xhosa or Amharic weather forecasts

Published on 6 February 2018 by Saskia van Pelt

For a language lover, Africa is the continent to travel. Language barriers do often not coincide with country borders and the variety is huge. Ethiopia knows 80 different languages, the click consonants in the Khoisan languages in Southern Africa are world famous and Swahili is spoken in 9 different African countries.

The variety of languages is a challenge when providing weather forecasts to African small-scale farmers. Our vision at Weather Impact is that weather services should be tailored towards user needs. One of the priorities is to translate the messages to local language, so each user receives the information in his or her mother tongue. When working in Africa, this means that many translations are needed. Our African partners take the lead in this. Preferably, the translation of the agro-meteo forecast is made by a local agronomical or meteorological expert, because this person knows local dialect and habits of farmers better than an official interpreter. Together with our African partners we now deliver our weather forecast text messages to African farmers in Swahili, English, Amharic, Tigrinya and Oromiffa. While developing, we found out that the 160-character limit for text messages does not commute well with the long words that Swahili is rich of. The result of the Amaric translation looked so mind-dazzling from our European perspective that we could not do anything else than fully trust the interpreters not translating the results of the latest match for the African Cup. In the South African ‘Rain 4 Africa’ project, we are developing a smartphone application with farm advice in English, Venda, Xhosa, Sepedi, Zulu, Tswana and Sotho. It is one of the first smartphone application with farm advice that contains so many languages. We are very happy we have achieved this together with our partners and to them we say, ‘Asante Sana’ and ‘አመሰግናለሁ’.