“Thindi aitha.”

Can this be the start of a pitch to sell your product to a client? Or when you are looking to raise money from investors? Apparently, it can be. And it was. This was how Reverie Language Technologies began its presentations in 2015.

For non-Kannada speakers, this translates as: “Have you eaten?” But for the language tech company, it wasn’t just a greeting.

“This is how we would start our introduction. In some other language. And just when everybody seemed taken aback, we’d tell them, ‘This is how the non-English speaking online users feel when they come across your application or service. They do not understand a thing’,” says Sameer Shisodia, an advisor to the seven-year-old Reverie.

About two years ago, businesses would acknowledge this fact. They’d even express the need to reach out to users in regional languages but would seldom go for it. Not much has changed. Except that going vernacular has become inevitable for growth. The English-speaking online users have been exploited to the hilt.

The technology to roll out services in Indian languages exists. “You do not need to be Google, Facebook or Microsoft to do that—there are many Indian companies that are happy to do that for you,” says Shisodia.

But internet businesses are not ready for it yet. They like tapping the English-speaking consumers, and then do everything they can to retain them. It’s that comfort zone they find too hard to step out of.

The loss is theirs. In India, according to industry estimates, only 4-5% of the 1.2 billion people are comfortable speaking in English. This is where the first 60-70 million internet users-cum-online-buyers have come from. Just a small portion of the approximate 430 million people in the country who are on the internet presently. By 2020, this number is set to become 730 million. And of those 300 million new users, 75% would be local language speakers.

The localisation opportunity in numbers

In India, only 4-5% of the 1.2 billion people are comfortable speaking in English. This is where the first 60-70 million internet users-cum-online-buyers have come from. Just a small portion of the approximate 430 million people in the country who are on the internet presently. By 2020, this number is set to become 730 million. And of those 300 million new users, 75% would be local language speakers

Yet online firms have made half-hearted attempts to woo them. But if demonetisation gave them a push, Reliance Jio’s entry, with its famous data deluge, has given the localisation drive a shove. Today, Reverie doesn’t need to start its sales pitches with vernacular phrases.

AUTHOR

Moulishree Srivastava

Moulishree has over five years of experience in journalism. In her previous assignment, she was a Principal Correspondent for Business Standard where she wrote on technology and telecom. Prior to Business Standard, she was at Mint, where she wrote on various subjects — tourism, hospitality, real estate, science, cyber security and technology. Moulishree graduated as an engineer in Information Technology from Chandigarh Engineering College. She worked as a software engineer briefly but then took a detour and got her journalism degree from IIJNM, Bangalore. She will be based in Bangalore and you can reach her at her first-name@the-ken.com.

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