Vodafone has tied up with WhatsApp to educate users on how to use local languages. The messaging app currently works in ten Indian languages. To inform regional language users of the local languages on WhatsApp, Vodafone has created customized webpages in various Indian languages (Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil among others). The pages have an animated step-by-step guide displaying how to activate the option of changing to different Indian languages while chatting.
The telco will send its subscriber SMS messages with links to these webpages, where users will be able to download fonts in their regional language to use to chat on WhatsApp, a Vodafone spokesperson said.
This arrangement is similar to Airtel OneTouch, which was at one point a service with a select few sites available for free, and had tutorial videos for subscribers on browsing different parts of the Internet.
Difficulties in indic
Rakesh Kapoor of Process 9, a firm that works on localizing apps, had said during our #NAMAindic discussion, that complete solutions for regional languages must be made mandatory:
“All smartphones in this country should be 100% localized. Everything that comes bundled in a phone should, therefore, be available in all Indian languages. Telecom content must be available in local languages. Even in e-governance, there has to be a mandate that there can’t be a government site or app in this country which is not localized in all languages. Payments: there has to be a mandate that you can’t have a payment app in this country if it is not localized in Indian languages. If we want 85% of this country which does not speak English, to be empowered, all content can’t be in English.”
Vivekanand Pani from Reverie pointed out that teaching indic needs to start in early schooling.
“The fundamental thing is to start teaching in school. My son who started school three or four years ago — as soon as he crossed pre-K, they were teaching him how to use a computer, they were teaching him MS Word and Paint. What do people do on MS Word? They type. So they taught Hindi too. But they never taught typing in Hindi. So you have assignments in Hindi, you do have writing sessions, why don’t you have a typing session? Why can’t you have a poem or question session being written in Hindi?
At least if the kid learns the fundamentals of typing, he will learn it forever. We don’t have this. We know it is very difficult and still we don’t cross these barriers.”
MediaNama’s take: One of the biggest obstacles to getting users to start using indic languages on their mobile phones is that most of them are already used to navigating their device as well as the Internet in English. Having WhatsApp available in Indian regional languages and texting users instructions to switch to those languages is a welcome step for promoting indic scripts online; but more incentives, such as standardized phonetic English to regional language typing, easy switching between languages, and unintrusive and easy tutorials need to be offered so that indic-first users get the most out of reading and typing in their languages.