“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.

If you talk to him in his own language,that goes to his heart.”

This quote sums up our affinity for our languages. Back in 1992, Nelson Mandela said this, and to date, the quote stands true. For a country like India where we have 121 languages and 270 mother tongues and a multitude of dialects, the scenario is ideal. As we celebrate International Mother Language day, let’s acknowledge the cultural and linguistic diversity in the country. Our native tongue was the first language in which we began to communicate. As we grew older English became the language of communication for metropolitan India and our mother tongue was rarely spoken outside of our homes and families. As a result, most Indians are at least bilingual, if not multilingual. Yet, the Internet has not been developed and adapted in this hybrid, versatile and multilingual fashion. The Internet, which was first introduced in the 1990s has now become a way of life. Despite this, it caters to a primarily English-speaking populace. Further to this, the pandemic has deepened our reliance on digital thus accelerating the internet uptake. Several factors like low prices of 4G data, wide availability of affordable hardware have contributed to the massive internet penetration in previously unaddressed geographies. But even in this new normal, the market still has a significant deficit of solutions and services on the vernacular front. Few efforts were made to mobilize Indian regional languages on the Internet. But the dilemma remains the same: Is the web ready to cater to the next billion users in their comfort language?

An inclusive internet beyond Entertainment

There is a significant divide between the digital adoption of rural and urban Indians. We must seek beyond existing approaches to bridge this divide and ensure that the next billion users can use the internet seamlessly. The goal is to recognize and cater to Bharat’s specific wants and requirements by build digital pathways to upgrade their standard of living.

The key to bringing the internet to rural India lies in delivering more serious use cases, in addition to providing entertainment and networking platforms in native Indian languages. The recent digital initiatives announced in Union Budget 2022 to address the concerns of Bharat natives, is a testimony for the government’s focus and vision in this direction. Government programmes such The National Education Policy, PM e-vidya plan, Swayam Prabha TV and Digital University empower citizens and the young generation specifically with the choice of learning in native language.

Revolutionizing the design of Internet

Due to the diversity of a country like India, imbibing regional languages across digital platforms remains a serious challenge that directly addresses the problem of a more inclusive and holistic web. As English has been the inherent language of the internet, one can run multiple features and algorithms to observe and analyze the user’s interests, demands and feedback to offer personalized services. However, to conduct the same in a regional language is difficult as there is limited corpus in the local languages. Therefore the need of the hour to build the web in regional language is to curate a robust and original regional language corpus. Next generation technologies like AI, ML and Data Science can then be leveraged to derive rich consumer insights. Natural Language processing can provide myriad opportunities to bind Digital India.

Besides, visual and voice-based content can also be a breakthrough move in achieving the goal of an inclusive internet. Voice is a fundamental and straightforward mode of communication that does not require literacy, which is still another barrier to using the Internet in its current state. AI Chatbots and voice-to-action SDKs (Software Development Kit) are two technologies that will make it easier for regional customers to engage.

Hyperlocal: The new buzzword

As the focus shifts to the next billion users of Bharat, hyperlocal is the new buzzword in the startup lexicon. The hyperlocal ecosystem is growing exponentially, from 10 minute delivery to social media apps. Businesses across sectors are rapidly realizing the need to go digital and at the same time are foreseeing the importance of vernacular content on digital formats. A staggering amount of companies still use English to communicate with vernacular India. Whereas comparatively only a small percentage of our population speaks English. Making digital opportunities available in local languages is a foundational change towards connecting non-English Indians to the digital era.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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