Hello Internet, do you speak Zulu?

Internet: “Not yet, but I’m learning”.

Zulu as an online language
There is still a noticeable lack of online content in Zulu, despite the fact that over 11 million South Africans list Zulu as their first language, according to Census 2011, and the fact that Zulu-language newspapers are thriving. With the growth in Internet usage in South Africa driven by young, mobile users, 66% of whom speak an African language (The New Wave), the demand for local content in local languages is only going to increase.

Media24, South Africa’s leading media and publishing conglomerate, has already recognised this trend, with the launch of the Zulu version of their popular news portal News24. As Brendan notes, News24′s “experience with the Zulu version has been great. No advertising needed to grow loyal audiences”.

The Ulwazi Programme and Zulu-language content
I’d now like to share my experience of managing a bilingual (English/Zulu) website for the past five years and, backed up with some cold, hard Google Analytics statistics, show why I think South Africa should actively be publishing more multilingual websites.

Map of South Africa, showing visitor locations.

Map of South Africa, showing visitor locations.

The Ulwazi Programme is a local content project, run from the eThekwini Municipality. Articles are written by the core team and content is also regularly commissioned from external journalists and researchers. Submissions are also encouraged from users (both the general public and through volunteer, community journalists). This last category – user-generated content – is by far the largest generator of content and consists mainly of articles written in Zulu.

The project has been a success, with the website receiving over 190,000 visitors in 2012. Two-thirds of these visitors are from South Africa, with the majority coming from Gauteng and the eThekwini Municipality, see map to the right.

Seventy-five percent of these visitors find the Ulwazi Programme’s website through search engines, mainly using Google. The interesting thing about this is that out of the top fifty search terms, more than half of these are Zulu terms (download the Google Analytics Search Overview HERE). People (mainly South Africans) are searching for content in Zulu, and finding this content on the Ulwazi website.

Making the case for online publishing in Zulu
The future of the South Africa web will be a more diverse place than it has been for the past years. The New Wave report shows that this shift has already started to happen. People are searching online in their home languages and the winners, in terms of increased traffic, will be those websites that provide content in local languages. As Brendan noted, this also equals increased brand-loyalty from users. It seems like a win-win situation for both publishers and readers.

Originally published HERE.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply