Google’s translation tool is constantly adding new languages, but its latest update is notable because it includes Burmese, the official language of Myanmar, as well as Malayalam, one of India’s six classical languages with 38 million speakers.
The latter is especially significant because it ties into Google’s efforts to get more Indian users onto its services.
Earlier this month, for example, Google launched the Indian Language Internet Alliance, which seeks to increase offerings for Hindi speakers, as well as Hindi voice search. At that time, Google India MD Rajan Anandan said at a press conference that “to reach our goal of 500 million Internet users by 2017 [in India] we need to make the Internet accessible to those who don’t speak English.” The Internet giant plans to add other Indian languages to its services, and the addition of Malayalam to Google Translate is a small but noteworthy step toward that goal.
India’s official languages are Hindi and English, and the government also recognizes about 20 other languages. According to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, however, people in India currently speak 780 different languages, with 122 spoken by more than 10,000 people.
According to Google, India currently has about 200 million Internet users, with five million new users added every month, which means that India will have more Internet users than the U.S. within the next year. But only 198 million Indian people are estimated to be proficient in English, so it’s important for Google to increase its roster of offerings in different Indian languages if it wants to tap into that market.
Meanwhile, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has stressed the importance of free speech in Myanmar. Last year in a speech, he called for the Myanmar government to stay away from regulating the Internet, saying “The answer to bad speech is more speech. More communication. More voices. If you are a political leader you get a much better idea of what your citizens are thinking about.”
Schmidt also added that Google’s first priority in Myanmar is to improve access to information with its search engine and tools such as Google Translate and Maps.
According to Google, its latest additions brings Google Translate’s total number of supported languages to 90, and mean that 200 million more people will be able to use it to translate texts to and from their native languages. In its blog post, the company reiterated that the accuracy of Google Translate depends on members of its Translate Community, who supplement the tool’s algorithms by correcting translations and translating phrases.