Aweza | A Multi-Lingual South African Translation App


“One Nation, One Conversation” is the tagline of Aweza, a language app that is trying to get South Africans talking to each other. With 11 official languages in South Africa, it is difficult to have a conversation with all South Africans you meet while travelling across our amazing country. The team at Aweza is here to ensure that this is not the case going forward with their multi-lingual language app tailored specifically for South Africans that translates phrases in all 11 languages. A first in the world of translation apps. We chatted to founder, Glenn Stein, and creative director, Jeanne Fourie, to find out more.

Can you please tell us about Aweza?

Glenn: Aweza is an initiative to leverage mobile and internet technology to break down language barriers in South Africa, which currently takes the form of a phrase translation app for smartphones. The new South Africa is still young and we strongly believe that breaking down such barriers is a significantly important step in our growth as a nation.

What inspired the creation of the app?

Glenn: As a South African who has travelled through rural areas across our beautiful country, I have had many first hand experiences with the language barriers that are consequential of a nation with 11 official languages. I have always wondered about the socioeconomic impact that such language barriers could have in South Africa, especially in sectors such as healthcare where effective communication can mean the difference between life and death.  On the other hand, I have been lucky enough to experience a cultural breakthrough as a result of learning a new language. Having a background in mobile application development and an incredibly creative collective of friends and business partners, I started to conceptualize a way to leverage the fast growing influence of mobile technology to build a tool that could function as a step in the right direction towards bridging the South African language divide, and thus Aweza was born!

How does the app work?

Glenn: The user downloads the app off the Google Play store (and very soon the Apple iStore), creates an account and signs in. They select the language they would like to translate from and the language to which they would like to translate, and then are shown the app dashboard menu. From the dashboard menu the user is able to select to view phrases or pictures, both of which are broken down into practical categories. After having chosen the category the user can view either the phrase list or image grid (depending on which option they chose on the dashboard screen). At any point in the app, users can swap or change the language they are translating from and to. One of my favourite features is that users are able to record and submit pronunciations of the phrase or word to the app, and have other users validate the submission with a thumbs up or thumbs down. There is also a leader-board where users can see who the top audio contributors on the app are! This way we are leaving the growth of the Aweza community up to the users.

What about Aweza makes it different/unique from other language apps?

Glenn: 2 things!
1) It’s the first and only truly multi-lingual South African app. How? Well, all the instructions, headers and buttons in the app will be set in the chosen home language of the user (if that language is one of the 11 official South African languages of course!).
2) Crowd-sourced audio translation. While we provide the text of the translations, it is up to the Aweza community to provide the audio. Taking this concept a step further, we also leave it up to the community to moderate the submissions with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. These votes of approval (or disapproval) are tallied up and can be seen on the leader-board where the top Aweza users per language are showcased.

How long did developing the app take?

Glenn: Since it was self funded it took about 6 months.

What do you hope to achieve with this app?

Jeanne: We want to provide a practical and user friendly language and communication tool by leveraging mobile technology. We want to start a movement of inter-cultural and inter-personal engagement, collaboration and cooperation within an entire country. We want to facilitate the building of bridges between people where previously bridges could not have been built. We want to encourage South Africans to reach out and speak, in order to deepen their understanding of one another.

One Nation. One Conversation is the Aweza tagline, what does this mean?

Jeanne: The tagline just hit me one evening while I was working on the various Aweza brand characters. I asked myself “Who do we want to engage with through the Aweza brand?” and the answer was obvious – EVERYONE. We want every single individual in South Africa to be able to use this platform to improve their daily lives through interpersonal communication. We want a whole nation to be able to participate in the same conversation, no matter the language or cultural differences, and we want a whole country to work together to make this platform better for everyone. Once I realized that this is our primary objective, the tagline couldn’t be anything other than “One Nation, One Conversation.”

Besides Aweza being an app is there any other way you wish to expand the idea?

Glenn: There definitely is! We would like to create a more formalized learning platform which makes use of social and gamified approaches. Another goal is to expand across all of Africa!

Who makes up the Aweza team and what else have you been up to before the inception of the app?

Glenn Stein – Founder (previously an app developer and managed an app developer incubator for BlackBerry)
Jeanne Fourie – Creative Director (previously a Senior Graphic designer at Optimum Learning as well as freelance.)
Geran De Klerk – UI/UX (previously UI/UX and account executive at Omni Studios)
Daniel Hangone – Systems Architect (previously an electronic engineering student)

How many South African languages are you, yourself, fluent in?

Glenn: English, and Afrikaans (but not fluent). Subsequently to starting this initiative I have been for isiXhosa lessons!

Find out more about the Aweza website here.


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