Localization in India: a brief primer

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India is renowned for its rich culture, heritage, and unity. This unity is achieved despite an incredibly diverse population. The seventh-largest country in the world is comprised of 29 states, 7 union territories, and over 1.2 billion people with many different languages and dialects.

When it comes to localization services in India, knowledge of the different languages spoken throughout India is essential. In this article I explain the basic languages of India and strategies that can be used when localizing content in these languages.

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Each state in India has its own culture, official language, and dialect. These ethnic and linguistic groups result in more than 122 languages that are used in India.

The origins for all Indian languages can be traced to two civilizations that occupied the country for centuries – the Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian. The following table lists the most prominent and widely spoken Indian languages.

Official languages of India

When two Indians meet for the first time, they usually communicate in English. This is because most schools and universities in the major cities use British English in the curriculum. So what is the official language of India?

After gaining independence from the British in 1947, Hindi written in Devanagari script was selected as the official language. It was selected because it contained similarities to all of the major languages. However, in practice Hindi is not commonly spoken in southern India. Therefore, English and Hindi are used for official purposes such as parliamentary proceedings and for legal documents created in central and state government offices.

The Indian constitution gives every state the right and power to designate its own official language. Based on the Eighth Schedule in the constitution, there are 22 officially recognized languages. These languages are listed in the following table.

If a resident does not understand the regional language, each state provides content with an English translation. The Indian Government has also declared Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Oriya/ Odia as Classical Languages. For a language to be designated “classical”, it must have a 1,500–2,000 year history, valuable heritage with generations of speakers, and appear in ancient literature or texts.

Localization – scope and challenges

How is content localized in a country that has 22 official languages?. Most central and local government websites are in English and Hindi. This policy enables access to information to the urban population and generally restricts access to the rural population. To overcome this, the government has started a range of localization initiatives and information and communication technologies to extend the reach to all sections of society.

One such initiative, www.localization.gov.in, has been developed by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY). The website provides tools and guidelines for developing online content in six Indian languages. Initiatives like these are essential to support increased demand for localization across an ever-expanding IT industry, foreign investment sector, and business process outsourcing services.

A challenge to providing a complete localization service is that most Indian organizations use non-standard fonts for Indian scripts instead of the Unicode fonts used in western content. This causes interoperability and collaboration issues. Additionally, non-standard fonts make it difficult to develop software tools for Indian languages.

Cultural factors also present challenges when it comes to localization. For example, the use of color, gestures, symbols, analogies, all have to be carefully planned for the audience. Despite these obstacles, the rapid adoption of Internet and smartphone technologies makes localization inevitable. Demand for local language content is increasing.

There is growing awareness of this demand. Google Translate currently supports the following Indian languages: Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Nepali, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu and recognizes handwriting in Gujarati, Kannada, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, and Marathi. Other mainstream websites have been localized for Hindi including Facebook and YouTube.

Hollywood movies are also being dubbed into Indian languages. Recently, ‘Spiderman 3’ was dubbed in Bhojpuri, which is not an official Indian language. This demonstrates that demand is increasing for a growing Indian audience, an audience that wants access to the same content that everybody else does.


Based on India’s population and language demographics alone, the scope for localization is immense. Add to that the existing large number of government and private initiatives that require localized services, India is poised to become a major supplier and consumer of localized content in the near future.

The current state of the localization industry in India presents challenges and opportunities. The level of localization tools and technologies used in the market lag behind international standards.

Localization service providers (LSP) must first choose a target Indian language. One approach is to target a language based on population by considering one of the top three languages by volume: Hindi, Bengali, or Marathi. But, this can quickly become an expensive and time consuming effort with little return. It is our experience that language selection should focus on your market and your most valuable customers. Investing in market research and user analysis are pre-localization activities that support expansion and remove risk.

HansemEUG is a leading provider of localization services based in South Korea. We are an experienced LSP and provide localization services for more than 40 languages. Our team is international and we too have identified the opportunities that India presents. Contact us for more information about our localization services to support your Indian language content. We provide content support for Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Nepali, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

About Hansem Global

Hansem Global is an ISO Certified and globally recognized language service provider. Since 1990, Hansem Global has been a leading language service company in Asia and helping the world’s top companies to excel in the global marketplace. Thanks to the local production centers in Asia along with a solid global language network, Hansem Global offers a full list of major languages in the world. Contact us for your language needs!