If you’re looking to try your hand at learning isiZulu or Northern Sotho, Google Translate is probably not the best place to go (we have proof that it’s hardly very accurate). Luckily, a new project by the Oxford University Press wants be the new go-to place to learn the two local languages along with 98 others from around the globe.

The publishing company launched the Oxford Global Languages project last month to crowdsource new dictionaries for 100 languages, and it’s starting with isiZulu and Northern Sotho (or SePedi, as it’s commonly known) into online websites where people can go to add meanings for words and terms or look them up.

The languages featured are those that are spoken by a large population in certain countries but are significantly under-represented in the digital space.

“We recognise that the internet is dominated by English and other major global languages. We are at a critical time of how the internet is influencing language and its impact on its diversity. By acting now, Oxford Global Languages will ensure that these digitally under-represented languages gain a vital digital foothold,” Judy Pearsall, director of Oxford Dictionaries said in a statement.

If you pop over to either the isiZulu or Northern Sotho Oxford Dictionaries, you can help out with the crowdsourcing by adding any word that’s hasn’t been included yet or provide translations for English words that don’t have an official vernacular version.

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All submissions are monitored by a language manager to ensure accuracy before they’re officially published on the sites. You can also use them as ordinary translation sources.

Academics in South Africa have welcomed the project.

“This is a momentous occasion in African languages especially in isiZulu and Northern Sotho.  The creation of the living dictionaries is going to allow the community of speakers to grow and develop these languages. The platform is going to improve visibility and reach of these languages as they are going to be existing in the digital world and accessible globally,” Dr Victor Mojela, executive director at the Sesotho sa Leboa Dictionary Unit at the University of Limpopo, told htxt.africa.

The Oxford Global Languages project said it will also build a new language database which will enable multiple links between languages and other online content.

“Functions such as predictive text and effective searches are only possible when a language is digitally recorded and accessible for a range of technologies. Through our wider partnerships with technology companies, the Oxford Global Languages project will enable this too,” Parsall added.

[Image – YouTube]