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Language fact: The languages of India

The languages of IndiaIn the West, India is often regarded as a huge, populous country with one official language – English. Companies exporting to India frequently assume that using English is sufficient, but the complex reality of the situation is that only a small percentage of India’s population speaks English at a reasonably high level.

India is made up of 35 states with a total of 22 official "8th Schedule" languages, each of which is used in one or more states. These languages can be further subdivided into around 400 dialects. One state can have several official languages, such as Hindi and Bengali.

On a nationwide level, Hindi is the official language of India. English also has the status of an official language in India, but this status is re-evaluated regularly. Roughly 30% of the population speaks Hindi, followed by Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu. All official documents must be written in at least three languages: English, Hindi and in the official language(s) of the respective state

British English is officially taught in Indian schools. "Inglish" is a term describing the English spoken in India. Of the over one billion inhabitants of India, only about 40 million actually use English commonly. Inglish is characterized by the influence of regional languages and by archaic words and phrases stemming from colonial times.

From a technical standpoint, differing writing systems are problematic due to the lack of a unified platform supporting the various written forms. Several languages share one common writing system, while others such as Bengali, Tamil or Malayalam each have their own forms. Urdu, Kashmiri and Sindhi use Arabic, while the latter two can also be written in Devanagari.

Information geared toward the Indian market has to be localized differently depending on the language. Content that can be localized include forms of address, numerals, date formats, calendars, etc. For example, numerals are not always clustered together in groups of three, but in other ways as well, such as 1,23,456. Measurements and weights must sometimes be converted too.

Cultural aspects should not be underestimated. They are highly important due to India’s long history and religious past and should be taken into consideration for information or advertising to come across correctly.

As a rapidly growing market for Western companies, India holds huge potential but also presents huge challenges. Solving the language puzzle is one way to ensure entry to, and competitive in, this appealing market.

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