New AI platform translates Zulu, Xhosa, Sepedi and Swahili

Business Insider SA
  • The artificial intelligence (AI) platform will enable translating speech into text into several African languages.
  • It's expected to be used in the business, education and media sectors.
  • No time frame has been given for the official launch.
  • For more stories go to

Telecoms group Telkom has launched, an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that enables users to translate spoken English into text into several African languages, as well as Portuguese, at the AI Expo Africa 2021, on Wednesday.

The platform, which is run in partnership with machine-learning firm, Enlabeler, will allow people and businesses to do time consuming tasks like transcribe academic interviews, ensure more accurate transactions of call centre conversations, and legal proceedings.

It can also be used for subtitles and captions in videos and social media content.

Its Machine Transcription starts off with English, but will also be covering Afrikaans, isiZulu, seSotho, tshiVenda and Xitsonga. For the "Human in the Loop" transcriptions, this is where there is some human oversite, it covers English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Swahili, and Portuguese.

Telkom says it also has the unique ability to interpret South African accents.

Telkom and Enlabeler came together in the past year after they both saw a growing demand in this space, realising many of the international players are not set-up to service the African market.

The new platform not only provides a solution for Telkom's business partners, it also shows that corporates and start-up businesses – Enlabeler was launched in 2019 – can work well together, says Stefan Steffen, Telkom executive for data science.

"With Enlabeler, we have built a solution that can offer a seamless transcription experience with highly localised and reliable outputs, which help us deliver as a strategic partner for our clients. Working with an agile start-up like Enlabeler has helped us accelerate our long-term plans to unlock this market segment," says Steffen.

Those wanting to use, however, will have to wait. The platform is being launched in a phased approach, which first sees prospective users being asked to complete a survey so it can figure out how to improve its service. This will guide the features for the next phase, and so they don't have a committed timeline as yet.

A boost for business. And everyone else

With 11 official languages, many South Africans struggle to cope in official and business SA, where the main language of business is English. The hope now is that will not only open doors for them but also for the businesses they transact with.

"This technology can be a game changer in business, as well as education, government and healthcare delivery. For businesses in a work-from-home environment - retail, customer service and internal communication are increasingly digital," says Dr Mmaki Jantjies, Telkom head of Innovation. 

Besides assisting businesses, the new platform could also help to close the inequality gaps in SA's education system.

" could transform the lives of learners from disadvantaged communities by making education in science, technology, English and maths (STEM) fields easier to grasp – for both students, and teachers" says Sarah Mthintso, CEO of the Telkom Foundation.

(Compiled by Larry Claasen)

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