Andrew Warner is a MultiLingual staff writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.
Bolingo, the Accra-based communication and media consulting firm behind Localization Africa, is releasing localization guides with insights on how to localize content for African markets. In the July/August issue of MultiLingual, Marjolein Groot Nibbelink provided a brief overview of the first three Bolingo African Country Guides on Benin, Burkina Faso and Ghana. In this issue, we’ll break down some of the main details of the most recent releases on Cameroon and Egypt.
Basic structure of each guide
Unlike the first three guides in the series, the Cameroon and Egypt guides follow a fairly different structure. The Cameroon guide’s structure, which is similar to the first three guides in the series, is as follows:
- Buying & Selling
3. Adapting content
- Colors, symbols, etc.
- Customer service
5. Other cultural considerations
6. Some common Cameroonian expressions
Given the fact that Egypt is one of the largest video game markets in both Africa and the Arab world, the Egypt localization guide also includes a specialized section entirely dedicated to localizing video games to more smoothly fit into the country’s culture. The Egypt guide is structured as follows:
3. Cultural sensitivity
4. Memes and sarcasm
5. The power of word of mouth in Egypt
6. Video games
- Deciding on the appropriate Arabic language variety
- Levels of video game localization
- Cultural and religious sensitivities
Both guides close with a list of useful phrases and expressions commonly used in each country. The Cameroon guide includes phrases in French, Camfranglais, and Pidgin English, while the Egypt guide includes phrases in Modern Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, and trendy slang used by young Egyptians on social media.
The guides begin with a brief overview of the history of each country, as well as their respective cultural and linguistic compositions — Cameroon and Egypt, which lie at opposite ends of the African continent, are of course quite different in this regard.
The Cameroon guide opens up with a particularly striking detail about the linguistic make-up of the country: “Broadly speaking, the Republic of Cameroon is considered as a bilingual country. But, in reality, there are more than 250 local languages spoken among different ethnic groups,” the guide reads.
Throughout Cameroon, you’ll find that French and English are spoken widely, alongside two additional languages emblematic of the cultural mixing throughout the country: Pidgin English, which serves as a sort of lingua franca throughout the country, and Camfranglais, a blend of French, English, and Pidgin English that’s widely used as a sort of trendy dialect among younger generations. The guide stresses the significance of all four languages, and notes that it’s critical for professionals who are localizing products for the Cameroonian market to be knowledgeable about each one.
The guide notes that Cameroonians take pride in their wide variety of local languages, which include Fulani, Ewondo, and Do’oko (among many, many others). Localization professionals should take these languages into consideration when developing a product for the Cameroonian market as well.
On the other hand, Egypt has a much smaller range of languages spoken in the country. The guide notes that those localizing a product for an Egyptian market will really only need to take two dialects into consideration: Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Egyptian Arabic. While MSA is used in written contexts such as newspapers and other, more academic settings, Egyptian Arabic serves as the vernacular language throughout the country. This dialect features a different set of phonemes, words, and even different morphosyntactic structures, which are crucial to be aware of if you want to successfully localize a product for Egyptian markets
“I do not think that people like the idea of speaking in MSA, as they find the pronunciation of some sounds hard, so they resort to Egyptian Arabic as it is easier and spoken every day by everyone,” a schoolteacher in Cairo told the writer of the Egypt guide.
Adapting Content and Services
Both guides provide an in-depth exploration about how to best adapt one’s message, content, and products or services for the local market. In both countries, humor is a particularly useful tool to win over consumers — the Cameroon guide, for instance, notes that brands who work with actors and comedians to get their message across may be particularly successful.
“Your advertisements should be attractive and funny. That’s why some brands hire comedians and actors for their adverts or use funny lines [that are] easy to remember. Like most Africans, Cameroonians like humour,[SIC]” the guide reads. The Egypt guide notes that sarcasm is popular in the country — Egypt has a reputation for having a strong sense of humor within the Arab World, and sarcasm is a prominent way to get this sense of humor across.
“After the January 25 Revolution in 2011, Egyptians started to express their opinions more and more. Sarcasm was one of these ways that were used to make fun of the widespread corruption in the country at that time,” the Egypt guide reads.
Interestingly, both country guides note that song can also be a good tool for those looking to localize a product those looking to localize a product. In Cameroon, for example, many brands who target their products to a younger audience may be inclined to work with singers and producers of popular music genres in the country, such as hip-hop and Afro beats. Like many other countries throughout the world, companies in Egypt often pair a catchy slogan with an even catchier tune, the Egypt guide notes.
Reunification Monument, Cameroon
In 2006, Cameroon adopted a policy instilling a series of restrictions and regulations regarding the nature of a brand’s content. Any brand looking to do business in Cameroon must ultimately keep these regulations into consideration. Localization experts should refer to the law’s third chapter for more detail, but Bolingo’s guide sums up the rules as follows:
“The content of any advertisement must comply with the requirements of decency, morality and truthfulness.”
“Advertisements shall be free from racial, ethnic or sexual discriminations, scenes of violence and messages that encourage behaviours detrimental to health, the safety of a person or group of persons, their property or the protection of the environment.”
“Advertisements must not upset the political or religious beliefs of the consumers.”
Many of these rules may seem like common sense to anybody who’s worked in marketing or advertising. After all, these guidelines can be summed up by the advice many of us have surely heard before: “Never bring up religion or politics on a first date.” Still, these rules are especially important to be cognizant of, as breaking them could get a brand into legal trouble in Cameroon. The guide notes that brands should generally avoid topics regarding tribalism and religion, which can also lead to sanctioning from the National Advertisement Council.
Most of the cultural sensitivities discussed in the Egypt guide deal with the predominant local religion in the country: Islam. Islam has been the official religion of the country since the 1970s, and the vast majority of Egyptians practice it — thus, it’s important for companies to be respectful of Islam. The Egypt guide notes that word of mouth is a particularly powerful force in Egypt, and as such, a sensitivity issue involving religion could easily harm a company’s reputation.
One particularly remarkable aspect of the Egypt guide is that companies must be careful with their use of the color black in their advertising — traditionally, women in Egypt wear black at funerals to symbolize mourning. Thus, images of women wearing black — or even mere references to the color black — are often viewed as distasteful. A foreign-company-led “Black Friday” sales campaign was met with strong disdain, especially since Friday is a day on which many Muslims pray at their local mosque. The following year, the company tried something different: “White Friday.” This time around, the guide notes that the companies were far more successful.
These guides are a useful introduction to the culture and communication styles of both countries. Even as somebody who’s not likely to be localizing any products for either of these countries any time soon, the guides sparked my interest and made me curious to learn more about Egyptian and Cameroonian culture. This sense of curiosity is, of course, a must-have for anybody interested in working in or selling products/services to customers in both countries, and as such, I’d argue that these guides are a great launching point for anybody interested in expanding their brand’s reach.
Hometown: Cairo, Egypt
Arabic is my native language, but I also speak English, and French. I’m working to improve my Spanish and Italian. Being a language lover since my early age helped me to take a first steps in translation even before my graduation. I studied translation at the Faculty of Al-Alsun and graduated in 2019 while working as a translator during my last year there.
Fate led me to my specialization in game localization during my first year in the translation business. I wasn’t aware how big the gaming industry was until I became part of it. Game localization is a huge industry in the Arab world.
Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by other cultures and languages. I remember watching big events and all I was thinking about were the interpreters. As a teenager, I worked on my English by reading English books alongside their Arabic translations, and that was when I realized that I’d like to translate books for others.
Nicaise Djoumessi Agueguia