GALA Champion Johan Botha

In this series of interviews, GALA members share their insights on the pursuit of globalization & localization.


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This month's GALA Champion is Johan Botha, Director of Folio Online. Watch the interview, in which Johan talks about his career in localization and shares his insights on the African market.

Here are a few snippets from the interview.

Starting out in localization

My father is an Afrikaans teacher, so languages have always been in my genes, but I actually studied both Afrikaans linguistics and psychology. For quite some time I was determined to continue with psychology, and then the acceptance for Afrikaans and linguistics came before psychology. While I was studying Afrikaans, I came across this weird, strange, tiny little field called translation. So I did a masters in translation. Eventually I wanted to teach translation, but then I thought, okay, no, I'm much too shy to be a teacher or a lecturer. Let me be true to my nature and do translations and sit quietly with all my dictionaries.

Looking back, my pre-grad study in psychology actually helped me a lot because we're an LSP and we work with freelancers and clients from all walks of life. Sometimes you need to know what people are about and what their minds are about and what they feel and think and so on. 

Building a language services company

Our company was 35 years old last year. I joined the company 18 years ago. We started as a South African company only. Recently, we've added another branch that specializes in interpreting and sign language interpreting. We're also into subtitling and all the major sectors that are important these days. If you're an LSP and you focus on one thing, you're probably doomed because you have to deal with so many different sectors and you have to be involved in as many as possible. Also, when technology takes over a sector, as we are seeing now, you need to have a variety of services to fall back on.

Joining GALA

One of our growth areas in the international sector has been influenced by GALA. We are learning a lot. You see webinars, you see newsletters with things you are interested in, you see firsthand what the markets and sectors are that you might want to focus on.

Misconception about the African Market

I think the idea that Africa is one country is probably one of the first biggest misconceptions that companies that want to market here have. Even in these days of abundant knowledge, there is still so much ignorance about the size of the market. There's an interesting thing that I shared a couple of years ago about the actual size of Africa, where you can fit the European countries, the whole of the United States, the whole of China, the whole of India, most of Eastern can fit all of that into Africa. That gives you a good perspective on how big the continent is.

When companies want to take a broad view, we generally talk about the five main regions of Africa: North, South, West, East and then Central Africa. You absolutely cannot take an East African approach and think that will work in Southern Africa or Northern Africa. I think that's probably the mistake that a lot of companies make when they want to market their product or enter the African market: they don't do their research.

Professional accomplishment you're most proud of

We've been working on Microsoft and Windows products, and then suddenly you're asked to work on Windows 7 from inception to release. That experience was probably one of the toughest and hardest and most confusing and numbing and frustrating times of my career. I've worked on a lot of interesting projects since then, but the minute you walk into a store and you see your product that you've been working on... that was probably one of the highlights of my career.