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Mumbai: Snapdeal.com is introducing versions of its popular e-commerce website and app in 11 Indian languages as it seeks to tap the vast majority of local consumers who can’t speak or read English.

The website will be available in Hindi and Telugu starting on Tuesday, and nine other local language versions will be active by 26 January, chief operating officer Rohit Bansal said in an interview. The effort involved about 45 engineers working for six months to ensure that each language’s nuance and grammar was properly handled, he said.

Internet giants and venture capital investors have plowed in more than $10 billion into India’s Internet companies and startups, drawn by the promise of a nation where the number of Internet users is second only to China. Yet an enormous slice of India’s population can’t make sense of most of the online content, because nearly all of it is in English — a language that’s familiar to many middle-class city dwellers but a mystery to a vast portion of the population.

“A large chunk of the growth in Internet users going forward, is going to come from people who do not understand and speak English," Bansal said in a phone interview. “For the Internet and Internet commerce to be really a part of people’s daily lives, it will need to go beyond just one language."

Trial websites

An estimated 80% of India’s 1.25 billion people don’t speak English, and the country has 20 other official languages. Snapdeal is expanding its offerings into some of those local languages as the platform seeks to attract users from all parts of the country and offering everything from $5 t- shirts to $500 Apple Inc. iPhones.

Snapdeal last year introduced trial Hindi and Tamil versions of its sites, and those projects functioned as test cases for a more comprehensive roll-out, which will involve enabling translations for all aspects of the portal including descriptions for 20 million products, Bansal said. Its rivals Flipkart.com and Amazon.com Inc. still largely operate English- only sites, though smaller upstarts such as iPay Tech India Pvt. and StoreKing have been focusing on local language platforms as they primarily target users in small towns.

Global Internet companies such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have begun working to enhance their offerings for non English-speaking Indians getting on the Internet for the first time. Google, whose chief executive officer Sundar Pichai is in India this week to outline the search giant’s plans for India, earlier this year announced partnerships with 18 Indian companies to develop content in local languages. Bloomberg

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