We’ve argued for a long time that relying on an English-only website to reach foreign audiences was a thing of the past since the biggest growth in internet usage was coming from countries where English was not the native language and non-English content was also growing fast. Now there is growing research to support the view that non-English web content has substantially surpassed English.
Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, discusses the research in a recent \article on Quartz, in which he questions the “conventional wisdom” that “English is becoming “the world’s second language,” pointing to studies that conclude that this has not happened on the web. Research from as late as 2003 found that English accounted for over 70% of online content and, Zuckerman says, this “led researchers to suggest that English had a ‘head start’ that other languages would find difficult to overcome.” But it appears that other languages have done it. Although it is very hard to develop ways to measure the distribution of languages on the web, one researcher in the Dominican Republic used web searches of the same concepts in different languages to estimate the distribution. Between 1996 and 2005, his estimate of the percentage in English fell from over 80% to about 45%, and these percentages probably understate the usage of other languages on social media which is hard for search engines to index.
Zuckerman attributes much of this to the fact that researchers didn’t realize the extent to which web users “would be creating content as much as using it.” As the number of web users whose native language was not English grew, it was natural that they started talking to each other in their own languages. It also was natural that those users looked for content in their languages and that companies aspiring to reach those audiences through the web gradually began to translate their own web content. Google, Zuckerman notes, now offers searches in 67 languages and favors search results that are in the language used by the searcher.
We see this same dynamic at MTM LinguaSoft, where the demand for translation of websites, online portals and mobile apps—often in several languages—has risen dramatically as more companies find that it does pay to go multilingual.
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