The 13 languages that can open up 90% of the online market

online market

Most of us don’t speak 13 languages; in fact, most of us struggle to speak one, but just because you’re not a linguistic superstar, it doesn’t mean your business can’t be. That’s the beauty of the internet. So many of the obstacles that once stood in the way of international expansion have been removed. Now, language is the only barrier to overcome to access potentially lucrative foreign markets, and thanks to localisation and transcreation agencies, that’s now easily done too.

The latest research by a leading translation agency has found that translating a website into just 12 languages can help online businesses reach 80% of the world’s population. Add just one more language to your website’s linguistic repertoire and you can access 90% of all the money spent online.

English – the internet’s lingua franca

There are now 3.5 billion active internet users, which is equal to roughly half the world’s population. The geographic distribution of these users is as follows:

  • About half (48%) are in Asia
  • Nearly a fifth (18%) are in Europe
  • One tenth (10%) are in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Another tenth (9.8%) are in Africa
  • 4% are in the Middle East

You may well think that the vast majority of these users would visit websites and consume content that’s written in their native tongue. But, if we take a look at the ranking of languages online according to the amount of published web content available, you can quickly see just how difficult that is:

  • English – 54.1%
  • Russian – 6.1%
  • German – 5.7%
  • Japanese – 5.0%
  • Spanish – 4.8%
  • French – 4.1%
  • Portuguese – 2.6%
  • Chinese – 2.1%
  • Italian – 2.1%
  • Polish – 1.9%

The findings clearly show that English is the lingua franca online. That means there are potentially billions of online customers who are buying products from websites written in their second, third or even fourth language. In 2016, is it realistic to assume that overseas browsers prefer to access content and website written in a foreign language? Or is it simply the lack of information in their native language that is forcing their hand?

The importance of native-language websites

Recent research has shown just how important native-language content is to the modern-day online shopper.

  • 72% of online customers only make purchases on websites written in their native language
  • 56% of online customers say that the ability to read product information in their own language is more important than price.

And yet, despite this very real desire to read and interact with content written in their native language:

  • 40% of all global brands have no localisation strategy in place
  • 44% of the brands that do localise target 5 languages or less

There’s no doubt that e-commerce is here to stay, with total global revenues growing year-on-year to an estimated $1.672 trillion worldwide. But, despite the tremendous size of the market, it’s clear that the English-language content created to serve these customers is simply not up to the job.

The benefits of a multilingual online strategy

If your aim is to expand your online business into overseas markets in 2016, taking a multilingual approach to your content is the key to becoming more competitive and creating better growth opportunities. Any localisation decision you make is an investment, so which languages should your online business invest in to generate the best ROI?

A good place to start is to look at the countries with the greatest number of active internet users, and which languages they speak:

  • China – 668 million users – Chinese dialects
  • India – 350 million users – Hindi, Bengali, Lahnda
  • USA – 280 million users – English, Spanish
  • Brazil – 110 million users – Portuguese
  • Japan – 109 million users – Japanese
  • Russia –7 million users – Russian
  • Indonesia –7 million users – Indonesian
  • Germany –7 million users – German

Of the 8 countries with the greatest number of internet users, only one, the USA, has English as its first language. It is clear the vast majority of customers in the countries listed above would be better served by high-quality, native-language content.

Research by the Common Sense Advisory has found that monolingual websites fail to reach even a quarter of the world’s internet users in their own language. The ROI for online businesses that do localise their content, however, is on the up due to the increased access and expanding influence of digital content on everyday life.

The 13 languages you need to unlock 90% of the world’s online wallet

There are 13 must-speak languages for global brands and online information services. The more of these languages you include in your localisation strategy, the closer you’ll be to accessing 90% of all the money spent online. The languages are ranked in order of the size of the online population who speak the language, and the economic opportunity that this unlocks:

  1. Chinese
  2. English
  3. Japanese
  4. German
  5. Spanish
  6. French
  7. Italian
  8. Portuguese
  9. Dutch
  10. Korean
  11. Arabic
  12. Russian
  13. Swedish

How can we help?

At Text n’ More, our translation, localisation, quality assurance and testing services ensure that you are market-ready in any language. By communicating with your customers in their language, we give your business the global edge.


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