In our annual examination of the top 49 online languages on websites of leading global
brands, CSA Research considered the relationship between
the online-accessible gross domestic product (GDP) that each language
controls and whether or not sites offer them. Not surprisingly, our
detailed analysis of almost 2,700 global sites and 209 languages revealed
that support levels and economic opportunity largely tracked each other.
That is, the more money companies can make from a language, the more
likely they are to support it. However, it isn’t quite so simple:
Common Sense Advisory discovered that world languages fall into two broad categories when it
comes to websites:
1.Linguistic support reflects economic
opportunity. Online GDP is a good predictor for
overall levels of use. Companies offer languages for some large and/or
developed economies – such as Simplified Chinese, Spanish, German,
Japanese, French, and most of the tongues of the European Union.
underperform significantly. This list includes Arabic, which has
almost 300 million speakers and provides access to 3% of world online
GDP, but appears online less than a language like Romanian, with 24
million speakers and less than 0.2% of online GDP. Other languages that
significantly underperform include Hindi, Persian, Hebrew, and Malaysian,
all of which have far lower support than we would expect based on their
The two groups are clearly visible in the
following graph, where blue points represent languages that follow the
economic opportunity while the orange ones indicate significantly
This view excludes English, which is the source or go-to language for
over 98% of global brands that support more than one language.
Why do some languages fall below expectations? We found several reasons,
including these three:
- Some languages pose technical difficulties. Although
support has improved, bidirectional languages such as Arabic and Hebrew
and complex scripts, like Devanagari (used for Hindi) or the Nastaliq
writing style used in Urdu, are still seen as difficult to handle.
- Membership has its advantages. Inclusion as
an official language of a European Union member state gives an automatic
boost. This group systematically outperforms even other European ones –
such as Bosnian, Macedonian, Basque, or Catalan – that may have more
speakers or more GDP. The leading tongues are also ones that CEOs tend to
recognize, while many of the ones that lag are less familiar.
- Politics matter. Languages
spoken in politically troubled or fragmented regions pay a support
penalty. It is easy to address a tongue – such as German,Japanese,
Chinese, or Dutch – that is dominant in one or a few countries. However,
if the language is used in many countries – such as Arabic, which is official in 27 countries – it becomes more difficult: Enterprises have to
face the legal and regulatory hurdles that each country imposes.
Underperforming tongues pose a challenge for
enterprises − they are difficult to address effectively, but for those
that do, they create an opportunity to gain market share free from
competition. Although they tend to be smaller, the localization market is
seeing a dramatic shift toward the
“long tail” of languages as companies such as Facebook,
Ericcson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Samsung, and Qualcomm invest in bringing internet access to those markets, with similar efforts from
Google and SpaceX also on the table. Enterprises that are
aware of the chance for growth they offer can better tune their
localization strategy to their economic potential. Our brief on this topic provides
information on the support level for the top 49 online languages and can
help guide you to these hidden opportunities.