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Is English Still the Language of the World Wide Web?

August 16, 2018

The fact that millions of internet users around the globe are communicating in more than a dozen languages makes it difficult to determine how many translations of your digital media are needed to reach a global audience. While English may have emerged as the popular lingua franca for the global village, large amounts of web content are produced and consumed in languages other than the bridge language.

There are also cultural differences in how users routinely access the internet. For example, more than half of China's online users enter the web through social media platforms like Facebook or micro-blogging communities like Twitter. A large percentage of their social media conversations are posted in Chinese. It is expected that an evolution of online linguistics will one day allow users to work and think in their native tongue,

Top Ten Most Common Online Languages*

The variety of languages spoken by internet users means that savvy companies will need to translate and localize their web content more often going forward in order to communicate more effectively with their target audiences worldwide.

  1. English accounts for 952.1 million internet users
  2. Chinese accounts for 763.3 million internet users
  3. Spanish accounts for 283.8 million internet users
  4. Arabic accounts for 173.5 million internet users
  5. Portuguese accounts for 155 million internet users
  6. Malaysian accounts for 154.7 million internet users
  7. Japanese accounts for 118.5 million internet users
  8. Russian accounts for 104.5 million internet users
  9. French accounts for 100.6 million internet users
  10. German accounts for 83.9 million internet users

The ten languages listed above accounts for 77.5% of global internet users. It should also be noted that the continent of Asia has the largest share of internet users at over 2 billion with few online translations for regional languages.

As technologies make it easier for people to communicate to both broad and narrow audiences, writers and marketing professionals are discovering that "linguistic difference" can be surprisingly persistent. As the search engines continue to develop newer methods for collecting and analyzing information from the worldwide web, there will be more data available regarding the comparative frequency of words occurrence in different languages. Since recent internet usage already shows a much faster growth in the number of non-native English speakers online, companies will have to carefully consider how many translations are needed for optimal results.


* Source: Statistica (as of March 2017)


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