As the world nears the magic number of 2 billion people online (now 1.966 billion), I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the importance of language. Said another way, if you work for a global company and you want to reach all of your customers online, it may be time to strengthen the language capabilities of your team.
Today, the top ten languages in the world reach 82.6 percent of people online (1.6 billion). English is the leading language of the world with 536 million people online, according to InternetWorldStats. China is second with 444 million. It’s not a surprise that English is leading, since approximately 53 countries have English as one of their official languages. As an fyi, these stats are created when one language is assigned to each person. They do not account for all languages that a given person speaks. I know, I know…..but that data doesn’t exist today….we work with what we’ve got.
The top ten are English (536 million); Chinese/Mandarin (444); Spanish (153); Japan (99); Portugese (82); German (75); Arabic (65); French (59); Russian (59); and Korean (39). Overall, 4.4 billion people of our 6.8 billion citizens of the world, speak these languages, so penetration is still low for the top 10. In fact, when you look worldwide, the two highest volume languages have low penetration rates, e.g. English at 42 percent and Chinese/Mandarin at 32.6 percent. This is in contrast to Japanese at 78.2 percent and German at 78.6 percent.
As languages take on increasing importance, it will be critical for companies to think in terms of building their own Global Highway which contains individual language networks. For example, for Chinese/Mandarin, the network includes people in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao. For German, it includes Germany, Austria, Liechentstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland. And for Spanish, we have 21 countries where Spanish is the main language. Increasingly, language will slowly erode the geographic boundaries, in terms of information sharing. I fully expect culture to remain important locally for country-specific conversations and decisions, but for broader based information, language will often lead in the future. Think of your compay’s main story…..that’s broad-based.
In the years ahead, today’s global company will be able to describe what their Global Highway looks like, in terms of how they reach their customers across language and how they differentiate between content and conversations that should reach a language network and those that should be focused purely on a local level. Suffice it to say that we are in the midst of building out these types of “new roads” and triggers.
The only difference in how we will build online roads is that you won’t see 3-4 of us hanging out on the side of the road holding a sign and having a break. There’s way too much work to do.
All the best, Bob