Don’t need to translate because your audience is predominantly English? Think again.

There’s a famous Mandela quote that I’m sure everyone in the localization/globalization space has heard more than once:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

– Nelson Mandela

There’s more than a few others out there – which of course Google won’t cough up for me this morning – that illustrate just how important it is to speak to your users in their native tongue (especially if you’re trying to sell them something). Even anecdotally, myself and other colleagues have asked non-native English speakers we’ve encountered what language they process day-to-day life in. The answer is universally their native-tongue.

John Yunker over at Byte Level Research dropped a press release yesterday that released the findings of their “Internet Language Index”. What they found is less than 30% of all Internet users speak English as a native language.

Some may take comfort in the fact that English is still the largest single language group on the web but what really needs to be acknowledged is the translation space is about to become even more important. 50% of the remaining users are split across NINE different languages. That’s a lot of different hearts to speak to.

By 2010 they’re forecasting the native English speakers to account only for 25% of all Internet users. It’s important to remember too that language isn’t just a country-level issue. Here in Toronto you can’t go a block without encountering someone having a conversation in something other than English – for businesses here these are the very same people you’re trying to sell to on a daily basis. Banks have been relatively quick to catch on – depending on the area of town you’re in the language options on the ATMs often are more than simply English and French.

“This data makes clear that the next Internet revolution will not be in English,”” said John Yunker, president of Byte Level Research. “While English isn’t becoming any less important on the Internet, other languages, such as Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese, are becoming comparatively more important. Web globalization will become increasingly vital to succeeding in this emerging global marketplace.”

Source: Byte Level Research

I think the important thing to take away from this kind of news is to simply be aware. Be aware of who your clients are, be aware of cultural trends and opportunities that you may see in your marketspace. Don’t dismiss translation efforts because you don’t do business outside of your own borders. Localization isn’t something to only consider at the “Around the world” level – you just might be missing opportunities that are literally just arund the corner.

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  • Ignat

    I ran into the same problem on my blog. I noticed that a large portion of my search engine traffic is non-english speaking. The pattern continues on with visitors spending less than 5 senconds browsing with only select few bothering to actually translate my posts…

    I wonder how this can be solved?

  • Ryan

    Translation for blogs is an interesting predicament. Many bloggers just don’t have the resources to translate their blogs professionally, and machine translation is spotty at best.

    It also doesn’t help that many blog software packages are really only designed to be authored in one language – maintaining translated versions of posts just isn’t supported.

    My initial hunch is maybe see if you can figure out how to incorporate the Google “Translate This” button into each of your blog posts.

    Let me give this some thought – this is a pretty good topic for a post and a few ideas come to mind.

    Thanks for bringing it up :)

    – Ryan

  • Ignat

    Hey Ryan,

    I figured out a way to add a drop down box with a choice of five languages, powered by Google translate algorythm. It may not be accurate (I have no way of telling), but if you are interested, I can e-mail you the code for it. I tried posting it here, but it uses some java script.

  • Ryan

    Interesting – I’d defenitely be interested in seeing that.

    Unfortunately Machine Translation is still a long ways off from being a “quality” option for people to use for translation. As a business I think it’s really risky.

    For blogs though it can be a way to at least indicate your interest in sharing your message with people who speak something other than English. In a community environment such as blogs I’d certainly say “It’s the thought that counts”.

    You can e-mail me through the address in my profile.

    Thanks Ignat!

    Ryan