English isn't the Only Language of the Web

3 minute read
Marisa Peacock avatar

The linguistic landscape of the World Wide Web is changing. Though at times English seems like the most widely spoken and used language, we are humbled to remember that there are hundreds, if not thousands of languages.

When it comes to the web, Asia already has twice as many Internet users as North America and by 2012 it will have three times as many. Such stats should serve as a wake up call for the many global businesses still needing to improve the way they create, manage and publish multilingual content.

By making the web much more compatible and engaging for non-English speaking or writing users (who until now have had to suffer through complicated keyboard maps or the struggle of querying in a language that's not their own) globalization innovations will allow all users to connect and communicate in their language of choice.

A Call for Global Innovation

The time is now for companies like Google and Microsoft to capitalize on the market that has so far been left to smaller companies.Quillpad, for instance, an online service for typing in 10 South Asian languages, lets users spell out words of local languages phonetically in Roman letters. Then its predictive engine converts them into local-language script.Fanfare around the blogosphere caught the attention of bigger companies, and now several translation tools are in the works.

Many translation applications have been so far geared towards India, which is poised to become the third-largest in the world after China and the United States by 2012.Though India boasts an English-speaking populace of about 50 million, JuxtConsult, an Indian market research company reports that nearly three-quarters prefer to read in a local language.

Learning Opportunities

Since 2006,Yahoo and Google have introduced more than a dozen services to encourage India’s Web users to search, blog, chat and learn in their native tongues. Microsoft has built its Windows Live bundle of online consumer services in seven Indian languages.With the help of numerous volunteers, Facebook has translated its social networking site into Hindi and other regional languages and Wikipedia now has more entries in Indian local languages than in Korean.

One Language is Not Enough

Last fall, we reported that Lionbridge Technologies, a provider of translation and localization services, who helps global companies meet their customers’ language and cultural preferences, is helping Microsoft, one of their clients, capture their users' attention in a mere 1,234 languages by 2010.

What might seem like an ambitious goal is the reality of the global web. One language is not enough. There are billions of people in the world and a growing Internet population means that web sites have an increasing opportunity to reach out to every one.