Translating a site into 10 languages allows one to reach 80% of the internet

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Here's an article in French on how many languages it takes to reach a majority of the internet: with 10 languages one can reach over 80%, but to reach 99% you would need to have a site translated into 37. With just English, Chinese and Spanish one can reach 50%. The ten languages needed to do so are:

English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Korean.

That's actually no different from the top ten languages shown here.

Not taken into account in the study is mutual intelligibility, where Portuguese speakers would be able to navigate a site in Spanish but not necessarily participate on it. Dutch and Afrikaans speakers often find themselves in a similar situation too when reading articles in German.

Also keep in mind that this has very little to do with the population of languages offline: Bengali has only about one or two million speakers online, but over 200 million in real life, and is probably the most extreme example of a language with a great deal of representation in the real world but hardly anything online. Icelandic would be the exact opposite, with just 300,000 speakers in real life, almost 100% of which have access to the internet. That gives Icelandic a presence about a tenth to a third that of Bengali in spite of having a population some 600 times smaller, and on top of that Icelandic is much easier to type and display.

Finally, note that broadcasters such as Deutsche Welle do not choose the languages they broadcast in by population. Deutsche Welle has nothing in Italian, but a lot in Bulgarian and Macedonian. There is also no Dutch and no Scandinavian languages. International broadcasters tend to focus on two areas: 1) the largest languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, etc.) plus 2) strategically important languages - Bulgarian, Persian, Albanian, Croatian, etc. Basically languages of places either where the EU is militarily involved or prospective EU countries. It's a pity that none of these broadcasters have anything in Armenian though. Turkey's TRT has Armenian, but that's a no-brainer considering their historical relationship and the large number of Armenians in Turkey today as well.

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