If you run a small to medium-sized online business that operates in various countries, chances are you think a lot about translation. Part of you probably agrees that translating your online content would help you reach a larger global audience. But seeing that translation can be a long and complex process, part of you probably also thinks that publishing all your content in English might save you a whole bunch of work. After all, isn’t English considered the dominant language online? Well, not really. Even if most of your users speak English to some degree, nothing beats speaking to someone in their native language. Read on to learn why you really need to translate your website, regardless of where you’re based and who you’re targeting.
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NEWSFLASH: ENGLISH ISN’T THE INTERNET’S DOMINANT LANGUAGE
Since the 1990s, there’s been a consensus that about 80% of online content is in English. As a result, English became known as the dominant language online—and to this day, webmasters continue prioritising English content over content in other languages. In fact, it’s pretty common for webmasters to publish English content to non-native English speakers, simply because they know they’ll understand it anyway. Unfortunately, there are some major problems with that approach: First, that 80% fact isn’t actually true. According to W3Techs, a website publishing web technology surveys, only around 52% of online content is in English, followed by Russian (6.4%), German (6.1%), and Spanish (5.1%). Now, you might think that 50% is still enough to warrant sticking to only publishing English content. But it’s not.
Here’s why: It’s important to point out that the info published by W3Techs, just like almost any report, has its limitations. Measuring online content is extremely complex, and W3Techs in its disclaimer openly states that its data may be limited. It only displays results based on the top 10 million websites it finds, and doesn’t consider sub-domains in its results. Secondly, it’s important to note that the online shift away from English is only expected to go further in the future. Research by the Foundation for Networks and Development (Funredes), a non-profit organisation dedicated to studying technology use in the developing world, suggests that the amount of online English content is actually declining. Studies by Funredes’ ICT4D consultant Álvaro Blanco showed that from 1996 to 2005, the percentage of English content online dropped from 80% to 45%.
Blanco continues to conduct research into linguistic trends online. However, in an excerpt from the book Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, he warns that it’s getting harder to keep track of language use online. “Twitter, Facebook, social networks—these are all difficult for search engines to index fully… My personal opinion is that English now represents less than 40% of online content”, says Blanco in the excerpt. The third reason webmasters should stray away from using English content to connect with non-native English speakers is more complex, and based on the psychology of connecting with someone in their native language.
THE POWER OF A MOTHER TONGUE
It’s true, English is the most common language spoken by non-native speakers across the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best language to communicate to your audience with. So, what is? Well, the answer is simple: The best way to communicate with your customers is via their native language. Research shows that people are likely to spend twice as much time on a website in their native tongue than one in a non-native language. And when it comes to making a sale, native languages become even more important. That’s because connecting with a customer in their native language helps build trust, and ultimately increases the chance of them buying your product. Research from the European Commission really drives this point home; while over 50% of web users in the EU admit to occasionally browsing the web in a foreign language, 90% say they prefer to do so in their native tongue.
And when it comes to actually buying something, over 40% of European customers say they won’t buy a product if there’s no information available about it in their native language. Stats by Common Sense Advisory also show that 72% of online consumers spend the majority of their time browsing websites in their native language. The same percentage of consumers admit they are more likely to buy a product if the information on it is in their language. When you think about it, these statistics are pretty obvious and help explain the gradual decline of English-only content around the web. More importantly, however, they point to a pretty powerful business opportunity for you. If you currently use English content to connect with customers who aren’t native English speakers, you have a lot to gain from translating your website into other languages.
HOW TO TRANSLATE YOUR WEBSITE PROPERLY
If you’re considering translating your website, here’s one crucial tip to remember: Avoid machine translators at all costs. Sure, machine translators like Google Translate and Bing can be really useful, especially in situations where you need a quick, rough translation of a small piece of text in a foreign language. However, that’s pretty much where your use of machine translators should end, and you should never consider using tools like Google Translate to edit official branded text on your website. These machines work using formulas designed to gather information about how certain words or phrases are said in another language.
That means, they’re great at finding out how to say a particular phrase like “good morning” or “how are you” in another language. However, machines cannot account for things like the context of a piece of text or the idioms, conventions, or colloquialisms that make up a language. To learn more about the limitations of machine translators, check out this article on the topic. If you’re ready to translate your website and reach a larger online audience, make sure to contact us and work with our experienced team of translators. At Yuqo, we specialise in helping small to medium-sized business like yours translate their work and localise their content for new markets.