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12Oct

Underserved Lanaguages Create Challenges and Opportunities for Global Enterprises

Does your site support Chinese, German, French, Spanish, or other major languages? What about Albanian, Arabic, Azeri, and Mongolian? Could you be missing out on opportunities for increased sales because you are targeting the wrong languages? Probably, but you aren’t alone. 

In our annual examination of the top 49 online languages on websites of leading global brands, CSA Research considered the relationship between the online-accessible gross domestic product (GDP) that each language controls and whether or not sites offer them. Not surprisingly, our detailed analysis of almost 2,700 global sites and 209 languages revealed that support levels and economic opportunity largely tracked each other. That is, the more money companies can make from a language, the more likely they are to support it. However, it isn’t quite so simple: We discovered that world languages fall into two broad categories when it comes to websites: 

  1. Linguistic support reflects economic opportunity. Online GDP is a good predictor for overall levels of use. Companies offer languages for some large and/or developed economies – such as Simplified Chinese, Spanish, German, Japanese, French, and most of the tongues of the European Union.
     
  2. Other languages underperform significantly. This list includes Arabic, which has almost 300 million speakers and provides access to 3% of world online GDP, but appears online less than a language like Romanian, with 24 million speakers and less than 0.2% of online GDP. Other languages that significantly underperform include Hindi, Persian, Hebrew, and Malaysian, all of which have far lower support than we would expect based on their economic potential.

The two groups are clearly visible in the following graph, where blue points represent languages that follow the economic opportunity while the orange ones indicate significantly under-served languages: 

Relationship between Online GDP and Language Support 

This view excludes English, which is the source or go-to language for over 98% of global brands that support more than one language. 

Why do some languages fall below expectations? We found several reasons, including these three:

  • Some languages pose technical difficulties. Although support has improved, bidirectional languages such as Arabic and Hebrew and complex scripts, like Devanagari (used for Hindi) or the Nastaliq writing style used in Urdu, are still seen as difficult to handle.
     
  • Membership has its advantages. Inclusion as an official language of a European Union member state gives an automatic boost. This group systematically outperforms even other European ones – such as Bosnian, Macedonian, Basque, or Catalan – that may have more speakers or more GDP. The leading tongues are also ones that CEOs tend to recognize, while many of the ones that lag are less familiar.
     
  • Politics matter. Languages spoken in politically troubled or fragmented regions pay a support penalty. It is easy to address a tongue – such as German, Japanese, Chinese, or Dutch – that is dominant in one or a few countries. However, if the language is used in many countries – such as Arabic, which is official in 27 countries – it becomes more difficult: Enterprises have to face the legal and regulatory hurdles that each country imposes.

Underperforming tongues pose a challenge for enterprises − they are difficult to address effectively, but for those that do, they create an opportunity to gain market share free from competition. Although they tend to be smaller, the localization market is seeing a dramatic shift toward the “long tail” of languages as companies such as Facebook, Ericcson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Samsung, and Qualcomm invest in bringing internet access to those markets, with similar efforts from Google and SpaceX also on the table. Enterprises that are aware of the chance for growth they offer can better tune their localization strategy to their economic potential. Our brief on this topic provides information on the support level for the top 49 online languages and can help guide you to these hidden opportunities.

About the Author

Arle  Lommel

Arle Lommel

Senior Analyst

Focuses on language technology, artificial intelligence, translation quality, and overall economic factors impacting globalization

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