Language Barriers in the Online World

By Mark Zeni

How much do they really limit your reach?
Though worldwide internet access is increasing, it may not be as effective in connecting the world as we might think. English, as by far the most common lingua franca, or “bridge language”, is one of only 10 languages that the World Bank estimates comprise about eighty percent of all online content, English making up nearly two-thirds of that. So, is English-only content enough for the reach you’re looking for?

How many people actually understand English?
At an estimate, 21% of the worldwide population, both online and offline, understand English, this equates to about 26% of the online population – although half of all online content is in English. Basically, if you’re content is exclusively English, 76 percent of your potential reach is, ultimately, beyond your reach due to a language barrier.

The Aim of Your Content
Whether or not you should expand your language base is relative to the aim of your online content. If you run a local business, and your target market is primarily English speaking, it may not be worth the time and effort to translate your website. However, if you run an online company that sells overseas, a large proportion of your target market may not speak English. In this case, considering a translate option for your site may expand your market and increase international sales.

How do I translate my content?
Many web browsers, like Google Chrome, have a translate function built into the browser; however, these translators tend to translate word for word, which can be quite inaccurate as the grammar and syntax of different languages can be significantly different.

If you want your content to be accessible to a specific target market or people group, or just more widely accessible, it may be worth your while to hire someone to translate pages or articles for you – even if you only translate into one or two of the world’s most popular languages. There are web based companies that offer translation services as well as freelance translators

Cost of translating a web page
Most translation services will charge anything from 10 cents to 30 cents per word, depending on the complexity of the language. Others have hourly rates or charge per page or per website. As a general rule, freelance translators will be cheaper, though the translation quality may not always be as good.

What if I can’t get my content translated?
If you find translating content is too much hassle, or not worth the overhead, it’s not always necessary. If much of your prospective market has some English as a second language, make your writing fairly simple – just to get your point across. An alternative is to customize pages so that pages accessed from primarily non-English speaking countries will display more or less the same content, but with more basic language.

Essentially, do some research to see if translating your site, or some of the content, is worth it. If so, it’s a great opportunity to extend your reach in the online world.



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