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Global marketing: how many languages do you really need?

The internet now connects more than 2 billion people – roughly a third of the world population. And it’s more multicultural and multilingual than ever before. Speaking to everyone in their native language (obviously) isn’t an option! But how many languages should you really use for global online marketing?

A report by the Common Sense Advisory has an answer: 13. And they’ve done their homework to back it up. They examined 218 countries, and looked at the relative online use of 84 languages. They found that 12 languages were enough to reach 80 per cent of the online population.

They also looked at the relative spending power of speakers of different languages. Researchers  found that 13 languages would address 90 per cent of the economic opportunity in the “world online wallet”. They concluded these were the “must-have languages” for international brands.

The survey took into account users’ online and offline spending – called “e-GDP” – since people are still influenced by web advertising and communication when shopping offline. There are a few surprising results. While Spanish is spoken by 203 million web users, compared to only 78 million German speakers, German is considered a more economically important online language.

The top 13 languages in terms of e-GDP are:

1.    English
2.    Japanese
3.    German
4.    Spanish
5.    French
6.    Chinese Simplified
7.    Italian
8.    Portuguese
9.    Dutch
10.   Korean
11.   Arabic
12.   Russian
13.   Swedish

English may still be top of the league, but its importance is dwindling.  Its share of e-GDP has dropped from 48.4 per cent in 2007 to just 36.3 per cent today.
The fastest growing languages in terms of economic power are Russian, Arabic and Simplified Chinese. This is supported by figures from Internet World Stats, which show these have seen soaring growth in the last decade.

The internet might be more linguistically diverse, but  there’s plenty of good news for companies considering expanding their global online marketing. As more speakers of each language get online, the benefits of translation into that language increase.

CSA senior analyst Benjamin Sargent concluded: “The potential return on investment of translating into any one of those languages is much improved due to increased access and the expanding influence of digital content on daily life.”

Find out more about foreign language internet marketing, and how it can help your business reach a much wider global audience.

Christian Arno, Founder and President, Lingo24

Christian Arno is Founder and President of Lingo24. He started the company in 2001 after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in languages. He has won numerous awards including HSBC Business Thinking and International Trade Awards (2010), and TAUS Excellence Award (2012) for innovative technology. He contributes to leading industry publications and has been featured on the BBC, in the Financial Times and other media around the world.

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