How can you decide which languages to translate your content into?
There are currently around 7117 languages in the world
. Clearly, it would be excessive to translate your company's content into anything near that many. However, it's not always obvious which languages are the right ones for your business's global growth.
Should you just pick the languages that are most spoken in the world?
That seems to make sense, doesn't it? It feels like the best way to maximize your company's global impact would be to pick a few languages that cover the most people across the globe.
This might be a suitable strategy for your company, but it might not.
Let's have a look at which languages have the most speakers in the world and address which might be the best options for your company…
What are the most spoken languages in the world: The right question?
Selecting your company's languages for translation is a strategic choice.
The best languages for your company may be very different from another company's best languages. You need to work strategically
, ideally with the help of a language provider or globalization partner, to identify which languages make the most sense to help your company achieve its global goals.
Just because a language is widely spoken doesn't mean that it is a lucrative market for your global business.
One way to assess various languages is to use the grading system defined by CSA research
. This is a ranking of languages that shows how much of the "world online wallet" each language commands. It is updated every few years to track global changes.
Each language is ranked by 3 factors:
What percentage of the "electronic gross domestic product" (eGDP) the language commands.
What percentage of the total online population the language commands.
The percentage of support that the language has on brand websites.
Languages are grouped into 4 tiers. Tier 1 languages tend to be the most lucrative for companies and Tier 4 tend to be less lucrative.
Is a higher ranked language better for your business?
Remember that a language can still be highly lucrative for your specific company even with a lower ranking.
For US companies, for example, Canadian French or Mexican Spanish may make a lot more sense than, say, Chinese, Hindi, or German.
Even some Tier 4 languages might be lucrative for your company. The CSA ranking is just a more detailed way to assess the languages when you're looking at your return on investment for translation.
The top 5 most spoken languages in the world
Unsurprisingly, English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is also the top most lucrative language in the CSA rankings. It currently has 1,348 million speakers, commands 43.9% of the eGDP and 27.7% of the online population.
It's worth remembering that only 28.6% of the people who speak English speak it as their first language.
The other 71.4% speak it as a second language. If you want to communicate with audiences in their own language, English is often not enough.
2. Mandarin Chinese
Another extremely widely spoken language, Mandarin Chinese has 1,120 million speakers. In contrast to English, 83.1% of the people who speak Mandarin speak it as their first language.
For translation, you need to remember that Mandarin Chinese refers to the spoken language only. For written translations, you need to choose between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese
, depending on your specific market. Simplified Chinese is the 2nd in the CSA rankings. It commands 14.9% of the eGDP and 19.5% of the online population.
The most widely spoken language in India, Hindi has 600 million speakers worldwide.
Though it is the 3rd most spoken language, Hindi only commands 1.4% of eGDP and 8.4% of the online population. This makes it less lucrative than several languages with fewer speakers and it only sits at 13th in the CSA rankings. Until relatively recently, it was classed as a Tier 2 language but has now moved up to being a Tier 1.
A very widely spoken language across the world, Spanish has 543 million speakers. It is the 3rd most lucrative language in the CSA rankings. It commands 10.6% eGDP and 8.8% of the online population.
It's important to remember that there are several variants of Spanish,
such as Mexican, Iberian, US Spanish, and others. You need to choose the right variant if you want your translated content to work well in your chosen Spanish-speaking markets.
5. Standard Arabic
Like Spanish, there are different varieties of Arabic
spoken across the world. Standard Arabic is a version that is understood by most Arabic speakers.
Standard Arabic has 274 million speakers. It commands 2.9% of the eGDP and 5.2% of the online population. Although it is the 5th most spoken language in the world, it is only 8th most lucrative in the CSA rankings.
5 more languages you should probably consider
Although the 5 languages listed above are the most widely spoken in the world, plenty of other languages represent significant market opportunities for your company.
Here are 5 more languages you might consider:
There are 135 million speakers of Standard German (a standardized variant of the language
). It is not in the top 10 most spoken languages in the world, but it is 4th most lucrative in the CSA rankings. It commands 7.1% of the eGDP and 2.5% of the online population.
French is spoken by 267 million people worldwide. It is the 7th most spoken language globally but the 5th most lucrative in the CSA rankings. It commands 7.0% of the eGDP and 4.8% of the online population.
Japanese has comparatively few speakers with only 126 million speakers worldwide. It doesn't even fall in the top 10 most spoken languages. However, it is the 6th most lucrative in the CSA rankings. It commands 6.4% of the eGDP and 2.9% of the online population.
Russian is the 8th most spoken language in the world with 258 million speakers. In just one year (2018 to 2019) it rose from 11th to being the 8th most lucrative language in the CSA rankings. It commands 2.9% of the eGDP and 4.2% of the online population.
Portuguese is spoken by 258 million people worldwide. It is both the 9th most spoken and 9th most lucrative language on the CSA rankings. It commands 2.8% of the eGDP and 4.2% of the online population.
Compared to other languages, Italian is not widely spoken with only around 85 million speakers
worldwide. However, it is the 10th most lucrative language in the CSA rankings. It commands 2.9% of the eGDP and 4.1% of the online population.
Which languages should you translate your content into?
If you are looking to translate your company's content into other languages, clearly it is not enough to just pick languages with the most speakers.
There are many factors to consider when growing your business globally. You need to understand the markets that you are moving into, not just the languages that are spoken in them.