The latest figures from W3Techs show that 51.2% of all internet content is in English. When considered on a global scale, the figure is vastly out of proportion to the number of English speakers around the world. Professor David Crystal reports that there are around 400 million native English speakers and 400 million speakers of English as a second language. That’s out of a total global population of more than 7.5 billion people, 3 billion of whom are online.
The next most used language on the internet is Russian, which accounts for 6.7% of content. That’s followed by Japanese (5.6%), German (5.6%), Spanish (5.1%) and French (4.6%). Despite Chinese being the world’s most spoken language, it accounts for just 2.0% of web content.
The prolific use of English on the internet is one of the issues considered by the inaugural Internet Health Report. With fair and equal access to online resources, the internet can help to improve both individual lives and societies. However, achieving that dream of equal access is still a long way off. The language bias of online content is one of the factors that is holding it back. As the report explains, language is a barrier, “since web content is predominantly in English, even though people who don’t speak English outnumber those who do.”
Moving towards inclusion
The United Nations is keen to expand internet access around the globe. It has included universal internet access in its Sustainable Development Goals, with a target date of 2020. It’s a noble ambition (if a rather unrealistic deadline) and one that we can all help with, particularly those in the professional translation sector.
Multi-lingual content creation – along with the translation of existing content – is a key way in which the web will become more accessible over the coming years. It’s partly why huge companies like Facebook and Google have taken such a keen interest in translation technology. That and the huge profits to be made by tapping into new audiences and by finally cracking flawless computerised translation, of course.
Individuals who provide translation services contribute daily to the internet moving closer towards inclusion. This is particularly the case for those translating content from English into other languages, as it is those other languages that so sorely need additional content. Local content creation and visibility are also key, according to the Internet Health Report.
Crowd sourced translation
Crowd sourced translation can be something of a divisive topic for translators. Some feel that it is an excellent way to contribute their linguistic talents for the greater good, i.e. the improvement of communications around the world. Some see it as a great way to test their language skills when first building up professional translation experience. Others view it as large corporations working to get ahead with their translation projects without engaging and paying as many translators as they should, thus undermining the translation profession as a whole.
When it comes to making the internet more accessible, however, there is certainly a role for crowd sourced translation to play. Those who contribute to the sharing of information in languages other than English are serving to make the internet’s content more widely available. This is a key factor in moving it towards being a ‘healthier’ internet in the future.
Despite the UN’s ambitious timescale, it’s likely to be many years before we have true equality of access to the astonishing resources that the internet provides. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t keep pushing to achieve that goal as soon as possible.
Do you agree that language bias is making internet access unfair around the world? What more can we do to hurry the availability of content in more languages? Share your thoughts via the comments.