Translation for Business: Facts About Global English Use 2019
Updated: Sep 23
The Internet and Mobile have changed the face of language across the planet. Ignore it at your peril.
When manufacturing, technology, and software development was concentrated in Western countries, English became the default language for doing business. But that concentration of business in the West is no longer the case. Emerging new first world countries, particularly the Asian Pacific (APAC) region, are changing that equation. Manufacturers and developers need to be ready to enter new language markets to compete and even survive. You cannot assume understanding of English as a prerequisite for doing business in those markets. Let’s look at some of the numbers:
According to WorldData.info, English isn’t even close to being the most common global language. It ranks fourth after Chinese, Hindi, and Spanish.
Chinese language(s) account for 17.5% of global language use. English is 5.3%.
In the past year, our most commonly translated language pairs all are either into Chinese or from Chinese. This is out of total translations covering hundreds of combinations.
Language usage is far more diverse than you might think: “There are currently around 6500 languages in the world. The country with probably the most languages and dialects is Papua New Guinea: a country on the border between Asia and Australia with historically numerous trade relations in large parts of Asia, Australia and Oceania. There are said to be over 800 individual languages here alone. Germany, on the other hand, has only 9 languages. In addition to High German, the “European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages” also recognises Low German, 3 variants of Danish, North Frisian, Sater Frisian, Sorbian and Romanesque.” From WorldData.info
It is not enough, for example, to specify a target language in general terms, i.e. English>Spanish. Spanish spoken in Argentina, Mexico, and Spain are all variants and a translation that is not targeted by geo-market may be flawed.
This world map with languages shown by their relative size is an eye-opener. In 2015, when it was made, Mandarin had a half billion more native speakers than English.
China’s economy is still growing at a rapid rate but this growth means more reliance on domestic goods and technology production: “Instead of allowing low-cost exports to drive growth, China will increasingly have to rely on expanding its own domestic demand to meet the government’s ambitious growth targets.” WeForum.org
Without translation, across the board, your products and services can’t take advantage of global growth
The reality on the ground is that products and software marketed and supported in a country’s native language are far more likely to be accepted in that country or market. And as these markets become more and more profitable, domestic, native language competition is heating up. Witness the rise of China’s Amazon, Alibaba, which is now one of the largest companies in the world, without doing materially significant business in the West. Market segments once the bastion of the West, like heavy equipment, autos, technology like smartphones, and more, is now being produced in APAC countries and they are approaching leadership in nearly every business category.
A strategic shift in point of view
The real takeaway is to understand that translation, language learning, and cultural training should not be viewed as cost centers. Instead they should be seen as critical business functions that keep you competitive, open up new markets, and insure that your products, services, and people are welcomed global markets.