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How to use under- and overserved languages in your business

According to research from the Common Sense Advisory (CSA), global businesses tend to translate into what they determine are the most profitable languages. But, those businesses are really missing out on huge opportunities.

Some languages, such as Persian and Hebrew, have historically shown lower use on websites of renowned brands, whereas other languages, such as Slovak and Bulgarian, appear more often than their limited market size necessitates.

It would seem, according to the CSA, that the world languages can be categorized into two groups, particularly when talking about online business and websites:

  • Underserved languages – for example, Arabic that has close to 300 million speakers but only provides access to 3% of the world’s online GDP.
  • Overserved languages – common languages used by large companies for developed economies, such as German, French, English, Chinese, and Spanish.

Overserved languages

Per CSA’s research, English tends to be either the first or second language that nearly all brands support, yet of the sites they tracked, 1,635 multilingual websites failed to include English. However, besides Arabic, overserved language tends to follow predictable paths:

  • European languages tend to be the most overserved languages, especially those that are spoken in multiple countries, including French, Dutch, Spanish, and German.
  • The BRIC countries favor Simplified Chinese, with over half of multilingual sites in 2016 offering the language. Portuguese is also popular, as is Russian.

What exactly is an underserved language?

Arabic languages, on the other hand, lag behind, seemingly for technical, social, and political reasons. On global websites, its frequency of use can be found below that of Hungarian and Finnish.

Underserved languages are those languages that global websites are failing to exploit to their full potential. They are the languages that, despite the fact that they rank high in terms of economic potential of their population online, they are not being targeted on international websites of the world’s biggest brands.

The CSA has calculated underserved languages economic online potential using the following parameters:

  • The potential for each language in each country where it plays some type of economic role
  • The GDP of the country
  • The amount of languages spoken in that country
  • The percentage of people in that country who have internet access

Opportunities are being missed

Besides the above mentioned overserved languages that are supported by the majority of global sites, the CSA has found that the online GDP has a significant impact on whether or not a global website supports a particular language or not.

While global businesses are busy concentrating on mostly European languages, they are missing out on massive opportunities when it comes to Asian and Middle Eastern languages.

Where are the opportunities?

According to the research from the CSA, global businesses are significantly underserving Persian, Hindi, Arabic, Malaysian, and Hebrew, which is impacting their chances to enter new and wider global markets.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Arabic – 206 million native speakers
  • Hindi – 460 million native speakers
  • Persian – 54 million native speakers
  • Hebrew – 5 million native speakers
  • Malaysian – 77 million native speakers

So, there is massive opportunity for global brands to use underserved languages and reach even greater markets by using underserved languages on their websites and in their marketing materials. By localising content and resonating with your target audience, you will build brand trust and reliability in no time at all.

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