Euro Surfers Don’t Buy in English

by Translation Guy on May 25, 2011

Almost half of all EU surfers feel they are missing out when they can’t surf in their own language and are stuck using English, according to a recently published Eurobarometer report. Ninety percent prefer to surf in their own language, but many (44%) are afraid that they are losing out when they do, since content is much thinner in languages other than English. As a result, most Euros (55%) will search in English, but, but, and here’s the kicker, only 18% will buy on a website in a language other than their own.

Native Language Preferences by Country. (Here’s the key for those pesky ISO country codes.)

The survey says that in 23 of the 27 EU Member States, at least half of Internet users used a language other than their mother tongue to read and watch content on the Web. This proportion ranged from 50% in Hungary to over 90% in Greece, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus.

In the remaining four countries, a majority of Internet users said that they only used their own language to read and watch content on the Internet: 52% in Italy, 61% in the Czech Republic, 80% in Ireland and 85% in the UK. It’s no surprise to see that English-speaking countries tend to be monolingual in their Web use.

Euro-wide frequent users of English were more likely to be men (46% vs. 32% of women), those with the highest level of education and full-time students (43% and 50%, respectively, vs. 28%-30% across all other educational groups), younger respondents (49% of 15-24-year-olds and 45% of 25-39-year-olds vs. 33%-34% across other age groups), metropolitan residents (47% vs. 30% of rural residents) and the self-employed (47% vs. 29% of manual workers and 39% of employees and non-working respondents).

But even the heaviest English Web users prefer websites in their native language. When given the choice of language, most respondents agreed that they would always visit a website in their own language:

For English-only Americans doing business in Europe, the entire continent seems pretty English-friendly. Business travellers are usually able to work seamlessly in Europe’s Lingua Franca, where mastery of English for professional reasons is common. But when the sales close is accomplished on the screen, English-only is a loser’s game. Right out of the gate, half of Euro surfers are simply ignoring anything in English, and even for the rest, an English site doesn’t translate into a sale. The vast majority (82%) won’t buy in a language other than their own. As former German Chancellor Willy Brandt said, “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen,” which has got to be every translation sales guy’s favorite quote. Well, mine at least.

Bis zum nächsten Mal!  —Translation Guy


  1. Pistol Pete says:

    These are some really interesting numbers. These tables are something that will take some time to mull over, thanksKen.

  2. Carol Young says:

    Let’s face it, this isn’t changing any time soon, if ever. I’d recommend estudia inglés. The important thing about this blog is that it provides you with a number of useful links while learning English for example the best dictionary on slang, social nets to learn English, best grammar books and so on.

  3. Lortab 7.5mg says:

    Use people!

  4. Randy Cooney says:

    About 10 years ago, I had been having some problems with surfing the net in Chinese and realised it would be good to learn the most common “internet” words in English. Well, you can tell now that I am relatively fluent. I was actually able to learn English, conciously, while surfing over 5 years. I’m proud of this, but the point is that the internet is a welath of knowledge in all languages. You just have to reach out.

    • Ken says:

      Randy, you are a Chinese native speaker who mastered English from surfing the web? That’s how anime fans nail Japanese these days.

  5. Samson says:

    Just use MT and you’ll be fine. You can get the just of about any conversation.

    • Ken says:

      A gist is just great, until it isn’t it.

  6. Ryan Kucera says:

    The ‘having to speak German’ quote is so true. It’s like any business, sales is tough and you have to speak your potential clients’ language. Even if you both speak English, you still may not be speaking the same language…

    • Ken says:

      Guess you’ve been talking to my prospects too, Ryan. Not even hand puppets seem to help.

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