Money Talks in Local Languages Only

by Translation Guy on July 27, 2012

Europeans surf in many languages, but buy in only one.

They are a multilingual bunch, those Continentals. More than half of Europeans surf the web in a second language, generally English. Among the 23 EU States, at least half of Internet users used a language other than their own to read and watch content on the Internet; this proportion ranged from 50% in Hungary to 90%-93% in Greece, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus.

Content is king in the Game of Languages, and that heavy crown is born by English on the web. So English is used at least “occasionally” by 46% of Europeans, while Spanish, German and French are used by 4% to 6% of users. Euros look to other languages online when local language content gives out, and surf in English and other big languages for content missing in their first language.

Nevertheless, 90% prefer to navigate the web in their native languages. Naturally, the fewer speakers in the surfer’s native language, the more likely they are to use the Web in English. “Ninety percent and 93% of Greeks, Slovenes, Luxembourgers, Maltese and Cypriots indicated they would use other languages when online, but only 9% of UK citizens, 11% of Irish, 23% of Czechs and 25% of Italians said they would do so.” according to User Language Preferences Online, a Eurobarometer survey published last year.

In Italy, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the UK, a majority of Internet users said that they only used their own language to read and watch content on the Internet (between 52% and 85%).

Forty-four percent of respondents feel that they miss interesting information because web pages are not in a language that they understand: this is the case for 60% of Greeks, 58% of Spaniards and 56% of Portuguese.”

So non-English readers must look to English-only on the WWW, which accounts for about 56% of all the pages on the Web. But the most critical page on any English-only web site remains seriously under visited by non-native speakers. I’m talking the order page.

Europeans prefer to buy in their own language. “Only 18% of EU internet users buy online in another language frequently or all the time, and 42% said they never buy online in a language other than their own.

Talk about a buzz-kill for English-language marketers. Build the content and they will come… If you translate it.

So leave the content in English and just translate order forms to double your business? Seems unlikely. The whole customer experience needs to be localized from search to receipt. Taking website visitors outside their language comfort zone wreaks traffic havoc and costs sales.

These survey results join the drumbeat of evidence on the easy money that can be earned from good localization. Keeping customers comfortable is the key to sales, and you’ve got to speak their language to do it. Doh!


  1. PJ says:

    Largely unsuprising, I find it perfectly reasonable the people are far more comfortable spending money in a language they are most comfortable in.

  2. I think in examining the numbers, you’ll find that the entire customer experience doesn’t need to be localized and must minor tailoring could boost sales without a major overhaul, as people are already surfing in English in large numbers.

  3. Janet Woo says:

    I guess in the end, it depends on if the value of smaller markets like smaller Euro countries brings a net benefit over the cost of expanding beyond the standard languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian)

  4. Eric says:

    Quite interesting.

  5. Glenn Garnes says:

    Like Greek people have money to buy anything these days anyways…

    • Ken says:

      I hear that’s catchy.

  6. Krista Grimm says:

    I think shifting focusing on Asian languages would bring in more sales than smaller European languages, I mean Luxembourg has more registered corporations than people and those people mostly speak French or German anyways.

    • Ken says:

      Quantity is a quality too!

  7. Ying says:

    The question that should be examined is what kind of purchases are these, as dollar value increases does reliance on native language increase?

  8. Susan says:

    Great stuff, these numbers are actually pretty useful.

  9. Sounds pretty common sense to me.

  10. While 42% is a large percentage, it isn’t a majority, and I could see a trend moving forward of that number deceasing.

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