The Internet has evolved into a global platform connecting people worldwide. With over 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, it’s unsurprising that multiple languages are used on the Internet. However, English content dominates over half of all written content online, despite only around 16% of the world’s population speaking this language. This blog post will explore the most common online languages and why they are widely used. We will also discuss the latest changes and the future of languages on the Internet.
The most common languages on the Internet
According to W3Techs, the most common language on the Internet is English, accounting for 55% of all websites. Spanish comes in second place with 5%, followed by Russian with 4,9%. Here is a table of the top 12 languages used on the Internet:
|Language||Percentage of Websites|
Why is so much of the Internet in English?
English was often considered the lingua franca of the Internet. There are several reasons why it is so widely used. Firstly, the Internet was developed in English-speaking countries, and many of the early adopters of the Internet were also English speakers. Secondly, the United States has been a global leader in technology and innovation, which has helped establish English as the Internet language. Thirdly, English is the world’s most commonly taught second language. In addition, it is used as a common language for international business, academia, and diplomacy. Moreover, there is a self-reinforcing cycle: as more content is available in English, more users are attracted to it, leading to further expansion of English-language content. This creates a barrier for content in other languages to gain similar visibility and reach.
The digital language: what is changing?
The explosive growth in Internet usage over the last decade has significantly impacted the nature of online content. With approximately 5 billion internet users worldwide in 2022, up from 1 billion in 2005, much of this growth occurs in emerging markets where English is not the primary language. For example, China and India currently lead the world in social media usage: nearly 90% of residents don’t speak English in India.
The Future of Languages on the Internet
The language used by individuals on the Internet has significant online and offline implications. It plays a crucial role in determining the inclusivity or exclusivity of the online world and can contribute to the digital divide between those who have access to digital spaces and those who are marginalized. When certain languages are not adequately supported online, it results in a lack of accessible information for a significant portion of the population, as stated by our grantees Pollicy and Digital Futures Lab.
As the Internet becomes more accessible to people worldwide, the use of local languages is likely to increase. Technology companies are already developing tools to translate websites and social media platforms into different languages, making it easier for non-English speakers to access information and communicate online. However, this will require more investment in language technology and support for non-English languages.
We need to see a more diverse and inclusive Internet catering to non-English speakers’ needs in the future. This will require significant investment in language technology, including machine translation and natural language processing, to ensure people can access and communicate information in their preferred language. Additionally, efforts to promote multilingualism and language education can bridge the digital language divide and enable more people to participate in the global digital economy. As we navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing digital landscape, promoting language diversity on the Internet is essential for creating a more connected, equitable, and accessible world.
The Internet Society Foundation believes that the Internet is for Everyone. We fund research to help decolonize the Internet (you can access our grantee research here), and we support initiatives to strengthen the Internet’s function and reach worldwide. Learn more about our mission, vision, and programs: https://www.isocfoundation.org