Why Your Company Should Invest in Obscure Languages

Declan Mulkeen

3 Sep 2016

Most Western organisations operate globally in English with content localised for each major market in which they operate. While organisations will cater for Chinese, French and Spanish readers/speakers/listeners – how many cater for potential customers of more obscure languages such as Basque, Tamil or Amharic?

Does it matter and does it make business sense? Discover why companies should invest more in obscure languages and address these markets directly in their own languages.

Why obscure languages offer great potential for companies

English and Mandarin languages account 50% of internet content

If the internet is a barometer for language use English wins hands-down. The English language is used more often than any other language, with Mandarin Chinese a close second. Together, they account for about 50% of the internet, according to data published by  Internet World Stats.

While English and Mandarin (together with Spanish) dominate the internet there are still plenty of other languages (often called obscure languages) out there that deserve to be catered for – both in terms of online content, marketing and the focus of commercial organisations worldwide.

Most people prefer to buy from organisations that provide information in their mother tongue

The value of the “long-tail” of languages is a market that organisations cannot turn their nose up at.

Language-use

Obscure Languages

Organisations looking to keep their internet presence to ‘major’ languages may, however, be missing out on significant business.

Not only do the remaining 400 million internet users of obscure languages represent substantial business opportunities, these opportunities may be relatively untapped.

They may also be potentially very loyal customers once a linguistic link has been made if that link has been ignored by the competition.

Organisations looking to keep their internet presence to ‘major’ languages may, however, be missing out on significant business

Mother Tongue

Google and Microsoft have both adopted a policy of supporting many obscure languages. Looking to the future, internet use will continue to grow. As most of the ‘major’ language markets are relatively mature, a disproportionately high growth rate can be expected in geographies where minor/obscure languages are predominant in their market.

Although there may be currently 500 million English language users of the internet, English will not be the mother tongue of many of these users

Also, as a Harvard Business Review article revealed, most people prefer to buy from organisations that provide information in their mother tongue.

Although there may be currently 500 million English language users of the internet, English will not be the mother tongue of many of these users.

Asia and Asian languages are projected to represent 64% of the global middle class by 2030

At present, they may have little choice but to access the internet in English if they speak minor languages that do not exist to any great extent online – yet. For example, with many millions of speakers of minor languages living in major growth markets such as China and India, catering to their local dialects may be a formula for profitability.

Decline of English on the Internet

This research indicates that the relative importance of English on the internet will decline

A recent Harvard Business Review article also cites research from the Brookings Institution. This research indicates that the relative importance of English on the internet will decline as more people from the global middle class join cyberspace – preferably in their own languages.

Although these languages may be obscure to Westerners, they represent perhaps more than a billion additional customers, millions of whom may not consider these additional languages to be obscure at all.

  • Asia and Asian languages are projected to represent 64% of the global middle class by 2030
  • Europe and America are projected to decline to 22% due to this relative growth in the developing world

Google, with their announced support of the Endangered Languages Project, may come across as altruistic trendsetters.

But with further reflection, Google may also be very wise visionaries for commercial reasons as well, positioning themselves exactly at the centre of much of the internet’s future growth in obscure languages – a profitable move, indeed.



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