Most Internet Users Search Web in Multiple Languages


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The latest factoid to be pulled out of Greenlight's "Search & Social Survey (2011-2012)," a global survey of 500 people that sought out information about user experiences and behaviors, reveals that many people around the world conduct online searches in more than one language.

76% of the study's participants claimed that they search for information on the internet in two more languages. 100% of internet users in Belgium, Italy, and Spain all conduct searches in multiple languages. Belgium's sort of a given, though, as it has three official languages: Dutch, German, and French. Italy and Spain, however, only have one official language (Italian and Spanish, if you didn't put that one together), which could mean that the popular American stereotype is true: most Europeans speak English in addition to their countries' official language.

"The fact that Italy and Spain top the chart with 100% of respondents claiming to search in multiple languages, despite reasonably homogenized language use, is possibly a testament to the position of English as the quasi-official language of Europe and the relative prevalence of English language web pages," says Adam Bunn, director of SEO at Greenlight.

What's peculiar - and humbling, depending on where you live - is that in the countries for whom English is an official language, if not the official language, most internet users don't do internet searches in a language other than English. One wonders if this is due to linguistic access issues for native English speakers or if these internet users simply do not need to search for content in a second language given so much of the internet is available in English.

Multilingual Internet Users

Rearranging the information so as to reflect a different demographic, you can see below in the table that the occupations that are most likely to employ the internet at a high frequency typically conduct searches in multiple languages.

Multilingual Internet Users

"The real takeaway here of course is not that marketing and IT firms in Italy, Spain and Belgium should instantly start optimizing their sites for multiple languages," Bunn added.

When considering the data in this report, it's worth considering that of the 500 participants in the Greenlight survey, only 3% represent Asia and 2% represent "rest of the world," which I infer to include the continents of Africa and South America. 70% of people surveyed were in Europe with the remaining 25% in North America. In other words, it's not exactly a globally-relevant study but if you want to focus exclusively on telecommunication or online dealings between North America and Western Europe, the data could prove to be somewhat valuable.