¡Hola, mundo! Why companies shouldn’t ignore the Spanish-speaking web
If you’re reading this sentence you probably understand English. Some of you may not, however. Confused? Don’t be. This is possible because these words are translated into other languages for the benefit of non-English speakers.
If you were a little confused just now, my guess is you are probably a native English speaker. I say this because native English speakers, and the companies they run, don’t seem to spend much time thinking about other languages on the internet. In fact, judging by how slow English-speaking companies have been to translate their websites, they may not even really understand how many people prefer to read in languages other than English.
The Spanish language I will single out in particular. It is the third most popular language online after English and Chinese, yet even the major players of the online world don’t seem to make Spanish localization a priority: Facebook crowdsourced its Spanish localization in 2008, and Twitter only implemented a Spanish language interface in 2009.
This means that despite the common Latin heritage of English and Spanish, the Spanish-speaking portion of the web is in danger of becoming almost as separate and insular (if nowhere near as tightly controlled) as Chinese cyberspace.
There seems to be an assumption that since many Spanish speakers are bilingual, that there’s no need for dedicated Spanish language services. This has led to a boom in Spanish-language alternatives to the big English-speaking sites, with MercadoLibre proving more attractive than eBay for Spanish speakers, and invitation-only social network Tuenti attracting over 13 million users to become the most popular in Spain.
Even though Spanish speakers are doing a great job of creating their own online community, there is a huge amount of information, entertainment and premium content that exists exclusively in English. To make the web a truly global environment, the services and products it provides need to be available to everyone. Even if you’re not a translation evangelist like me, you can’t argue with the numbers: Why would any company ignore a potential market of 153 million people?
One fantastic example of a Spanish-language site is GobernioUSA.gov, the official Spanish-language portal for the US Government. The reason I mention this site in particular is because it is not just a direct translation of the English version: It has been considered with the needs of Spanish-speaking citizens in mind, and is described as a “social and cultural adaptation” of USA.gov.
The growing Spanish language presence online represents a huge opportunity for English-speaking ventures, but they can’t just rely on the global recognition of English. With rates of internet use set to rise across South America in the coming years, if English-speaking businesses want to take advantage of such a rapidly emerging market, they need to start taking Spanish localization more seriously.
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