The “five percent gamble”, a new buzz phrase, implemented by the digital information industry, assumes most of the world’s population can be reached by supporting just five percent of the world’s 6,000 + languages.

This ‘gamble’ discussed by Thomas Petzold and Han-Teng Liao, social technology analysts, came about through calculating the return on investment for internationalisation and localization activities. It was also a major stepping stone for driving our multi-lingual internet.

English, considered to be the original language of the internet, and the global lingua franca, was predicted to overshadow other languages as the internet phenomena exploded. However, the expected English language hegemony was disrupted as the internet became more accessible to other language users.

It is through these other language users that the internet transitioned from a mono-to-multilingual infrastructure. Businesses looking to enter European markets localised through FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish) the big four for Europe, and CJK (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) language support became necessary for penetrating Asian markets.

Together with English, these seven languages formed the top of a global language hierarchy. But as the global marketplace is evolving this hierarchy is shifting. We are seeing a much higher demand for localised products for BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) regions, especially as purchasing power for those areas increases.

Research from the Common Sense Advisory shows 90% of online purchasers can be reached using only 13 languages. These languages include: English, Japanese, German, Spanish, French, Simplified Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Korean, Arabic, Russian, and Swedish. Another interesting fact identified from the research, showed 72.1% of online buyers preferred browsing and buying from websites in their native language.

Byte Level Research, one of the first companies to undertake an extensive analysis on how websites are designed and shared globally, produce an annual web globalisation report. According to the 2012 report websites supporting 10 languages are just “not global enough”. The average number of languages supported by companies in the 2012 web globalisation report was 32 languages. The Common Sense Advisory suggests a 16 language minimum is needed to just be competitive.

The five percent gamble by companies, like Google, which supports approximately 345 different languages, and Wikipedia, which supports 285 language editions has had a knock on effect in shaping the future of languages and turning the internet into an “international platform”.

What this means for businesses and organisations in the foreseeable future is a huge jump in the demand for translation services across varying language combinations. Implementing machine translation will be the only viable way to achieve this.

Did you attend Localization World, Santa Clara last week? Check out KantanMT’s Facebook page for photos from our booth!