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Overview of the Global Language Landscape, Number of Internet Users and Languages in Use on the Worldwide Web

As of June 2008, approximately 1,463,632,361 people worldwide were using the Internet, according to Internet World Stats. Current and accurate data, with respect to internet usage, is somewhat elusive given the rapid growth and spread of the internet. However, useful data can be gleaned from information available in the CIA World Factbook. We feature selected data taken the CIA Factbook in the Translation Agencies and Translation Firms categories of Translation Classifieds. We have listed data by commercial geographic areas in those categories, namely North America; Europe; South America; Asia; and, the Middle East. The figures are segmented for each country listed by total population numbers, languages spoken (numbers and percentages, where available) and number of internet users. The number of countries listed as well as the scope of the data was limited to markets offering commercially viable critical mass.

Languages in Use on the Internet

At the end of 2005, it was estimated that there were approximately 322 million English language users on the internet. English as a second language was spoken by an additional 200 million users. It's safe to assume that the latter group accesses the internet in their native language as well as in English. This overlap blurs the demographic lines: multi-lingual people can and do access the internet in multiple languages (typically English and their own native language).

As an example, Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India (the world's second most populous nation) with English being the more popular language of access. Similarly, Chinese is the dominant language on the planet by virtue of its numerical superiority. The use of Chinese by Chinese users of the worldwide web is second to English.

At March 2007, internetworldstats.com published figures ranking English as the top internet language (329 million users), with Chinese a distant second (159 million). The other languages ranking in the top ten were, in order of importance: Spanish (89 million); Japanese (86 million); German (59 million); French (56 million); Portuguese (40 million); Korean (34 million); Italian (31 million); and, Arabic (28 million). The balance of the world's languages in use on the internet amounted to 209 million. Approximately 98% of the world's languages are distributed among 1,239 living languages (languages spoken by 100,000 people or more) – Source: Ethnologue

At December 2007, it was estimated that 1.319 billion people had online access, or roughly 20% of the world's population – Source: internetworldstats.com. With penetration of the internet fast approaching maturity in the English language world (71.1% in North America at the end of 2007), future expansion will take place in languages other than English, notably in Asia and South America, where internet penetration at the end of 2007 stood at 13.7% and 22.2% respectively. The rapid adoption of the internet and its advance into so-called emerging markets suggests that future expansion will take place mostly in non-English countries.

However, these numbers need to be assessed in the context of the pervasive use of English in global commerce. Although there are 'only' an estimated 375 million native English speakers worldwide, the total of English speakers comes to an estimated 1.5 billion – Source: Wikipedia.

A rough extrapolation of the numbers would indicate that English as a language of use currently accounts for close to 25% of the world internet users (329 million English users over 1.319 billion with online access).

This number may or may not diminish as expansion takes place in emerging markets. Based on the numbers cited here, English speakers account for 40% of users on the internet (329 million English users over 1.5 billion English speakers globally). It's safe to assume that much of the expansion to come may yet take place in English, though in what proportion would be speculative.

Ethnologue has produced encyclopedic reference work cataloging all of the world's 6,912 known living languages Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 15th Edition
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See also: Global Internet Statistics: Sources & References on Global Reach

  1. Chinese (Mandarin): 867.2 million to 1.21 billion (est.)
  2. Hindi: 366 million (est.)
  3. Spanish: 322 to 358 million (est.)
  4. English: 309 to 341 million (est.)
  5. Arabic: 206 to 422 million (est.)
  6. Portuguese: 176 to 246 million (est.)
  7. Bengali: 171 to 207 million (est.)
  8. Russian: 145 to 267 million (est.)
  9. Japanese: 122.4 to 130 million (est.)
  10. German: 95.4 to 101 million (est.)
  11. Punjabi: 57 to 104 million (est.)
  12. Chinese (Wu): 77.2 million (est.)
  13. Javanese: 75.5 million (est.)
  14. Telugu: 69.7 to 75 million (est.)
  15. Marathi: 68 to 71 million (est.)
  16. Vietnamese: 67.4 to 86 million (est.)
  17. Korean: 67 to 86 million (est.)
  18. Tamil: 66 to 77 million (est.)
  19. French: 64.86 to 78 million (est.) – as many as 500 million with second language speakers
  20. Italian: 61.5 to 62 million (est.) – as many as 120 million with second language speakers
Source: Wikipedia
Top 15 Languages Used on the Internet
Estimate at September 2004 of the world online population per language
Source: wikipedia

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