There are over 7000 languages used around the world, with English having the most native speakers around the world, followed by Chinese and Spanish. Today, English also takes top online, as it was the original language when the Internet was created and is still the main language for developers. Let’s not forget that 30 years ago, it was impossible to use letters with accents or non-Latin characters.

In the last 20 years however, we’ve seen a rise in other languages on the internet: English content has decreased from 80% to 50% and the number of English-speakers online has dropped from 80% to 26%. As internet use accelerates around the world, it’s no wonder that there is more and more multilingual content available online. With one out of two people having internet access, only 6% of the world’s population is English-speaking.

The linguistic structure of the internet is evolving and other languages are set to overthrow English online. Here’s an overview of what you can expect on the internet in the next few years.


Languages with the highest number of online users

According to Internet World Stats, 872.9 million internet users speak English. This number rose 520% between 2000 and 2015 and makes up 25.9% of the global online population.

The number of Chinese speakers online is estimated at 704.5 million, which has risen an astounding 2000% over the same time period. The Chinese language is catching up quickly and is set to overtake English in the near future. The country also has a lot of room to grow as the internet penetration rate is only 50%, compared to 88% in the US.

Spanish comes in at a distant 3rd, with only an estimated 256.8 million Spanish speakers online and a growth rate of 1300% between 2000 and 2015. This is closely followed by Arabic, with 168.1 million web users and an impressive 6500% growth rate.

It’s important to note that the top 10 languages used online represent 78.2% of the total global online population.



The most popular languages for websites

Web Technology Survey analyzed over 10 million multilingual websites in order to identify the most popular languages.

Once again, English comes in first place, making up 53.9% of worldwide content. This is followed by Russian (6.4%), German (5.6%), Japanese (5.1%) and Spanish (4.9%).

This data should be taken with caution, as it is quite difficult to estimate the real portion of languages on the internet: search engines index only 30% of visible content.



The languages with the highest purchasing power

According to a study by Common Sense Advisory, English is the language with the highest purchasing power online. As the official language in 53 countries and spoken by more than 400 million people, English has the highest purchasing power, at $16,193 billion.

Japanese comes in second with an online purchasing power of $4,745 billion. This is closely followed by German ($3,468 billion), Spanish ($3,447 billion) and simplified Chinese ($3,214 billion).



Internet opens the door for linguistic diversity

The total number of English speakers around the world, including those who speak it as a second language, is a whopping 1.1 billion. Although a significant portion of the world understands English, this doesn’t mean that it’s the language they prefer to read content. 71.2% of online users spend the majority of their time on website in their native language.

With this in mind, the internet can actually be a way to promote linguistic diversity by enabling the creation and publication of a variety of multilingual content.

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