Digital Agenda: more than half EU Internet surfers use foreign language when online
While 90% of Internet surfers in the EU prefer to access websites in their own language, 55% at least occasionally use a language other than their own when online according to a pan-EU Eurobarometer survey released today. However, 44% of European Internet users feel they are missing interesting information because web pages are not in a language that they understand and only 18% buy products online in a foreign language. The results underline the need for investment in online translation tools so that EU Internet users are not excluded from finding information or products online because they lack the language skills. Currently the European Commission manages 30 different research projects working at the interface of language and digital content, supported by €67 million of EU funding and the new projects submitted this year will get an additional €50 million. One of the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe is to ensure more accessibility to web content for everyone.
Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda, said: "If we are serious about making every European digital, we need to make sure that they can understand the web content they want. We are developing new technologies that can help people that cannot understand a foreign language."
The survey shows that while there is a huge amount of quality online content available, not everyone can use it to equal advantage, due to varying language skills. On average one out of two Internet users in twenty three Member States uses a language other than their own to read online. However this figure hides great variations as between 90 and 93% of Greeks, Slovenes, Luxembourgers, Maltese and Cypriots indicated they would use other languages when online, but only 9% of UK citizens, 11% of Irish, 23% of Czechs and 25% of Italians said they would do so.
English as the lingua franca on Internet
The survey confirms that English is the most commonly used language when it comes to reading and watching content on the Internet in a different language than one's own: almost half of Internet users in the EU (48%) would use English at least "occasionally" while Spanish, German and French would be used by 4% to 6% of users. Again practice varies greatly between Member States: 90% of Internet users in Cyprus, 97% in Malta and 85% in Greece and Sweden use an English language website if the information is not readily available in their language, but only 35% of Italians, 45% of Latvians, 47% of Romanians and 50% of French would do likewise. On the other hand, Luxembourgers prefer to use French (67%) and German (63%) to English (55%). In the UK and Ireland, where not many Internet users mentioned using a second language, French was the most commonly used foreign language for reading or watching content on the Internet (9% and 7%, respectively).
Reasons to change language
Most people are faced with a situation of using another language when they are looking for information (81%), but 62% use it also in social relationships, typically when communicating online with friends, or for professional reasons (52%).
As many as 44% of respondents feel that they miss interesting information because web pages are not in a language that they understand: this is the case for 60% of Greeks, 58% of Spaniards and 56% of Portuguese.
Buying online is an area where people prefer to use their own language. Only 18% of EU internet users buy online in another language frequently or all the time, and 42% said they never buy online in a language other than their own. Men (61%) are also using foreign languages more than women (51%) to buy online.
Support for more diversity and openness
While almost 9 in 10 respondents (88%) consider all websites produced in their country should use their national official languages, about 8 in 10 (81%) nevertheless think such websites should also have versions available in other languages.
Research and development efforts
The Commission currently manages 30 research and innovation projects promoting language technologies that can help Internet users to access information in other languages. For example, the iTRANSLATE4 project is developing the first internet portal providing access to free online translation between more than 50 European and world languages, and allows users to simultaneously compare different translation results given by the most commonly used tools (e.g. Google, Bing, Systran, Trident, Linguatec). The EU's contribution to this project is €2 million.
Further progress in language technologies requires broad collaboration and continuous dialogue between industry, researchers, the public sector and citizens. The META-NET project, with EU support of €6 million, is building a technology alliance (already over 200 members) for multilingual Europe.