New figures let UK websites boost their audience by revealing languages to consider for translation. Below we look at the top options.
Last week’s Census figures give UK websites and community projects insight into which languages to target for translation in a specific locality or nationwide. In an earlier article, I argued community translation can increase your audience and their involvement – and the new Census figures give further insight.
How big is the audience?
The Census reveals a large number of households are most effectively reached via languages other than English. The Census asked about “main language” defined as a person’s first or preferred language. Just over one in 20 households in England have no adult who speaks English as their main language. The picture is similar in Wales, where the same proportion of households have no adult speakers of English or Welsh as a main language.
There is nearly 1.2 million households. The average number of people per UK household is 2.4. So something like 2.8 million people live in households where English is not the main language of any of the adults. That’s enough people to fill Wembley Stadium 31 times over.
So if the potential audience is large, which languages are being spoken in these households?
The Census asked every adult in the UK to specify their main language. This will provide an incredible insight into the languages spoken from household to household. Sadly we will have to wait a little longer for the results of this question, as further details are released by the Office for National Statistics through 2013.
What the figures revealed most recently do reveal is the origin of those resident in England and Wales but born elsewhere. This country of birth data does not tell us who now speaks English as their main language. But in addition to the statistics we looked at in “Boosting a website with community translation”, it gives us some vital clues about languages might be spoken in these households.
The top 25 countries
Of those living in England and Wales but born outside of the UK, the top 10 countries of origin are India, Poland, Pakistan, Ireland, Germany, Bangladesh, Nigeria, South Africa, China and the USA.
A range of languages are spoken in India with the Census of India of 2001 recording 30 languages spoken by more than a million native speakers. Hindi is the most widespread language of India. Earlier UK Censuses have shown large proportions of UK residents born in India speak Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati or Tamil.
There has been a substantial increase since the previous Census of residents born in Poland. One in 100 respondents were born in Poland, making Polish an important language for potential translation.
The two official languages of Pakistan are Urdu and English. Urdu is understood and spoken by a large bulk of the population although many have Punjabi as their main language.
English is the vernacular language throughout the bulk of Ireland, although Irish Gaelic is promoted through education and law.
At first sight, the appearance of Germany so far up this list is surprising, with 273,654 German-born people living in England and Wales. This is probably due to a statistic quirk though. As Helen Pidd points out in the Guardian, “Home Office statistics in 2009 revealed that 250,000 Britons were born abroad in military bases. Many of these, one can safely presume, took their first breaths in Germany and have returned home as bases have closed down in Germany since unification, or when their parents were have relocated.” Of course, many Germans have also chosen to make their homes in the UK, just not as many as the figures first suggest. Anecdotally it is also accepted that many of these speak exceptionally good English, no doubt due to its inclusion as a second language taught in school sometimes from the age of six.
Ethnologue records 38 different languages of Bangladesh, but by far the most widely spoken is Bengali. Spoken Bengali encompasses a range of dialects, with those spoken in Bangladesh varying from those in India. However as we explained in “Translation: to Bengali or not to Bengali?”, written Bengali is pretty much standard.
The languages of Nigeria are estimated number over 500 with official language, English, chosen to facilitate the unity. The leading languages spoken in Nigeria are Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. Interestingly Yoruba featured in our previous analysis too.
8 South Africa
South Africa has eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. However, English is the dominant language in government and the media.
Many languages are spoken in China, although Mandarin is the most populous with more native speakers (nearly a billion) than any other language in the world. The Census shows 150,000 respondents born in “mainland” China (the PRC), excluding Hong Kong which is listed separately. Simplified Chinese translation covers this demographic – being in fact an official script for both the PRC and Singapore. The combined figure for China and Hong Kong would instead rank 6th, compromising some quarter of a million people. To cover this combined group translation should be supplied in both Traditional and Simplified Chinese.
Websites based in the US are increasingly providing content is Spanish alongside English to cover the growing Hispanic population, but English could be considered sufficient to cover the American-born UK residents. There are some differences between US and British English, but anyone resident in the UK will probably be familiar with these.
Jamaican English is close to British English, although it does have some unique features and some influences from US English. Spelling is generally the same as British English.
It is no revelation that people from France speak French, although many speak excellent English alongside. The ranks of those born in France but living in the UK have been swelled by young professionals who have made London “France’s sixth biggest city”. A further advantage of French translation is that it is a “global” language and spoken by nationals of many countries beyond France.
There is a long history of Italians and those of Italian descent in the UK.
Portuguese translation caters not only to natives of Portugal but also those heralding from Brazil.
Of the 97,000 Lithuanians in England and Wales, just under half live in London putting Lithuanian translation on the agenda.
The UK has a longstanding community from Turkey, meaning Turkish has long been a staple of any community translation effort.
The official language of Ghana is English, although Akan is another lingua franca spoken by many as well as being one of the nine Government-sponsored languages (Akan, Ewe, Dagomba, Dangme, Dagaare, Ga, Nzema, Gonja, Kasem)
There are many languages spoken in Kenya, 69 according to Ethnologue. English and Swahili are the two official languages and are widely spoken as lingua franca.
Somali has a long history as a language although the current Somali Latin alphabet was only adopted as the official writing script in Somalia since 1972
Much of the population of Zimbabwe speaks Shona or Ndebele as a first language. However English is usually used for official business and serves as the common language for most Zimbabweans.
21 Hong Kong
The official languages of Hong Kong are Cantonese and English. As explained in our “China” entry above, Chinese for Hong Kong is usually written in Traditional Chinese characters.
22 Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans generally speak Sinhala or Tamil (or a closely related dialect).
The official languages of the Philippines are English and Filipino, a type of Tagalog.
Spanish translation caters not only to natives of Portugal but also those heralding from a large number of countries in Latin America and beyond.
Community translation in London
In London, the picture is slightly different to the rest of the UK. One in four residents were not born in the UK. The top 25 countries of origin were, in descending order, India, Poland, Ireland, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, France, Italy, Ghana, Kenya, Somalia, USA, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Australia, Portugal, Lithuania, Romania, Iran, China, Philippines and Spain. The foremost of these – India – provides 3.2% of Londoners with the last – Spain – providing one in 200 Londoners.
The list above has to be approached with a little educated guesswork as none of this tells us which of these countries provide all those households that do not speak English. This will become completely clear once the Census reveals in 2013 the full data on individuals’ “main language”. But the information released so far does allow us to make educated guesses and start to reach out to an additional audience in the meantime.