Arabic is an important language for many reasons. Spoken by an estimated 300 million people, it’s the third most common official language in the world, after English and French. Arabic has also contributed many words that are now commonplace terms in other languages, such as algebra and algorithm in English.
While Arabic is fairly well known for its importance as a language of politics and for its influence on other languages, it’s perhaps less noted for its current role in the digital age. Here are some facts about Arabic and the global web that may surprise you:
- The online Arabic-speaking population now surpasses Russian, French, and German. Research from Ben Sargent at Common Sense Advisory (CSA) shows that Arabic now has a larger total online population than each of these three languages.
- Arabic is quickly growing in online economic importance too. The same CSA report reveals that Arabic’s share of online gross domestic product grew faster than any other language – even faster than Simplified Chinese – between 2011 and 2012.
- Many major websites are behind the curve when it comes to Arabic. In spite of the undeniable financial opportunities represented by Arabic, a separate report from CSA found that only four out of the top 100 internet brands offered content in Arabic, and only one in every 20 Fortune 500 companies offered Arabic websites.
- Arabic is the fastest-growing language on social media platforms. A report released earlier this month from the Dubai School of Government explains that the number of active Twitter users in the Arab world has grown from 2 million to 3.7 million in the past year, and there are more than 5 million LinkedIn users residing in the Arab world. In March 2013 alone, Arab Twitter users generated 335 million tweets.
While international marketers and global businesses should take note of these important facts, the value of Arabic-language content on the web extends far beyond just its online commercial potential.
The same research conducted by the Dubai School of Government surveyed parents in Arab countries suffering from violence, civil unrest, and political instabilities. More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said that online resources were helpful for their children to catch up on material they missed out on due to interruptions in their schooling.
The report also found that 82% of respondents felt that social media could help students with special needs.
Today, Smartling announced a partnership with Taghreedat, a volunteer-based organization with a mission to improve access to online content for the Arabic-speaking world. This mission is aligned with Smartling’s own mission of making the web truly multilingual. The two organizations first became acquainted through TED, which uses Smartling’s technology and for which Taghreedat provides a volunteer community of 9,200 Arabic translators around the world.
Taghreedat already partners with various world-renowned organizations, including Google, Twitter, and Wikimedia. But some of their most impressive initiatives have less to do with well-known global brands and more to do with increasing access to online content for Arabic speakers whose needs for information (and education) are not yet being fully met.
Sometimes “access” extends into “accessibility.” For example, a recent initiative from Taghreedat now enables blind Arabic speakers to use Twitter. Technology can open doors for many people who would otherwise be left behind, but language often leaves those doors locked tightly shut.
For this reason and many others, Taghreedat and Smartling will be partnering on various initiatives to help unlock more of the world’s vast treasure troves of digital content. With increased communication comes the possibility of greater understanding between populations of diverse languages, cultures, and backgrounds. Translation may just be the skeleton key.