You may be familiar with the English Proficiency Index (EPI). Published by Education First, the EPI is a yearly ranking of countries based on the English language skills of its denizens. At Nimdzi we cite it frequently – it is a good source of information (and inspiration for more in-depth country research too). For instance, the EPI can give you an indication of how far a country has come, or has yet to go, in its insertion to the global economy. After all, English is still the measuring stick for global business.

We at Nimdzi believe, however, that businesses should not stop at English as their only language, especially when going global is the next logical step in the company’s evolution. In fact, you might want to start considering additional language markets as early as possible, to avoid some of the issues that may arise later. Nimdzi covered the different approaches of going global in a two-part InfoDrop series – check them out here and here.

Let’s dig deeper into what the EPI tells us and why your business should be thinking multilingual out of the box.

English in today’s business

English is the top language for business and the de facto language of globalization and internet communication.

Consider the following:

  • 55.7 percent of all websites on the internet are in English. English is the founding language of the internet.
  • 25.4 percent of internet users worldwide use English (native and non-native). Chinese users come in second, at 19.3 percent. Spanish users are the third largest part, at a distant 8.1 percent.
  • As per’s 2018 T-Index, the United States holds an estimated 31.4 percent share of the global e-commerce market and leading by a wide margin to boot. Your business simply cannot afford NOT using English.

What the EPI tells us

You could argue that the very existence of the EPI underscores the importance of the English language. Still, one needs to look at the EPI for what it is.

The EPI measures language proficiency of its respondents, which is a direct result of language education in the respective countries.

When looking at the EPI, it’s important to keep in mind country EPI scores do not directly correlate with improved sales for your product or predict what your user base is going to look like.

Still, there are a few useful observations when you analyze the figures:

  • Europe, as a whole, performs better in this ranking than other regions of the world. Depending on where your business heads next, you might just get by with English only in Europe. This is especially true for Northern European and Benelux countries, which position well in the EPI ranking.
  • The general trend seems to be the further south or east you go, the less likely your users will understand your English offer.

Think a moment on how lower EPI scores may lead to potentially damaging consequences for your English-centric business – consumers misunderstanding your message or downright rejecting it because they are less likely to buy your product if it’s not localized.

However, this should be precisely the reason you go all-in for localization.

Thinking multilingual, out of the box

While English is the leading language for business and the EPI serves to underline its importance, we advocate for businesses to think multilingual, as soon as they possibly can.

Here’s why:

  • If English is the language of 25.4 percent of internet users worldwide, think of the remaining 74.6 percent who want content and products in their own language. Sounds like a lot of potential customers.
  • Internet penetration in Asian & African countries is still low. As access to the internet becomes more widespread, new audiences will come online, with money to spend. Start gearing up for the eventuality.
  • As per the 2021 projections of the T-Index mentioned above, the gap between the US and the rest of the pack will continue to diminish in terms of e-commerce market size. China and a handful of other countries such as Brazil or Russia are making up ground on the US. These countries might be your next stops in global expansion.

The top 10 languages of the internet

Want to take a closer look? Grab all tables in Google Sheets!

The languages rounding out the top 10 should probably feature on your list of languages driving your business’ growth. As per the T-Index data:

Localizing your website in these 10 languages gives you access to 77.9 percent of global online sales.

A few key facts you should be paying attention to:

  • Chinese: you likely already knew Chinese has the most native speakers on the planet. What you may not have known is only about 55 percent of Chinese have access to the internet. There is massive spending power remaining under the lid while internet penetration in China keeps going up.
  • Spanish: the US has the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world – 52 million. That is a market segment you do not want to overlook. Generally speaking, Spanish is a must for much of the Western hemisphere.
  • Portuguese, Arabic, Indonesian & Hindi: these are all language markets on the upswing with a growing user base yet to realize their full economic potential. If you want to get ahead of the curve, you should be taking a serious look at these.
  • German, French, Russian & Japanese: more traditional and well-established language markets, but no less important due to their industrial and cultural influence, as well as opportunities in technology and science fields, also opening access to large populations in Europe and Africa.

The Nimdzi recommendation

Virtually every startup will face the question of which language to localize into sooner or later. Do your homework – understand your product and potential user base and go from there. Do not solely rely on English only to support your international growth. Tools such as the EPI should remain tools helping you make educated business decisions, not drive them.

Consider multilingual expansion as early as you can. The question ceased to be whether you should localize. Now it is a question of which markets to go for first. We at Nimdzi are here to help you make that educated decision.

This post originally appeared on Nimdzi