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“Born to be bilingual”  Ray Kwan, like most others on the Unbabel platform, is not your typical translator: “translators are supposed to be more concerned with the liberal arts, but I am more of a geeky guy. I like chasing all the new techie stuff, and...

In part 1 of this series, we saw how history and luck put English at the top of the world’s linguistic tree. It might not have been the most spoken language in the world, but if English had a GDP, it would dwarf any other language on the planet.

In part 2, we found out that, particularly online, the strength of the English language is dwindling. Just 23 languages (out of more than 7000) are the native tongue of over 4 billion people that’s more than half the world. 

This gentle decline in the use of English should be discussed in terms of the economically-driven success of other countries. Whilst China for its sheer size has hogged the headlines, large parts of Asia and Africa are starting to assert themselves on the world stage. This has consequences for business.

In the first piece of this series, we discovered that English had got lucky. Of the 7000+ languages spoken in the world today an ever-changing list as dialects flex, grow and die out English became dominant. 

It’s historical good fortune and the practicalities of trade that gave English its position by the late 20th Century, and it’s no surprise that circumstance and practicality are equally responsible for the new world of language we find ourselves in today.

In this three-part series, we’re going to look at how the balance of language especially online is changing, and what that means for business. 

If you’re reading this in the original English it was written (rather than our translations in Chinese, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish or Italian), perhaps it’s not your first language, but here we are.

How did that happen? 

Iraq, Hiroshima and Vietnam have more in common than the tragedies of war; in fact, they might have turned out rather differently if the world had paid attention to one minor detail… 

Mistranslation is often amusing. Badly translated menus snapshotted on holiday spread across social media in minutes. But what happens when context is more important than what you’ll eat for the main course? 

In politics, that’s even more significant. A simple mistake can lead into an act of war.

MyFitnessPal is a fast, easy to use calorie counter. Medical studies prove the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to keep a diary of the food you eat. Based on this the MyFitnessPal application was built to make calorie counting and food tracking easy. Millions of people have lost weight using the web and mobile apps, available in 15 languages! In 2015 the company was sold to Under Armour and is now part of its Connected Fitness division.

 Facebook is localized into more than 70 languages, including upside down English which I tried and regretted immediately!  But, they missed something: a indomitable, untranslated string, below my username. Unlike the other UI texts, “edit profile” is not Portuguese. I know because I am Portuguese. And slightly OCD about these things. I found a localization bug on Facebook!