Social Media’s impact on languages

October 25, 2013 by Wadii El Maroudi
Filed under: Business, Case Studies 

Social media has made the use of internet appealing to anybody with access to the web, but what exactly is “social media?”

Social media is the combination of all web and mobile based applications that allow the user to:

  • Create and share their own content with the intent to share it on the Web. This content could be pictures, videos, web articles, and in some cases even feelings.
  • Comment and exchange: what makes the social media unique is the possibility to exchange thoughts and ideas in real time. It is comparable to having a “live” conversation with the audience.

When my father asked me to create a Facebook account for him, I knew then that social media is a force to be reckoned with. It allows the users to be constantly connected to their surroundings; friends and family, as well as their main point of interests all over the world.

Social media-based interactions between two or more individuals speaking the same language is daily routine on the web. However, what if the interaction involves speaking audiences with varying speaking languages? Do users use their native languages by default? There is no right or wrong answer. Multinational corporations  typically have social media analysts assigned by regions to ensure that their content is delivered to their audiences in their preferred language. World famous superstars and athletes, on the other hand share their content in two languages: their native and English. Why English?

To truly understand the impact of English on social media, let’s take a look at total number of users of which more than 62% are English speakers:

Facebook: 1 billion users; 600 mobile users; more than 42 million pages and 9 million apps

YouTube: 4 billion views per day

Google+: 400 million registered users

Skype: 250 million monthly connected users

LinkedIn: 175 million users

Tumblr: 150 million users

Twitter: 140 million users

Instagram: 100 million registered users, 4 billion photos

Yelp: 78 million users; 30 million reviews

WordPress: 74 million blogs

English is the third most spoken language worldwide after Mandarin and Spanish, but surprisingly ranks the number language used in terms of social media use. It is almost expected that the intended audience will “get” the message if written in English.

More than 65% of companies worldwide use social media as a communication tool, most commonly in English. Audiences have adapted by learning basic English through their social media daily interactions. It allows the users to understand the message and reply using the same language. This could be better demonstrated by reading the interactions between English worldwide content creators and non-English speaking audiences. Although the audience answers are not communicated through perfect English, the central message is typically understood. This type of social media dialogue could easily be misinterpreted, which leads me to my next point.

Translation Services Companies are now racing to get their hands on the next social media instant translation tool and developers have noticed the need and their efforts are starting to show. Facebook and Google+ both introduced, last year, the “See translation” or “Translate now” buttons on their interfaces. Although the translation is machine-based, it typically serves its purpose, but does not put the misinterpretation risk factor at ease.

Social media has surely put the world at our hands reach, but until we all speak the same languages, English as a language will continue to adapt, change and spread to fulfill the worldwide demand.


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