Why is it that people only search in their native language?

I recently read a post by Barry Schwarzt that Google made a decision to drop a service which they said was rarely used and this action got me thinking about why this might be.

Very simply put the service enabled users to type in search criteria in a their native (source) language and then use a drop down tab to choose a different language to search in.  Google would then use its own Google translate MT engine to fulfil the search request in that language and produce the results, again using Google translate, in the original source language .

It was particularly useful if you were searching for legislation changes in foreign countries, market leading influencers in industry sectors in foreign countries and invaluable when researching companies or individuals in foreign countries.

Now some of you may be asking “what’s the big deal? I only ever search in my own language anyway” well that’s the point.  Google has evaluated this service and decided that its usage is so negligible that maintaining it as a service is not worth it.  In other words “People only search in their native language!”

So why is this?

  • Is it because people don’t trust Google translate? There are enough horror stories around to suggest that this could be one of the reasons.
  • Is it because people didn’t even know the service existed? Another very plausible possibility; I certainly only found out about it through accident and I would consider myself fairly tech savvy.
  • Or is because we humans are just too frightened of making a mistake and therefore adding another potential failure variable into our search for answers is just a variable too far?

My personal take on this then, is I believe that it is predominantly just human nature and that we are predisposed to take the easy, or tried and tested, option.  If we haven’t been shown how to use something or don’t understand how to use something then we just won’t do it, which leads me nicely on to why over 72% of internet users only visit sites in their native language and why over 52% will not buy ANYTHING from a website which is not in their native language.

Ask yourself a simple question. You are walking down the high street and there are two shops both advertising the same thing in the shop window.  Shop 1 is selling this item at a price which is 10% more than Shop 2. The problem is Shop 2 is selling a Dunstabzugshaube and all the specifications are in German.  Shop 1, however is selling an Oven Extractor Fan with the specifications in English, now which one would you buy???

Transfer this simple logic to a website and suddenly even finding the shop becomes a major task if you don’t speak the language.

To wrap this up then here’s a couple of interesting facts for you:  There are over 2.3 BILLION internet users in the world today and with just 13 languages you can reach 90% of these users.  Capita Translation and Interpreting recently produced a very powerful infographic which represents these facts and figure very well.

In my mind, if your business is reliant on selling to a multilingual client base, this latest decision by Google bears even more weight in favour of a professionally localized web presence.

Then again I would say that wouldn’t I 🙂

Is Translation really necessary?

A study by the European commission of over 53,000 on the competencies of secondary school children studying one or two foreign languages in 2011 revealed a very stark result.

Out of the 16 participating states the percentage of children not reaching beyond Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) level A1 in reading, listening and writing in their first chosen language (mostly English) was as follows

Reading 46%

Listening 39%

Writing 33%

To put this into context here’s what the CEFR defines as Level A1


I can get an idea of the content of simple informational material and descriptions, especially if there is visual support.


I can understand questions and instructions if people speak carefully and slowly, and I can follow short, simple directions.


I can write a few words and phrases that relate to myself, my family, where I live, my school.

So here’s my point, do you really believe that if you’re exporting that you will be engaging with your target market if you only use your own language? Do you honestly believe that if your window to the world has broken French (or any other language) written all over it, it will attract the next multimillion pound order? In fact don’t you think that you will become one of the increasing examples of “Lost in Translation?” which are beginning to litter the social media sites?

In all seriousness the answers to all these questions we probably already know… but what to do about it or who to speak to about it is a little more tricky in this very crowded market space.