The missed chance with Catalan

Catalan is my language — a language spoken by 10 million people, 5.3 of whom speak it natively, across four European countries. In terms of speakers, its importance is similar to Danish, Slovakian, Finnish and Croatian, and it has more speakers than Lithuanian, Slovenian, and Latvian. In the territories where it is spoken, Catalan speakers have been  — and unfortunately continue to be — discriminated against because of their language, aside from the notable exception of Andorra, a microstate wedged between Spain and France where Catalan is the sole official language. 

Yet nothing has prevented Catalan from being present digitally, where it has generally enjoyed a healthy position: mobile phones, computer operating systems, digital platforms, and so on have quickly been translated into the language, and Catalan speakers have welcomed the speed of these moves, switching to these versions en masse once they are available. 

Such advances would not have been achieved if it were not for the active community demanding the presence of Catalan on the internet and willing to volunteer when companies do not step in. This is supported by the fact that Twitter was translated into Catalan by volunteers four times quicker than into Arabic, despite having only 10 million L1+L2 speakers compared with Arabic’s 315 million speakers. In addition, the Catalan version of Wikipedia ranks 20th in number of articles: almost half as many articles as there are in Spanish. 

However, Catalan has often been excluded from some platforms on the assumption that Catalan-speaking users would feel comfortable using the Spanish version. Recently, Plataforma per la Llengua (“Platform for the Language”), a Barcelona-based non-profit organization and advocacy group that promotes the use of the Catalan language, published the results of a market study conducted in Catalonia that sheds light on the possibility of companies such as LinkedIn and Instagram increasing their market penetration by incorporating Catalan into their platforms. 

The figures speak for themselves: Regarding Instagram, 25% of Catalan-speaking users set it up in English, compared to 6% of Spanish-speaking users. About 2.5 million Catalans claim they would set Instagram up in Catalan. In addition, 850,000 Catalans would sign up to Instagram if it were available in Catalan. Concerning LinkedIn, only 25% of Catalan  speakers have an account, compared with 33% of Spanish speakers. However, 46% of  Catalan LinkedIn users would set it up in Catalan if the language were available.  Moreover, 35% of those who do not have LinkedIn claim they would sign up if it were available in Catalan: The most willing are the youngest potential users.

And there are other examples. Plataforma per la Llengua, the non-profit organization, provides free technical advice for linguistics. On its website, it has published several studies on consumer behavior regarding voice assistants, operating systems, GPS and digital platforms in an attempt to prove the feasibility of incorporating Catalan in these areas. These figures demonstrate that the language factor is important for Catalan consumers: It is up to Meta and Windows to seize this opportunity. In fact, it is worth  noting that these very companies have already done so systematically: Facebook was first translated into Catalan in 2008 and Microsoft has always offered Catalan as a configuration language. 

I cannot stress enough that language is the most important tool when it comes to globalizing a product: It is the piece that creates an emotional bond between consumers and products. As a result, the language of products must match that of customers to ensure the best possible level of localization. In other words, as a rule of thumb, they must speak the same language. It is as simple as that. 

Consequently, the power of the Catalan language to increase customer loyalty and to achieve new targets should not be underestimated. We also need to be aware of how neural machine translation will reshape the current paradigm, reducing translation costs and allowing companies to further their globalization efforts in much more specific ways. 

I remain confident that companies will recognize the opportunity offered by Catalan to increase their market penetration in the Catalan-speaking territories and to continue building truly global products and services.

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