However, 44% of European Internet users feel they are missing interesting information because web pages are not in a language that they understand and only 18% buy products online in a foreign language.
The results underline the need for investment in online translation tools so that EU Internet users are not excluded from finding information or products online because they lack the language skills. Currently the European Commission manages 30 different research projects working at the interface of language and digital content, supported by €67 million of EU funding and the new projects submitted this year will get an additional €50 million.
The survey shows that while there is a huge amount of quality online content available, not everyone can use it to equal advantage, due to varying language skills. On average one out of two Internet users in twenty three Member States uses a language other than their own to read online. However this figure hides great variations as between 90 and 93% of Greeks, Slovenes, Luxembourgers, Maltese and Cypriots indicated they would use other languages when online, but only 9% of UK citizens, 11% of Irish, 23% of Czechs and 25% of Italians said they would do so.
The survey confirms that English is the most commonly used language when it comes to reading and watching content on the Internet in a different language than one's own: almost half of Internet users in the EU (48%) would use English at least "occasionally" while Spanish, German and French would be used by 4% to 6% of users.
Again practice varies greatly between Member States: 90% of Internet users in Cyprus, 97% in Malta and 85% in Greece and Sweden use an English language website if the information is not readily available in their language, but only 35% of Italians, 45% of Latvians, 47% of Romanians and 50% of French would do likewise.
While two-thirds – or more – respondents in Sweden (67%), Slovenia (68%), Bulgaria and Lithuania (both 69%) said they had gone online several times a day in the past four weeks, only half as many Italians gave a similar response (33%). The proportion of “heavy” Internet users was also less than 50% in Belgium (43%), Malta (46%) and Finland (48%).
In almost all countries, English was the most frequently mentioned language for reading or watching content on the Internet: the proportion of Internet users who said that they at least occasionally read or watched online content in English ranged from 35% in the Czech Republic and Italy to 90%-91% in Cyprus and Malta.
In Malta, 70% of respondents who used English to read or watch content on the Internet used this language all the time, while 24% said they used it frequently. The corresponding proportions for Cyprus were 34% and 40%, respectively.
Across almost all EU Member States, browsing to get information, or reading or watching the news was the most frequently mentioned online activity performed in a language other than the respondent’s own. Respondents in Luxembourg and Slovenia were the most likely to say that they at least occasionally used a language other than their own when browsing to get information or reading or watching the news on the Web (both 96%). Furthermore, 49% of respondents in Malta and 29% of those in Luxembourg said they used another language at all times for this activity.
Further progress in language technologies requires broad collaboration and continuous dialogue between industry, researchers, the public sector and citizens. The META-NET project, with EU support of €6 million, is building a technology alliance (already over 200 members) for multilingual Europe.