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Extra Credit: English May Not Always Be the Language of the Internet

Dear Extra Credit:
Cassandra Rosado said, "in this shrinking world, in which new generations increasingly converse in English on the Internet, is it the best use of our students' time to require two or three years of a foreign language for college admissions?" If how the Internet is used has become a reason to drop language requirements, perhaps some data on the Internet would be appropriate.
Although the Internet might have started in the United States and therefore was English-based, it has rapidly moved to other countries and languages. The United States no longer has the largest number of Internet users. China does, with 298 million users to the United States' 220 million. Although many of the Chinese users might also speak English, 90 percent of Chinese Internet users prefer content in their local languages. Internet penetration in China is 22 percent; in the United States, it's 72 percent.
This, and generally lower penetration rates in non-English-speaking countries, might indicate that future long-term growth will come increasingly from non-English speakers. Looking at Internet users as a whole, although English is spoken by most users of the Internet at 452 million worldwide, 71 percent of the world's Internet users are not categorized as English speakers. On Facebook, the sixth most-visited site on the Internet, where many of the new generation are conversing, 40 percent of the users are not using English. Facebook has been able to keep its growth strong (170 million users worldwide) in part by making itself available in 43 languages, and is in the process of being translated into another 60 languages. Wikipedia, the ninth most-visited site on the Internet, has the most articles in English, but that represents only 22 percent of the total articles on the site. A full 78 percent are in languages other than English.
Michaela Barnes

Bethesda

Thanks for all the data.

--Jay Mathews

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail extracredit@washpost.com.

By Washington Post Editors  | April 30, 2009; 5:15 PM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  | Tags:  Internet, foreign languages  
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Next: Jay's Take: More Chinese in U.S. Colleges Good for All

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