English has long been established as the de facto language of the internet, but the majority of internet users — including the overwhelming majority of NIUs — are not native English speakers.

This has become a barrier for many NIUs who struggle to make sense of content online, as well as text in user interfaces and operating systems. Phones, for example, almost always come with English as the default language, and if or when an NIU discovers how to switch that default to their own language, frustration can still arise because most internet content is in English.

When this happens, NIUs are prone to experiencing an internet that’s almost irrelevant to them — an unfamiliar environment that doesn’t seem created with them in mind. For most new and novice users, this could be where engagement falls, learning stops, and the value of the internet diminishes.

In light of these challenges with language, NIUs have been turning to voice tools, where they can speak in their own language to search the internet or hear content being read back to them in a language they understand. Voice has become a critical enabler for NIUs to navigate the internet and we need to make sure voice products are intuitive and helpful. (See Voice).

We can also do more to address the language pain point for NIUs. At Google, ​​we are working to expand the availability of languages online. Google Translate, for example, supports offline translation in at least nine widely used languages in India. Gboard, which allows voice typing, supports more than 900 languages, including over 100 languages spoken in NBU countries. With Google Assistant, users can say, “Hey Google, read it” or “Hey Google, read this page” for Google Assistant to read the text on their screen aloud and even translate it into more than 40 different languages. For NIUs who struggle with reading and literacy, these features have tremendous potential to provide access where none was possible before.

Just as language is a vital part of human connection, it’s also key to ensuring access to information and communication, both of which are increasingly available online. The challenge then – for content producers, designers, and developers and the larger ecosystem – is to begin with inclusion in mind and create a multilingual internet that will benefit everyone, everywhere.


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