YouTube is a truly global platform. With the exception of a few countries where, for mostly political reasons, the service is banned (and even in those countries people find a way to watch YouTube) it is used in just about every developed nation in the world.
It makes sense then that the languages used on the platform would be diverse and far-ranging.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn that English is the most-used language on YouTube, but there can be potential growth for your channel in the details of YouTube languages.
Specifically, knowing why certain languages are popular and how you can use those languages to increase your potential audience. In this post, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the top languages on YouTube, including where those languages are being spoken and, as a result, watched.
Top Languages on YouTube in Numbers
When discussing the languages used on YouTube, the natural place to start is regions. Though it is not a hard rule, you can generally tie the most used languages on YouTube to the countries that use the platform the most. Let’s take a look at the top five countries by YouTube views. (Source)
|United States||916 Billion|
|United Kingdom||391 Billion|
Now, on the face of it, it might seem pretty obvious why English is the most used language. After all, English is the primary language of the United States, and the US is responsible for almost twice as many views as India—the next country on the list. There is more to it, however.
Firstly, you will notice that the United Kingdom is third on that list, and their native language is also English. So, if we redo this top five list by native language, rather than country, it becomes a top four;
|English (US/UK)||1,307 billion|
|Hindi (India)||503 Billion|
|Portugese (Brazil)||274 billion|
|Thai (Thailand)||207 Billion|
The first table was quite lopsided, but now you will note that English language nations combined are responsible for more YouTube views than the rest of the top five nations combined. But let’s go even deeper. India, which was part of the British Empire in the not-too-distant past, boasts an estimated 10% of its population can speak English. Given that India is the second-most populous nation in the world after China, that’s quite a considerable chunk of people. Moving on to Brazil, around 7% of their population list English as a significant language. For Thailand, over a quarter of the population speak English.
So, with all of this information in mind, let’s take another look at our table, but this time we’re going to re-allocate the English-speaking percentages of the non-English nations.
|Portugese (Brazil)||255 billion|
|Thai (Thailand)||155 billion|
Of course, we realise that just because 10% of Indians speak English doesn’t mean that the 10% are responsible for a proportional share of Indian YouTube views, or that them being able to speak English means they would watch English videos. These are not intended to be hard statistics; we are merely illustrating the potential views for these languages. For example, the quarter of Thailand that can speak English may prefer to watch videos in Thai, but they can watch videos in English. In contrast, only a statistically insignificant percentage of the United States would be able to watch a video in Thai.
You will no doubt have noticed now that the top languages have become even more lopsided. At 1,428 billion, English speakers are almost double the combined total of the other three languages (863 billion).
Of course, the reality of these numbers is much messier than our tables suggest. For example, only 78% of the United States list English as their primary language. And the “primary” part is important, especially in cases like the 27% of Thailand that speak English—the fact that they speak English does not mean they don’t speak Thai. But even with these reality checks, it’s hard to ignore that the overwhelming majority of YouTube viewers can speak English, even if it’s not their first language, which makes English the go-to choice for videos. The fact that the majority of YouTube users reside in English speaking countries only serves to reinforce this bias, since most people only upload videos in their primary language.
Should I Make Videos in a Language Other Than my Own?
The ultimate gatekeeper to YouTube success is the quality of your content. If you are not a native English speaker you are, unfortunately, missing out on a significant demographic in your potential audience, but if you can’t make videos in English, you will not gain anything by trying, and you may even harm your channel in the process.
YouTube’s recommendation algorithm pays attention to things like watch time and whether people hang around when they land on one of your videos. If you attempt to make a video in a language you are not comfortable with, and it is hard to understand and puts people off, YouTube may take that as a sign that your videos are not recommendable, which would have a negative impact on your native language videos.
If, on the other hand, you are comfortable in a language (or languages) other than your primary one, it can’t hurt to make videos for that language. However, there is a different problem to deal with, namely one of a cost-benefit nature.
Any given niche will only attract a small percentage of a demographic, whether that demographic is by age, gender, region, or language. Once you factor this in with the percentage of YouTube users that speak a given language and the percentage of those people that might be interested in your video, you could be looking at a very small potential audience gain.
For example, if we go back to the list of nations by most YouTube views that we cited above, you will find Japan down in the twentieth spot with 215 million views. The native primary language of Japan is, as you would expect, Japanese. However, the number of Japanese speakers across the world is relatively small. In fact, the total number of people around the world who speak Japanese is roughly the same as the percentage of Indians who speak English at around 125 million.
If you are Japanese and you can speak fluent English, it would be a no brainer to make videos in English, as it would open you up to a potential audience that is an order of magnitude larger than the audience you would have had with your native tongue. If, on the other hand, English is your primary language and you can also speak Japanese, the potential gains from making videos in Japanese may not be worth the extra effort you would have to put in.
All of this would come secondary to the content, of course. If you are making content that is designed for Japanese people, specifically, the size of the audience is irrelevant.
Making Your Videos Accessible in Languages You Don’t Speak
Learning a language is no small task, and learning it to the degree where you can speak it clearly enough to make YouTube videos is an even bigger feat. Fortunately, you have options.
Pay For Translations
The most expensive option is also the option that provides the best experience for your viewers. There are several services online that will translate a script for as little as a few cents a word, Rev for example, though you will then have to find a voice-over artist who speaks the language you are translating to.
For this option, it is crucial to go to a translation service that specialises in voice-over translation. Having your script translated by a standard translation service will almost certainly result in stilted, awkward speech, so if you are going to take this path, do it right.
There is presently no option for dubbing videos with alternative audio tracks, so you will have to create whole new videos for your alternative languages. You shouldn’t worry too much, though; you’re not likely to be cannibalising your own audience by splitting your views as the people who watch your alternative language videos will have been far less likely to watch the primary language video in the first place.
Subtitles are a great way to make your videos accessible to foreign languages and, depending on how much you are willing to invest in your channel, can even be free thanks to YouTube’s automated captioning and translation services. These will need turning on in your upload settings, but once they are, you can leave the subtitles for all languages to YouTube.
As anyone who has used Google Translate (or any other automated translator) will be able to attest, translation tools aren’t always the most accurate option. Language is complicated, and though AI has provided a path to far more accurate translation, it’s not quite there yet. So, if you are prepared to spend a little money, you can get your subtitles translated professionally.
There are plenty of services online that will do this for you, and they will mostly be cheaper than the voice-over translations we mentioned above. It’s worth noting that if you choose to use this method or the translated voice-over mentioned above, you will need a script that can be translated. If you script your videos, then you should be able to use your already-written script for this purpose.
However, if you are more of a free spirit when you record, coming up with your dialogue on the spot, there is always the option to pay for transcription services.
I use Rev for all my videos to help caption and translate all my content and broaden its appeal and boost rankings across the web. On their website they offer subtitling and close captioning from as little as $1.25 per minute in multiple languages. Best still it auto uploads to YouTube to make it painlessly easy to use.
How Important is it be Accessible in Other Languages
As with many things on YouTube, the benefits of having your videos accessible to people who speak a different language to you will vary depending on what you are making and who you are making it for.
For the vast majority of YouTubers, there is not a particularly large benefit to having your videos translated or releasing alternate-language versions of them.
It is not that there isn’t potential in those extra views, it is that the effort of producing these extra videos, or the cost of having them translated, is not justified by the benefits. And, while far from perfect, YouTube’s automated translation does do a passable job that would be enough for some people who are especially interested in your content.
For YouTubers who are making videos in a particularly small niche, it may be worth it, however. It is undoubtedly easier to get traction in a smaller niche, but you are, ultimately, working with a much smaller potential audience, which can make the effort of expanding that audience worth the hassle.
What’s more, expanding your audience by making your content accessible in other languages is a win-win situation, since it makes your potential audience larger without increasing your competition, such as would be the case if you increased your potential audience by broadening your niche. There may be YouTubers making videos in your additional language that compete with you, but they will only be competing in that language.
For extremely successful YouTubers, having your videos accessible to other languages becomes worth it again, not because of any significant increase in views as a result, but because the cost of making those videos accessible becomes less significant. For someone making videos for fun in the evening after their day job, paying $150 to have a video translated or transcribed and a voice-over made is not a particularly attractive prospect. But if your YouTube channel is regularly making you thousands of dollars a month, it can’t hurt to reinvest some of that money back into your channel.
Of course, not everything has to be a cost-benefit analysis. If you just want to make your content available to more people, regardless of whether the benefit is worth the effort, the tools are there for you to do so.