Multilingual site language list advice

M

I’m currently working in Indonesia (and I’ll be here for a few more weeks) enjoying the hustle and bustle from sleepy, beautiful Cape Town.

A lot of apps and websites I use are now (and understandably) showing me their content in Bahasa Indonesia. Despite finding the language interesting and easy to study, I still prefer to see these sites in English.

Most multilingual websites have standardized the location of the language/region toggle switch (usually in the header or footer).

Language selector lists done right

Here’s how FireFox did it (the right way)

firefox language list

How to create a multilingual list to annoy and confuse people

Here’s how LastPass password manager (which I adore, use every day, highly recommend and have since reached out to with the requested change):

lastpass language list

Noticed the difference?

FireFox shows the languages in their native writing, LastPass shows the translated language, the one that the app/browser/device is set to.

The correct way is to translate the content of the sites and things like the menu items (no small feat I can attest, we’re doing it right now at BitX), but not to translate the actual language list. That is, if you’re showing your website in any language the individual languages should be shown in the language of the native speaker.

Imagine the frustration if you’re on a Chinese website and you need to find “英文” (English) in the language selector; you’d need to know how to read the Chinese characters for “English”.

So instead of showing “Cine” (regognisable to Indonesian readers) or even “Traditional Chinese” (more recognizable, but still only to English readers), LastPass should show “繁体中文” (recognisable to Traditional Chinese readers, those looking for that specific language).

And then, instead of showing “Bahasa Inggris”, they ought to show the native “English” to me :-)

An even-better way of displaying it might be –depending on your design constraints– to show the language code followed by the native written format. So “ZH -繁体中文” for Traditional Chinese, “EN – English” for English etc.).

There is an extensive list of languages, as written in their native tongue with their language codes, called the ISO 639-1 on Wikipedia.

Oh, lastly, try to steer clear of country flags for languages. These are regional/country indicators, not language indicators. Traditional Chinese is, for instance, used in both Hong Kong and Taiwan, Portuguese is spoken not just in Portugal, but also in Mozambique, Cape Verde, Angola and Brazil, so it will just be confusing/wrong to use a flag.

Agree? Disagree? Reach out, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

About the author

Werner van Rooyen

I'm involved with Business Development and Marketing at the fast-moving Bitcoin Exchange, Luno. Active in South Africa, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Add comment

About me

Werner van Rooyen

I'm involved with Business Development and Marketing at the fast-moving Bitcoin Exchange, Luno. Active in South Africa, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.