Your website might already be available in several languages. How do you choose what language to display to your users?
Three ways of selecting your user’s’ preferred language are their location, manual selection, or browser settings. Each has pros and cons. The purpose of this article is to go through different scenarios and find the answer that provides the best user experience.
Three ways of selecting the user’s language
- Location (IP address): this is useful when content is restricted due to certain legislation or tax is applied, but it is not ideal when you’re targeting foreigners or tourists. One example of location-specific content is Spotify or Netflix.
- Manual selection: when arriving on a website, the user will be asked to select a language (sometimes with the country and currency as well). Although this may be an accurate way of knowing the user’s preference, it also interrupts their experience on your website.
- Browser settings: this is the most favorable option for users as it is based on the user’s pre-selected list of preferred languages and do not require any work on their side.
What can go wrong?
Laura is a native Catalan speaker; she also speaks Spanish and English and lives in Japan. She wants to know about concerts in her area this weekend and she visits a website and finds a list of events, but the information is in Japanese. She leaves the website.
What would have happened if she visited a website in Catalan and only concerts taking place in Barcelona appeared? She would also leave the website.
In this scenario, using location would make sense, but we cannot ignore Laura’s browser language either. We need to combine both location (IP) and browser settings.
Something similar happens with e-commerce websites. Users usually look for a product available where they are located, with the information in a language they understand. The last thing you want to do is let your users know only at the last minute that the item they had been checking for over 30 minutes cannot be shipped to their location.
The best language selector is nothing
Ideally, you can guess their preferred language correctly and they do not have to know there are other languages available. But what if you don’t? The default language will appear and switching to another language should be easy: the language selector shouldn’t be camouflaged, and it shouldn’t disrupt the design of the website either. This would make the user feel they are not seeing the original version of the website.
When the user selects another language, this selection should be saved, either because they are logged into their account or, when they are not logged in or are not required to create an account, by using cookies. Selecting another language should lead to the same content in the language they have chosen if it exists.
A language selector or a list of available languages?
Amazon has a different website per country, each with a language selector offering translated content. Wikipedia, on the other hand, offers a list of available languages for each article; the content in language A will not necessarily be available in language B, and if it is, will not be a translation. They both adapt to their users’ needs.
Regarding widgets specifically, often times we can find flags representing each language. This can be a tricky choice. For instance, when offering a website in English or Arabic, which flag should you choose? It is only “safe” to use when your website is localized by country/region. One last tip, list the languages in that language: English, Français, Español, 日本語 and not English, French, Spanish, Japanese.
There isn’t only one answer
At times when it is easier to relocate when languages can co-exist within the same borders, or non-official languages are the most spoken, offering our users the best language experience is a complex task. Analyze who you are targeting and what you are looking to achieve with your website, only then can you offer a fully localized solution to your users.
WOVN.io is a website localization service used by more than 10,000 businesses worldwide. It enables you to multilingualize websites in less than 5 minutes with no development requirements. WOVN.io was founded by Takaharu Hayashi and Jeffrey Sandford in 2014 in Tokyo, Japan.
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