1. 67

  2. 16

    Second paragraph and I’m already mad.

    Rule 8: Flags represent nations, not languages – so don’t use flags.

    Some obviously controversial flags: United Kingdom, Spain, France, Portugal. These examples have more speakers outside the origin country than within and is a very Euro-centric, colonial viewpoint of language to use any flag whatsoever. Not to mention, many countries have more than one language which further propagates stereotypes or belittlement of minority groups inside those countries.

    Luckily the Steady site doesn’t break this rule, just the blog entry.

    1. 12

      The reason flags are used is that if a website is in a language you do not understand you may not otherwise know where to click to change the language, or recognise the name of your language. The word for “English” in Russian is “английский”. Are you going to know to click on that unless there is a American or British flag next to it?

      Everyone knows that people get het up about flags. Flags are used despite this for usability reasons.

      1. 22

        That’s why the dropdown for language selection should list the name of each language in that language. Deutsch, English, Espanol, etc.

        1. 12

          My favorite “bug” I saw lately around this was a county drop-down that was translated to German but the sort order was still in English. So Germany (“Deutschland”) was not under “D”, but under “G” right after Gabun, where it is in the English sorting. Very confusing.

          1. 6

            This can also be fun for country names. Sending something to someone in France, I had to find the UK in a French-language drop-down. At school, I learned a few variations on how the country name is translated into French, this web site introduced me to a new one.

            1. 6

              Le Royaume Uni I suppose?

              The UK is a hard nut in these forms. I often try a number of options, but I can’t complain when even the Olympic team uses the wrong name (“Team GB” - the UK is not just Great Britain).

              1. 1

                A bit tangential, but UK government forms really threw me for a loop the first time I used one, as it’s the only place I’ve seen the adjective form of nationality used for the Citizenship/Nationality field. When listing my citizenship for visa/etc. purposes, on most countries’ forms it’s just a drop-down of country names. So usually you can find the USA under U somewhere (United States, USA, U.S.A., etc.). But for gov.uk it was under A for American instead (UK was likewise under B, for British). I’m not too knowledgeable about the details, but I assume this has something to do with the complexities of British nationality.

            2. 4

              Sure, you just need to find the “язык” dropdown. Should be easy as the currently selected value will be русскийрусский which is obviously wrong.

              1. 1

                Yes! Languages get closer to nationalities than most other pictograms. I couldn’t know to pick a picture of Spain’s boarders to change language, nor would I know to click on the alphabet (which doesn’t work for languages without alphabets). And flags help. Then, you say what the language actually is in the drop down so you can select it…

                Other rejected pictograms: Official bird View from the capitol Airport code Biggest company based there Slowly moving language names

            3. 8

              As sibling noted, obviously they should be in the native language spelling (or maybe put both). With Spanish being the US’s #2 most spoken language (no official language), should those Spanish speakers not count and find it odd they speak Spanish daily and click the US flag where they live and get English? Should they look for a flag of Spain? Or Mexico? Or their birth country (which is likely missing)? “español” + es is very clear (even if all dialects aren’t yet translated) and doesn’t have the same degree of political baggage as flags and countries do. When people migrate – and they do a lot in the 21st century – their languages come with them because languages belong to the people and flags belong to the nation.

              But do you really think people really know their flags? I don’t think this assertion is true. Which of these is Poland: 🇲🇨 🇵🇱 🇮🇩? Romania 🇦🇩 🇲🇩 🇷🇴? Ireland 🇨🇮 🇮🇪? Bolivia 🇧🇴 🇬🇭? Mali 🇸🇳 🇲🇱?

              But imagine if a user could send their preferred language through the user-agent and the server or browser could choose a ‘good’ default for them … Accept-Language sounds like a good name for this, maybe even navigator.languages. That would be better than what Google does: ignoring my request and mislabeling me based on IP instead.

              1. 3

                If you did user research on American Spanish speakers I wonder how many be confused by the American flag being used to denote English. Have you ever tested this?

                I think using Accept-Language by default would be a big improvement though it’s not a panacea. To some extent it just punts the issue to the browser. Changing your language in most browsers requires you download a language pack which you won’t have permission to do in internet cafes. Maybe that is no longer a problem now people have smart phones?

                1. 4

                  Changing your language in most browsers requires you download a language pack

                  changing the Accept-Language header does not require any downloads. It is just a string that gets send. The browser UI stay as is.

                  1. 1

                    your browser will use the language defined by the OS 99% of the time

                    1. 4

                      Chrome and Firefox have easy to use setting to change the language header that you send to websites. There is nothing you have to install. You do not need admin rights for that. This has worked like this for the last 2 decades at least. That is what I am referring to.

                      If websites ignore the header, that is not a problem of the browser, but our industry.

              2. 5

                I live in India. We have at least 13 languages that have 10+ million speakers, and hundreds of minor languages in active use by smaller communities. Indian currency notes have text in 15 languages. From what I understand, there are several other countries with this kind of linguistic diversity (Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, to name a few).

                Using flags to represent languages is a Western European notion. I personally find it both disrespectful and confusing.

                1. 6

                  Using flags to represent languages is a Western European notion. I personally find it both disrespectful and confusing.

                  It’s worse than that. It’s not just that it’s a Western European notion, the equivalence of language and country is one that has been specifically pushed by majority groups to marginalise minorities. Ask folks whose native language is Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, or Catalan, for example what they think of the equivalence and you’ll get a very different view.

              3. 6

                I think that is because they developed it for the European market, as their title suggests, and to illustrate their text with emoji/icons.

                1. 5

                  for the record: the use of flags to signify languages has since been corrected in the article

                  1. 2

                    You love to see it :)

                    1. 8

                      nah actually i hated to see it 🙃 but instead of whining here i asked the author to reconsider… and it got fixed

                  2. 3

                    The screenshot uses a flag for German/“Deutsch” which I’ve never seen before, and German is my first language :)

                    1. 4

                      To quote the article:

                      First and foremost, and this is why this example has been used in this particular post, Revolve has bizarrely ended up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates for German

                    2. 2

                      What’s controversial about the Union Jack representing English, a language born of and primary to that soverign country?

                      1. 20

                        The Union Flag is the flag of several distinct political entities that have different sets of official languages:

                        • England does not have an official language, though practically English is a de-facto standard.
                        • Wales has English and Welsh as official languages. All official communications are required to be bilingual and some (such as tax things from HMRC) are bilingual for the whole of the UK as a result.
                        • Scotland has recognised Scottish Gaelic as an official language since 2005 and has had English as an official language since before then, though this recognition does not require government communication to be delivered in Gaelic and so has little effect. Scots (derived from Northumbrian Old English) is also supported by the Scottish government.
                        • The story of Irish Gaelic is very complicated because the English made an effort to marginalise it for a long time (the history of Ireland is largely omitted in English schools, on the basis that it’s just too embarrassing for the English). It now has similar status in Northern Ireland to Gaelic in Scotland.

                        So the flag points to at least three distinct language families and several overlapping ones. Only Wales (which is covered by the flag, but whose flag is not represented, in spite of being the part of the UK with the best flag) has a notion of an official language that carries any significant legal weight and it places English and Welsh on the same level.

                        You could probably use the George Cross to represent en_GB, although both Cornish (Celtic-family) and Scots (mostly the same ancestry as modern English, i.e. a creole of every language spoken by folks who invaded England over a period of a thousand years or so) originated in the area represented by that flag. Either way, you’re marginalising speakers of minority languages.

                        1. 2

                          I didn’t say anything about official languages or political entities, which is almost exactly my point. Primarily, British English is spoken throughout the United Kingdom, the soverign country in which it developed to the standard of English which was then spread throughout the world. The flag points to multiple regions with different languages, none of them as immediately relevant as the English language - you don’t see the Union Jack and think of Cornish. If the language was Scots, use the Scottish flag. If the language is Gaelic, use the Irish flag (or Ulster Banner, lol). To feign shock and horror at the Union Flag representing the history and origin of the English Language is inane.

                          1. 6

                            If I clicked the Scottish flag, I could be wanting either Scots or Gaelic, as mentioned by david_chisnall. Likewise, if I scanned for the word Gaelic, I’d personally be expecting Gàidhlig, not Irish. When it comes to English, there’s like half a dozen different flags that may have been chosen that I have to scan for (I have seen UK, USA, Canada, England, and Australia, frequently, and probably others less often), and that’s ignoring any personal feelings I have towards any of those. Country flags and $current_language names for other languages just aren’t the best way to display these things for translation pickers, for multiple reasons.

                        2. 6

                          Two issues:

                          1. The UK is by number of speakers, has the sixth most number of speakers. The language may have come from England, but without a standards body, it’s anyone’s language. The other variants of English are still very much valid and a part of the English language. Picking any of the nations is the wrong call.
                          2. In the weeds, historically England is the kingdom speaking English so if you want to go on history, 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 is the flag you are looking for which isn’t nearly as recognizable. Is this the Georgian flag? 🇬🇪

                          How do we avoid this issue? Just say “English” or en.

                          1. 4

                            It doesn’t reflect all the other kinds of english spoken by the far majority of the world. We even call it “British English” to distinguish it from other flavours of English like American, where there’s a number of spelling and pronounciation differences (these distinctions even get taught in school in non-english speaking countries).

                            1. 1

                              hunspell lets you choose ‘-ise’ vs ‘-ize’ for British English, en-GB.

                              1. 1

                                There’s also words that differ between American and British English.

                                1. 3

                                  That part is obvious but I think people forget how much diversity their is inside borders.

                                  1. 1

                                    Oh, absolutely. British English is pretty well-known for that since there is a wide variety of English spoken between Scotland and South England.

                                    Similarly Danish has different amount of grammatical genders between the islands. It is all the same Denmark with the same flag.

                              2. 1

                                And for American English, a U.S. flag is oft used. Perhaps one should’ve been used in the article, but having not used Steady, I wouldn’t know.

                                1. 10

                                  What language would you expect behind a Belgian flag? French or Flemish? Similar goes for Swiss flag. Or Indian flag.

                                  1. 3

                                    What language would you expect behind a Belgian flag? French or Flemish?

                                    German of course! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_language#German_Sprachraum ;-)

                                    BTW, Flemish is a dialect, the official language is Dutch.

                                    1. 1

                                      The language most spoken in Belgium, obviously.

                                      1. 2

                                        It is a 55% vs 39% percent split, which part do you want to alienate by implying their language isn’t Belgian?

                                        1. 2

                                          That’s not the implication at all, it’s not making a comment on the validity of the non-majority language.

                            2. 8

                              These are all good rules to follow. I worked on a project at IBM that was translated into six languages day-0 on releases and another ~14 as translations were delivered to the team. We used gettext and had few problems with it. Hebrew and Arabic provided the greatest opportunities for improvement because no one on the team had experience with RTL languages.

                              One recommendation to add is to have a language for testing that really stands out. It’s too easy to test against English strings and other language strings may change over time. I tended to use Esperanto as my testing language because I know it (first IBM product to ship an eo translation, maybe?) but I had some fun with an xx-pirate and xx-pittsburghese translation…

                              1. 12

                                The “fake language” idea is one I have used to superb effect when I’ve worked on internationalization. Usually I define several of them to exercise a few things that tend to break with English-focused UI designs:

                                • A “fake Chinese” locale that replaces every chunk of ~8 characters in the English string with a random Chinese character. This drives actual Chinese speakers a bit batty at first because it is complete gibberish, but exposes hidden assumptions that a given piece of text will always be at least a certain length.
                                • Similarly, a “fake Hebrew” or “fake Arabic” locale that shows you what your layouts look like with RTL text.
                                • A “long English” locale that grows all English text by some amount (I’ve found 1/3 works well) by adding filler characters. This one was the bane of the UI designers who hadn’t kicked the habit of carefully sizing UI elements to precisely fit the English label. You’ll see which of your web developers really understand the CSS box model with this one.
                                1. 2

                                  The iOS simulator has testing modes like these; one which doubles the length of each string and a fake right-to-left mode. Can’t recall if there are others as well.

                                2. 5

                                  ‘right-to-left’ (rtl) and bidirectional text comes with its own challenges indeed.

                                  desktop applications using gtk+, the toolkit used by gnome software (and many other software), can be made to render in ‘right-to-left’ (rtl) mode even in an ‘left-to-right’ (ltr) locale. this works on any system and does not require a development environment: a simple way to temporarily enable this is by opening the gtk inspector and flipping the ‘text-direction’ property for an application window. this is useful to find bugs, which are usually solved by using ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ instead of left and right.