Indicating language choice on the Web

If you want a summary of some of the methods you can use to make users aware that a website contains information in more than one language, check out my article Indicating language choice on the Web.

The article is published as part of the June 2006 edition of EPiServer TechNews, a newsletter aimed at developers who use the EPiServer CMS. I was first asked for permission to republish my article Indicating language choice: flags, text, both, neither?. Not being very fond of having articles republished in full elsewhere, I declined and instead offered to rewrite the article a bit.

Oh, if you read the article, please resist the urge to view source. I am told that the site will be redesigned during the next couple of months. Let’s hope they drop the XML declaration they are currently inserting before the HTML 4.0 (sic) transitional doctype ;-).

Posted on June 8, 2006 in Quicklinks, Usability

Comments

  1. June 9, 2006 by 33

    Somewhat ironic that the site goes against your advice by only offering flags for language switching, no?

  2. June 9, 2006 by Lars

    Did you know that episerver does not work with Javascript disabled? There isn´t any text on screen when disabling scripting (with FF 1.5). You should give them some extra time in managing accessible sites…

    Lars

  3. June 9, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Yes, it is ironic indeed, and I know that their site is a long, long way from being accessible or standards compliant. At least it’s readable in Safari these days. It wasn’t too long ago that all you got in Safari was a blank page… I hope they are going to fix all those issues while updating the site. Time will tell, I suppose.

  4. I design bilingual websites in Welsh and English. Welsh is easy - display the Draig Goch/Red Dragon. But with English I dislike the Union Jack, and like you said, there are many more countries that speak English outside the British Isles.

  5. June 9, 2006 by Mats Hellström

    I can’t agree more on that it is ironic and that our web site lacks a lot when it comes to accessibility and standard support right now. We will however re-launch our www.episerver.com very soon and the flags and JavaScript links in menus etc etc etc… will be gone forever.

    // Mats@EPiServer

  6. June 9, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Mats: That’s great news! Looking forward to peeking under the hood of the new site ;-).

  7. June 9, 2006 by Paul

    Somewhat ironic that the site goes against your advice by only offering flags for language switching, no?

    Not really, if you bother to read the article fully:

    The only exception is when linking to a site specifically adapted to the country or market represented by that flag.

    The flag links to specific localised versions of the site, not just the same page with the text translated badly via Babelfiish or something similar ;)

  8. I’m hoping to see an article on the Web soon (not necessarily here) about best practice under the hood, not whether to go flags or not.

    In other words, when you’re dealing up two or more languages, how do you indicate that in the best way for both search engines and text readers. From what I see in use, a person can have language declaration in the DTD (probably the most important), in the metadata, in the opening HTML element, even inline on a per word basis…what’s the best approach without confusing rankings and assistive devices while still getting they attention of both language audiences? (I wish I could be at @media and see Molly’s presentation, I believe she’s focusing on this a bit.)

    I’m getting ready to start publishing select future articles in French and some of my first will be about these issues as I delve into this new realm, but it’s early yet and I still have some questions of my own about doing it right. Guess I’ll start with what the W3C has to say.

  9. June 12, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Destry: You mean something like Best Practices for Declaring Languages in HTML and XHTML?

    In short:

    • Declare the default language for each document in the html tag, using the lang and/or xml:lang attributes.
    • Do not specify the language in the DTD. The language code in the doctype declaration declares the language of the document type definition that the doctype URI points to. For the W3C DTDs, that language is always English.
  10. Perfect. Thank you, Roger. That will get me going down the right track.

  11. June 14, 2006 by jbot

    I design bilingual websites in Welsh and English. Welsh is easy - display the Draig Goch/Red Dragon. But with English I dislike the Union Jack, and like you said, there are many more countries that speak English outside the British Isles.

    @Mei: so how would you design a multilingual site in Scottish Gaelic, Scots, and English? Personally, I don’t think Scots (myself included) would appreciate seeing a Flag of St George for English when British (UK flag) English is the official language, even though some Scots do not believe in the British state. My point: the Union (British) flag is sometimes more appropriate for English than the actual English flag itself. (For all non-UK people, British !== English.)

  12. The “Union Jack” is the generic flag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and has semi-official status in several commonwealth countries, so the results could be interesting.

  13. English is not the official language of the UK (there is no offical language), and, like I said, there are other countries that have English as the main/most spoken language. I was not suggesting to use the Cross of St George instead.

    My point is that I am unsure of what to use as a symbol for ‘English Pages’. For now I use just that, and its relevant translation.

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