Lost in Localization

Localizing applications to a person’s native language is a great idea, there’s no disputing that but a common mistake, one that I think will happen more and more unfortunately, is a company making the assumption that because someone is in County “X” they will also speak the native tongue of that country.

I came across this post on the “webreakstuff.com” blog. It’s a pretty good look at few of Google’s missteps when it comes to localizing their interfaces. Primarily the fact that they first start off by localizing the site to the native language of the country that you’re viewing the site from. Now in their defence they did provide the opportunity to specify another language if you can’t read the native language.

The problem? The menu item is in the native langauge, so to change the language you need to be able to read the native one (Strike Two). Then, if you can manage to find the right drop-down you’ll be surprised to find that all of the language names have also been translated. Three Strikes. Out.

Although – it’s a strange challenge to try to overcome. How do you indicate the language drop down? What language do you put it in? I’d suggest the best approach would be a universal icon that represents “Languages” somehow. It’s a lofty suggestion but I think one that’s ripe for the right person to come along and design – look at how well the “XML” orange box took off. Any takers?

As for the translated drop-down menu – I’m not sure what they were thinking there. It’s pretty standard practice to list the language names in their native language (i.e. English, Français, 简体中文, Español, Deutsch, 日本語)

In the end I think it’s a major error to assume that a country neccessarily = a language. It’s about the same as using flags to indicate language, a topic I talked about here previously.

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