Alacrify Ltd

Indicating Language Choice with Flags or Text

Published on: 17th June 2009
By Alacrify



Indicating Language Choice with Flags or Text

As part of one of the major projects we're working on currently the issue of how to represent language choices to the viewer has arisen. In this particular case we're dealing with 15 major languages which are spoken all over the world.

My initial instinct was to see if it would be at all possible to use flags as an indicator of language, but immediately ran into the issue that while it may be almost legitimate to use the French Tricolor as an indicator of French, the Union Flag is not inclusive enough to represent English (as our American cousins will doubtless confirm). Even more problematic are the choice of flags to represent Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese. So we're already in trouble and I've barely started on the 15 options needed...

Instead we have opted for a text-indicator of language. It's still subject to refinement, but essentially the element will read "Language: English" at the start of the breadcrumb navigation at the top of every page's content area. Hovering over the word "Language" will indicate that you are able to make a different choice from English and pick another language by clicking the link.

This approach is happily a more accessible presentation option too. Instead of relying on "alt" or "title" tags to describe the image we can instead use the title tag to describe the action of the link which is a more useful and visible means of indicating what is being presented on the page. W3C makes it completely clear that flags are not an option for all the reasons above.

I'll post a link once the site is working to show you the results.