How to Optimize Your Language Selector for Better UX
9 min. read
One has you struggling to read content in a foreign language. Another automatically detects your language preference and even offers a manual language selector.
Which do you stick with?
The difference can be monumental, not just for user experience but also for your bottom line.
In this article, we'll detail how to create and implement a seamless language selector, so all your visitors feel right at home.
Pro tip: With Centus, localizing your website is a breeze. Ensure a seamless user experience by easily coordinating multiple language versions of your website. Learn more.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Language selection is a UI feature allowing you to pick languages on a website or an app.
It usually appears as a drop-down menu, flag icon, or text-based links at the top or bottom of a page. When you choose a language, the content changes to match your choice.
Why does this matter?
Well, when users see content in their language, they connect better with the platform. It feels familiar and easy to understand. It’s a vital part of localization, which involves adapting content to fit different cultures and languages.
So, in short, language selection helps platforms be user-friendly for everyone, no matter where they're from or what language they speak.
There are several methods websites use to let users select their preferred language. Let's explore the most common types:
Drop-down menus are familiar to most internet users, making them a common choice for language selection. Upon visiting a site, you'll often spot a label or abbreviation of the current language, like "EN" for English. Clicking on it reveals the other language options available. This method is particularly handy for websites that support numerous languages, as it neatly condenses them into a single space.
A downside could be that users might overlook it if it's not prominently placed or designed. It's also essential to ensure the drop-down is accessible to all users, including those using screen readers or other assistive technologies.
Example: Amazon’s website has a drop-down menu featuring language and currency selectors — for those who’d like to read in one language and see prices in a different currency.
Flags provide a visually appealing way to represent languages. A user can quickly scan and click on their country's flag to switch languages. However, this method comes with challenges.
Some languages are spoken in multiple countries, making it tricky to select a representative flag. Moreover, the association of a language with a particular nation might be politically sensitive in some regions. While country flags are fun and intuitive, they might not be the best choice for every platform, especially if you want to avoid potential controversies.
Example: Booking.com Uses a flag icon as a language selector. When you click on it, a bigger box opens up, showing a wide range of languages you can pick from. The flags are also paired with text showing the different languages available.
Auto-detection is automated language selection. When a user lands on a website, the system detects their location or browser setting and serves content in the presumed preferred language.
It's swift and requires no action from the user, making the browsing experience smooth.
However, it's not foolproof. If the user travels or uses a VPN, the feature might offer an undesired language. Hence, it's always good to pair this with a manual language selector for adjustments.
Example: The Adobe website displays a pop-up box with the language and website it thinks you mean to visit.
Simple and straightforward, text-based selectors display available languages in written form. Often seen aligned horizontally at the top or bottom of a page, this method avoids the confusion that flags might cause.
It's inclusive, ensuring that even those unfamiliar with a particular country's flag can still find their language preferences. However, it does rely on users recognizing the written name or abbreviation of their language, which can sometimes be a challenge if using non-intuitive abbreviations.
Example 1: Wikipedia’s extensive language selection drop-down menu is prominently displayed on the landing page
Example 2: The BBC also has a text-based language switcher, but it’s located in the footer section.
When adding a language selector to your website, it’s crucial to keep the user in mind. Here are best practices to ensure a smooth language selection process:
1.Prominent placement: Placing the language selector in a visible spot is crucial for accessibility. Top right corners are often favored because users typically look there instinctively. However, the footer is also a good alternative, especially if the top of your webpage is cluttered.
Avoid tucking the selector away in dropdown menus or in the middle of busy graphics or images where it might get overlooked. Also, consistency across your pages is vital; the selector should be in the same spot on every page for ease of use.
One more thing: Your language selector should align with your website's overall design but still be conspicuous enough to be noticed immediately.
2.Recognizable symbols and abbreviations: When using symbols like flags or abbreviations, ensure they are universally recognized to minimize confusion. Be mindful of regions with multiple official languages and choose symbols that won’t alienate or confuse users. And if you use abbreviations, be sure to use the ISO standard ones, like "EN" for English, as they are widely understood.
3.Auto-detection with a manual option: Auto-detection, while convenient, isn't always accurate, so a manual override option is essential. Users may prefer a different language than their browser’s default, or they might be using VPNs that mislead location detection. Having an easily accessible manual option ensures that users aren't stuck with incorrect automatic selections.
4.Accessibility is non-negotiable: An accessible language selector helps users navigate language change effortlessly, regardless of their abilities. Implement features that are friendly to screen readers and keyboard navigators. ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) landmarks can be helpful, as well as ensuring that your selector is tab-navigable and screen-reader friendly.
5.Responsive and mobile-friendly design: With a significant number of users accessing websites via mobile devices, your language selector should be easily tappable, without being too small or too close to other clickable elements. Test its functionality across various devices to ensure compatibility and user-friendliness.
6.Search function: Consider adding a search function, if your platform supports a vast array of languages. Users can quickly type in and locate their preferred language instead of scrolling through a lengthy list.
7.Continual testing and improvement: As technology and user preferences evolve, so should your language settings. Regularly test for functionality, user-friendliness, and effectiveness. Gather feedback from users and be prepared to make necessary adjustments to improve the selector’s performance continually.
8.Quick language reversion: In cases where users accidentally select the wrong language, it’s vital to allow them to easily revert to their previous selection. This could be implemented by having a small, temporary pop-up appear whenever a new language is selected, with an option to cancel the change.
9.URL structure for language segmentation: For SEO purposes and user-friendly URLs, it’s advisable to structure your URLs to reflect the language of the content clearly. For example, you might use subdirectories, subdomains, or domains:
Subdomains: en.yourwebsite.com or es.yourwebsite.com
This approach not only makes it clear to the user what language they are viewing but also helps search engines index language-specific versions of your site.
10.Visual, textual, and country-agnostic language labels: When using flags, it’s vital to pair them with text to avoid confusion, as flags can represent countries, not languages. And two people in a country might not speak the same language.
Use country-agnostic language labels like “English” or “Español” without specifying a country. For instance, instead of using a flag alone, you might display a small flag icon next to the text label, like "🇬🇧 English" or "🇪🇸 Español".
Centus is a valuable partner for businesses looking to offer content in multiple languages. Here’s how the professional localization management suite, Centus, simplifies the localization process:
Seamless integration: Centus integrates smoothly with your tool stack and code repository, eliminating the need for extensive adjustments or complete overhauls to your existing system.
Intuitive user interface: We've designed Centus with users in mind. Our platform is straightforward, so there’s no need for extensive technical knowledge to navigate and utilize its features effectively.
CAT tools: Speed up the website translation process with machine translation, segmentation, translation memory, glossaries, and other CAT tools.
Quality assurance: Run extensive automatic QA checks to scrutinize every piece of content and guarantee its accuracy.
Comprehensive solution: Centus is a comprehensive solution for all your localization needs, covering content translation, design localization, reporting, payment calculation, and much more!
Ready to optimize your website localization process? Give Centus a try!
To Sum Up
When done right, a good language selector makes your content more approachable and your platform more engaging to users worldwide.
Take a moment to look at your own language selector. Does it need improvement?
Using the tips from this article, make the necessary tweaks for a better, more inclusive user experience. It’s a small detail with a significant impact, so take the time to implement it thoughtfully. Your users will notice and appreciate it.
Where do I put a language selector in UX?
Place the language selector where it’s easily noticeable, typically in the top right corner or the footer of your webpage. Ensure it's accessible from every page to provide a consistent user experience.
What is the language selection menu?
The language selection menu is a user interface element that allows users to choose their preferred language on a website, app, or software. It often appears as a drop-down menu with a list or a group of flags representing different languages.
Where do I put language selection on my website?
Common locations include the top right corner, header, or footer. The key is to make it visible and accessible from any page, without cluttering the design or distracting from the main content.
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