4 Website Translation Mistakes

It is great that you are planning to translate your website into one or more languages to better communicate with your customers and stakeholders. As you do this, it is worth giving some thought to how you will reference those additional languages for your non-English speaking visitors. It all starts with the language dropdown menu.

Here are four common ways the dropdown is handled – and a fifth, which is the only one you should consider!

    1. Incorrect: Using “Select region and language” written in English – to indicate the website is available in other languages. Stating you are a global organization committed to people and facilities around the world, then only using English to ask visitors to select a region and language seems contradictory. Frustrating a user is a sure way to deter them from doing business with your company. There are many creative ways to communicate visually to direct users on where and what to do.

  1. Incorrect: Using flags for the language dropdown menu. Some languages are spoken in several countries. There is no unifying flag that can be used without creating confusion, being offensive, or politically incorrect to one or more of the target countries. Some countries speak several languages. The Swiss flag may represent neutrality, but in Switzerland, there are four national languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh. You either would need to select one language to be represented by that flag, or have an additional dropdown menu for the language choice. It gets complicated.

    Exception: If your company only conducts business in one particular country (and only in one language spoken in that country).

    By Tschubby, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21129198

  2. Incorrect: Using the name of a country for the language dropdown. Again, this could be inaccurate and you may inadvertently insult your audience in one country and create the same issues as using a flag.

    Exception: If, however, you directly sell a product in a particular country like France and do not offer shipments to Madagascar, Rwanda or any of the other 29 countries where French is the official language, then the country name may be used.

  3. Incorrect: Using the name of the language or country with its English spelling in the dropdown menu. “Germany” is the English spelling of the country name “Deutschland.” If you took the time to translate the content, be sure to translate the name of the language and/or country so visitors can easily find the translation.

    Notes: Be sure it is correct. Other languages do not follow the same capitalization rules for language names. Additionally, if you have your site translated into two versions of a language, be sure to list both along with the version: e.g., español (España) and español (México).

So what is the best approach?

The simple solution is to have a globe of the world with no text at all. From there you can have your dropdown menu, map with regions to hover over, or any other visual or information. If your website is translated into just one language, then you can list just the name of that language, translated (“français” rather than “French”), in the upper right hand corner.

Take a quiz on what you learned:

  1. Which is displayed correctly?

  2. Which is displayed correctly?


    Answers:  1-A, 2-B

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