Tag Archives: web-dev

Location-Based Language Settings = Traveller Nightmare

Right, time for a rant.

Something which has slowly grown to annoy me is the number of websites which will change my language settings simply because they have managed to work out where I am sitting right now. In short, what I’d like to say to all webmasters who do this is “STOP IT!”

For me, I’ve noticed this problem because I’m primarily an English speaker who happens to be in France. Yes, I make good use of my sudden French settings and get some instant French practise, but by and large I just wish websites and mobile apps would leave language settings be.

For instance, I searched for something on Google using English keywords. I found a site in English which fit the bill. When I clicked on that link it decided I’d prefer the French version of the site. Surely, if I’d wanted the French version, I’d have searched using French keywords and found the French version of the site? I don’t even know if Google or the website is responsible for the switch. What made this even more annoying is that it was a site which I have an account with – and I was logged in! Hello, you guys KNOW my language preferences. What are you doing? I fully expect my personal settings to override your guesses while I’m logged in, thanks.

In fact, many sites I use will override my regular language settings with a location-based language setting. It’s usually the big ones, too: Google & Facebook spring to mind (although with Facebook it’s just the login screen, which is reasonable). Google language settings are seriously annoying: Just when you think the language setting is set for every single Google service (oh yes, different settings for each service – thanks Google), you accidentally click something which changes things back to wherever you are again. What’s really annoying is that these sites which automagically decide on a language for you think they’re so right in their language choice that they go and hide the language settings from you and make it difficult to change it back to what you want.

I used the IMDB movie app on my phone to check out popular movies. It had settings to be able to pick which database the info came from, yet despite my choices of imdb.com and amazon.co.uk it insisted on providing me with the French versions of the movie titles. Movie titles are obscure, you know? They’re translated to be catchy in that language. So, even if you translate them back to English, you’ll have more luck working out which movie it is by recognising the poster. Either way, after deliberately setting these database choices, the app had overridden my choices simply because of where I happened to be. Turns out that they do this on the main site too, and for any app which access the IMDB database. Annoying!

Automatically changing the language is ridiculous! Leave it be and ASK people which language they’d prefer.

I think web-developers in English-speaking countries probably don’t think about this location thing very much. Their language settings stay the same as they travel around the country. In their heads, they’re probably doing everyone in foreign countries a favour – and I can see how they might think that.

Consider the average traveller in Europe. Every day they travel around, crossing arbitrary lines which for some reason change the language of all the big sites they use every day. While they might know how to order a meal and book into a hotel in that language, you can hardly expect everyone to be proficient in all of them.

Think about people in multi-language countries. You are driving them crazy.

Now, here’s a thought: When using a phone or laptop, normally the users have already chosen the language they prefer to use. Now developers, do you think it would be possible to work with that language choice? Thanks.

Here’s another similar complaint: Paypal seem to have divided their customer service by country. So, in France I’m told I can’t access the Paypal help menu in English. Seriously. Not to mention that I only wanted to send a quick email to ask a simple question. I clicked “Contact us” and got this:

I’m not sure why an international company based in an English-speaking country wants me to try and navigate their help system in French just so I can send an email in awful French to some poor sod who will have trouble understanding my awful French and who most likely doesn’t speak English and will pass my email around the office stressing out until they find an English speaker to help answer my very simple question. This makes no sense.

My language settings are in English. Let me access a help system and a “Contact Us” web-form in English. I’ll most likely get all the information I need without bothering you. If not, an English person would be able to answer my question quickly. If it so happens that my question is specific to something in France, I’m sure my query can be forwarded internally to a bilingual helpdesk person in France. In the meantime, monolingual French-speaking customers are able to be attended by the French staff. What a thought!

Seriously web developers, quit making language settings automatic according to country. ASK.

Image Credit: RockCohen