Language Selector


Users need to select their prefered language


Ask the language spelled in the specific language


Use when

If a website offers different content for each particular country, the site is localized. Hence, language is often one of the things that are localized. Users must be able to recognize their language name. Users might be able to read more than one language


List all the available languages in their own spelling such as "Deutsch", "English", "Italiano" or "Nederlands". If possible, list them all so that selection can happen in one click. Otherwise consider a combobox. Do not use any label for the language selector, just provide the names of the language. Place the list of language in the upper part of the window and show it on every page of the site.
NOTE: Do not use flags to present languages! They do not uniquely define languages and can be very offending in some countries! Flags represent countries and not languages.


Presenting the language in native spelling makes sure that the target group can read their own language name. Providing a label would not make sense: if the users can read it they do not have to change the language, otherwise a label they do not understand does not tell them anything. The language selector must be available on all pages of the site so that visitors that have not entered the site via the home-page can also switch language.

More Examples

The Speednames site offers so many languages that it even consumes a prominent position on the homepage.

plml logo


3 comments have been added to this pattern

angelic A-T feather-inertia D-O-T info, 30th May 2008
Hi, This is convincing. But what if the site supports over 100 locales? Your suggestion on falling back to a combo box is commonly used, but it is not absolutely user friendly. What label should it have? If everything is in Chinese and there is a combo box, also showing some CJK, how would I know it's the language selector? Do you have any suggestions for that? I have been thinking about this for a while. Would be nice to hear your opinion. What in your opinion.

As far as examples are concerned, I think homepage has one of the most unfriendly selectors I have come across.

Boris, 7th September 2008
Second that.
If I want to switch the site to another language then shown, it means that I can't read the current version. Because of that, I probably can't read the currently selected language label either. Maybe some recognisable icon next to the listbox could solve this?

Personally, I don't like sites where language selectors are localized, but this could be because I don't have a problem reading/writing English and I usually prefer English sites to Dutch (native) ones since translations often fail.
Christina, 26th July 2010
GE has a good language selector, though it's sadly not consistent across all of their sites. See the TW site for a good implementation in an unfamiliar character set (for me anyway) -

A flag is generally a recognizable icon, but in our business we can't use flags due to cultural concerns associated with using a Taiwanese flag to represent Chinese (Traditional). We use a globe instead, but I think the GE World Map icon is a little clearer and the top right positioning means it doesn't get lost at the bottom of long scrolling pages, as it does on other sites.

Add a comment
Do you have something to add or say about this pattern? Perhaps some more examples of how this pattern is used in the wild? Add a comment to this pattern and I'll update the pattern when necessary. Please abstain from misuse. I reserve the right to delete or modify inappropriate postings.

Your Name


Enter the verification code you see in the image below