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It's common to see international companies and organizations having a global web site with several country web sites. The country web sites is often translated to the countries' own language, which enables native language only readers to consume the content of the web site. This is very good and widens the audience of the web site.

When moving from "left to right"-languages (LTR) to "right to left"-languages (RTL) the top navigation menu language change accordingly. However the navigation order does not change. It is still in the same reading order as the site was first developed. This means that the nominal order of top navigation is reversed on RTL sites where the most important top menu item is placed last.

To solve this one can always develop a mirror site (!) for RTL sites where the most important top navigation item is placed to the right. But from the frameworks I know and work with, this comes with a substantial cost. However, from a usability perspective this should be done.

Should we mirror top navigation order between left to right-languages and right to left-languages?

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Interesting article on Arabic web design at smashing magazine with plenty of showcase sites that - while not explicitly answering your question - is still a useful read. –  JonW Apr 12 '12 at 21:02
    
@JonW Thanx! Appreciate the links. –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Apr 13 '12 at 2:29

2 Answers 2

If I'm not mistaken, in RTL languages the native speakers are used to "take documents in" from right to left all their lives. We can't really imagine that, but to them it's as normal as we instinctively scan documents from left to right. I would say that mirrorring the entire site is a really good idea if you can afford it.

But one would also have the thought that, if the .com internet is generally LTR, even RTL people may be very accustomed to take websites in LTR. Would it maybe feel strange again if they suddenly have to take in a website RTL?

On the other hand, when having the logical order LTR, but every seperate word RTL, you make RTL visitors really hop around when they have to read, I don't know really how to explain but I'll try to draw it...

"This is the logical structure" (imagine every word reads rtl)

<__ <_ < <_ <___ (every word)

---------> ---------> -------- > (after every word)

And if they don't read it like that, it'll seem like:

"structure logical the is this"

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Good points, Mario! –  Benny Skogberg MCSA Apr 13 '12 at 5:03
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Continuing my search on the answer to this question, I looked at two web sites that are multinational by nature: Wikipedia and the United Nations.

I used Chrome web browser to get a translation of each site I visited, both in English and two major right to left-languages; Farsi and Arabic.

On Wikipedia I found that the top navigation were completely mirrored. On the English web site the order is Main Page, Talk, , Read, View Source and View History. On the Farsi web site the top navigation is reversed exactly - meaning the order of navigation items are the same.

Wikipedia in English, Farsi and Farsi translated to English

The same pattern is used on the United Nations web site (Arabic|English) where the top navigation is in exact order of the LTR and RTL languages order. The most important navigation item comes first of your reading order. As an interesting side effect of this I found that even the video player arrow is reversed on the Arabic web site.

The UN web site in English The UN web site in Arabic The UN web site translated from Arabic to English

To summarize the answer to the question is Yes, the entire site - including the top navigation should be mirrored.

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