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I'm working on a multilingual WordPress driven web site running the WPML plugin. WPML offers a language switcher widget which is pretty neat.

However, the layout of the page I'm working on is very artistic, calm and minimalistic. Apart from being a bit difficult on mobile devices, the language switcher adds visual clutter that I'd like to avoid. I'm currently debating removing the widget from all pages except for the main page, so the main page would be the only place where you can switch languages any more (short of manipulating the URL directly).

Is this wise from an usability point of view? Are there pressing arguments for having a language switcher on every page of a web site? I would imagine users are usually interested in one language only, except for exceedingly rare exceptions like people trying to find additional information that isn't available in their own language, which will not be a problem in my case.

Users coming from Google and skipping the front page might be a concern, but this shouldn't be a real-world problem when the page's language is clearly declared using the lang attribute, correct? The search engine shouldn't be directing people to resources that aren't in their own language.

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"The search engine shouldn't be directing people to resources that aren't in their own language." Say what? I'm Dutch and often get and want results in English and/or German. –  Pieter B Dec 9 '12 at 21:46
    
"The search engine shouldn't be directing people to resources that aren't in their own language." - How would the search engine know what your language is? How would it deal with multilingual people? What if you're looking up something in another language, you just get no results? Etc, etc, etc... –  Izkata Dec 9 '12 at 23:46
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@Izkata "How would the search engine know what your language is?" using the accept-language header and the TLD used, for one. In an age where Google gives you local results for some queries, you can definitely assume it optimizes results towards the user's (supposed) language as well. And it's a general point as well: people doing searches in languages they don't speak is going to be the rare exception in most cases. Still, @Pieter has a point, of course... it's well possible that this doesn't apply to languages that are smaller in size than their neighbours. –  Pekka 웃 Dec 9 '12 at 23:51
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I sometimes do navigate a site in my native language only to find a specific subpage, change language to another one and send it to a person who does not speak Polish. I wouldn't be able to do so if I had to navigate the site in an unknown language. –  liori Dec 10 '12 at 1:21
    
@Pekka: 'supposed' in "(supposed) language" is the key. I don't want my search engine to assume anything from either my regional settings, my windows language or whatever other setting it can think of. It should only filter on language when specifically directed to do so. –  Marjan Venema Dec 10 '12 at 7:11

5 Answers 5

You may ask a user on first time he visits any page her preferable language and store it to cookies for this session. It must be a non-blocking block, like "Save password" bar in Google Chrome.

But IMHO language chooser makes the page looks cooler.

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An often used technique I see and like is using the URI as indicator:

Http://www.foobar.com/en/yourpage.html (english)
Http://www.foobar.com/de/yourpage.html (german)

Although I think that will work less well in some mobile browsers where you often don't see the adressbar.

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This is good in addition to a link, not instead, since many users don't know they can edit URLs. –  Danny Varod Dec 10 '12 at 10:55

If you only have two languages on your site, a clean option would be to simply list the other language in a meta navigation that many big websites will have anyway in the top right corner of the header. As a text link, display "Spanish" when the user is on the English site, and "English" when it's the other way around.

This allows the user to switch languages (and is one of the possible keywords a user trying to switch the language would be looking for) while still allowing for a very clean design.

It has the obvious drawback of being less clear than a "Switch Language" link or similar. Optimally you could display a tooltip explaining the possibility to the user on hover over the link.

I would definitely offer some kind of possibility for the user to switch languages on other pages than they homepage.

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This is a nice idea, why didn't I think of this - this way, I can integrate it into the main navigation as a regular nav element that stands slightly apart. Thank you! –  Pekka 웃 Dec 9 '12 at 22:10
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Thanks. By the way, if you have more than two languages, you could still use a clean text link called "Languages" that shows a dropdown or such on hover. I'm not really sure about integrating such a language switcher into the main nav though, that's quite a central placement. –  Thierry Blancpain Dec 10 '12 at 0:08

Just like you don't have a mobile page for JUST the front page of your site (or worse, a mobile page that kicks people to your front page no matter what page they try to click on to go to instead!), forcing people to only be able to switch on your first page is a no-no.

Can't you push it down into the footer if it bothers you? I would hope the widget you use offers some type of options for how you present it...

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-1 Don't push the language switch down to the footer - people that reach the page won't look there and also accessibility tools e.g. screen readers read from top to bottom - users won't wait until it reaches the footer before giving up. –  Danny Varod Dec 10 '12 at 10:53

People can reach non-front-pages of your website by many means, so you should have some indication on every page that it is possible to switch languages. If the clean design is that important that you don't want the complete language switching widget on every page you should at least provide an obvious link to the page (or pop up) that enables language switching.

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This, unless being artistic is the main point of the site (which is so rare as to be non-existent). –  Illotus Dec 9 '12 at 21:44

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