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How to graphically represent a language

We are currently in the process of introducing an English version of a website which used to be just German.

Current version of the button to go to the English version:
enter image description here

Now we are wondering what the best symbol would be — the Union Jack (B.E.) or Stars and Stripes (A.E.)?

The symbol is rather small so I thought the Union Jack might the better choice.

Is there a universal consensus on what is more intuitive or recognizable?

Are there other factors to consider when choosing either one?

Maybe even a completely different symbol we weren't even thinking about?

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Also take a look at this question: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/7966/… –  Phil Jul 26 '11 at 9:17
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marked as duplicate by Rahul Jul 26 '11 at 8:51

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3 Answers

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Interesting. Perhaps it depends on your target audience whether there is a big marketing push in one country or another.

However, lets assume that you are targeting the entire English speaking population of the world, wherever they are. Then if you are going to have a flag, the only logical answer is the British English flag, because there's no way that you can cater for all English speaking countries anyway - i.e. the US is not the only other English option - you could equally well choose the Australian flag for example.

But then why use a flag at all? You are targeting a language, not a country, so a country flag runs the risk of alienating some non-British English speaking visitors who might think that this is a localized version of the site - suitable for the UK only.

I'd suggest just going with the text and removing any doubt.

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Flags mean countries, so they aren't a great choice for showing languages. This also means there is no consensus on mapping of flags to languages. US citizens might expect the stars and stripes, but Canadian may disagree. Even using the German flag for German might not be the best option for Austrian or Swiss visitors.

If the goal is to give a user something to quickly recognize the language in use, there isn't really a graphic that can accomplish this. Even using the two letter ISO country codes causes problems. I would suggest going with text only.

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Never ever use flags to represent languages.

It can cause major grunts from users, especially in non-English countries. For example, showing Argentinian users the Spanish flag doesn't normally end well. Not to mention giving Arab users an Israeli flag...

I remember seeing a a "split flag" design that displays the American and English flag with a diagonal between them.

In the end, there's no replacement for "En" text button. It makes the best sense.

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That's the UK flag, not the English flag (which is a simple red cross on white). –  TRiG Mar 10 at 19:23
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