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This question already has an answer here:

The other day I was browsing a German-localized website but needed to order something from their UK site. There was a country selection dropdown so I tried to use that one. I'm not fluent in German so It was hard to figure out that what I was looking for was "Großbritannien". I did look at all countries starting with "U" for UK, "E" for England, "B" for Britain and finally even starting with G but did not easily read Großbritannien as Große Britannien.

My question is, wouldn't it make more sense for this kind of dropdown to show the - or one of the local country names in one of the local languages?

Edit: After posting, I remembered the particular offending website: http://dell.de/

marked as duplicate by greenforest, Devin, Community Dec 7 '16 at 9:19

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    Apropos of which, I hate selecting my country from drop-down lists and having to guess whether the website developer believes I live in "United Kingdom", "Great Britain" or "England". – David Richerby Dec 5 '16 at 20:09
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    I also wonder this when given the option to change the language: should the available languages be written in the current language or their own? – Celeritas Dec 5 '16 at 23:46
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    Arguably, from a UX perspective, the correct answer is "none of the above", @Nathan. Give the user a free-form text box, and let her type in whatever she thinks the name of her country is. This also solves geopolitical problems where some centralized entity has to decide what is and is not to be recognized as a country. Of course, your database programmers won't much like this, because the results won't neatly map to entries in their tables. You can't please everyone. – Cody Gray Dec 6 '16 at 6:38
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    @NathanPowell Great Britain is the island I live on, England is loosely analogous to the state; it's supposed to be the United Kingdom. – David Richerby Dec 6 '16 at 8:32
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    @Arendax Dell (and many other sites) is real stupid. The .com redirects you to the country and language it thinks you're in. I end up on the German site continuously because from work I get on the internet via a Germany based proxy. Of course when the proxy is down the one in Singapore or Brazil takes over. Suddenly I get served Chinese or Brazilian (Portuguese). I like those as food, not so much as UI language... – Tonny Dec 6 '16 at 16:16

12 Answers 12

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It depends on the purpose of the dialog. A customer filling out his shipping information, for instance, would reasonably expect countries to be listed using the same language as the rest of the website. A customer on an English website would just be confused if he had to select "日本" to ship to Japan.

But when the dialogue is to change the country/language, it makes more sense to use the native version, Wikipedia being a good example. Such a dropdown is explicitly for users who are from a different country or use a different language, who wouldn't recognize how Germany refers to their country. If you spoke German, then you wouldn't need to change the language in the first place.

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    The OP explicitly asks about a country selection dropdown. Languages are a different thing, and they are not in a 1:1 correspondence with countries. There are countries with multiple native languages, and languages spoken across different countries. I find it difficult to imagine a setting in which you are asking for countries (and not languages) and localizing is appropriate. – Federico Poloni Dec 5 '16 at 17:37
  • @FedericoPoloni localizing is extremely important. I think it is actually why this debate is so hot. You should not discount the place and language of the user in this context. – Nathan Powell Dec 6 '16 at 7:41
  • I also think this to be the correct answer. Yes, it depends on the context, but if the purpose is to change the locale, it's more likely that the user does not understand the current language. – ecc Dec 6 '16 at 12:47
  • Also, if you're building a website for filling in information about a person, it should display the list in the language of the person using the application, not the local language of each country. Wouldn't want as a Dutch person have to learn Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, Iranian, etc. etc. just to be able to decipher those country names in a dropdown box for our call center application... – jwenting Dec 6 '16 at 13:53
  • @NajibIdrissi, you missed the whole point. I'm talking about recognition of the name by people on that country . It would be hideous UX to have all the names for a country in a dropdown, not to mention really confusing, just imagine adding all the names for a country and users wondering what is going on and what would happen if they click on the different options, when in fact is always the same country.. On a side note, having working for several swiss companies, I can tell they don't get offended this easy – Devin Dec 6 '16 at 16:03
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I can't find an article at present but standard convention for languages at least, is to show both the name of the language in itself and in English.

For example if you go to a website in English and want to switch to French it will display Français (French).

For countries... the same idea sounds good in theory until you consider countries like Belgium, Canada or Switzerland where there might be two or more legally equal native languages. This equating languages to countries is stepping into dangerous territory.

I would suggest where you are purely dealing with countries to use the language that the user is currently accessing the site in– if possible with a clear flag icon or the international 2 digit nation code of the country nearby.
If somebody has got to a situation where they've navigated far enough with the Russian site to be ordering a product for delivery then its pretty likely they will know the Russian word for Sweden.

On the other hand if it is a international site selector, then you should for good usability be looking at two different options– both language and country. For example with skyscanner– there is nothing stopping someone from accessing a Germany version of the site in English.

Making language accessible takes priority here, as once you've gotten things into a language you understand then switching to the right country is easy.

As to your specific example of Gross Britanien/ UK.... well, that's a problem with the UK in general and it goes even beyond usability and the internet. The standard name in English at least is the United Kingdom though the country code is GB. If possible it is nice when country select allows for typing and accepts England/GB/etc... as inputs for UK.
In German, go with the standard German name, with GB/the union flag clear to hand.

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    Be very careful with flags. I would generally never use them as they are inherently political symbols, and you always run the risk of causing offense. Particularly in relation to languages, they are far from ideal anyway. For example, many countries have English as their official language, so do you just have one entry with the English flag, and expect Australians to recognise and click on that? Or if I'm a German-speaking Swiss, do I look for the German flag, or the Swiss flag (which may correspond to French, German or Italian, or may appear thrice in the list, depending on the designer?) – calum_b Dec 5 '16 at 16:41
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    +1 for not messing up countries and languages – keuleJ Dec 5 '16 at 17:32
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    @scottishwildcat The Union Flag to represent UK (and AUS, CAN, NZ, US, etc. flags for other primarily-English-speaking countries) is perfectly fine. What's being proposed here is mapping flags to countries, not to languages, which would indeed be wrong. (I've seen UK/US diagonally split as "English" in some contexts, which is better than showing either, but still not optimal). – Monty Harder Dec 5 '16 at 19:11
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    @scottishwildcat We are talking about countries here. Countries are inherently political symbols that are tied to flags. Things only become tricky if you go into the realm of a Taiwanese localisation or the like where the nation itself is an issue of controversy. – the other one Dec 6 '16 at 9:10
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    @scottishwildcat If somebody is insistent Belfast is Ireland and not the UK then they're welcome to select Ireland. Whether the package they're ordering will reach them in that case.... well, that's a question for someone who has tried it! The point is if you're speaking specifically of a country then its flag is part and parcel of what it fundamentally is. There aren't too many cases where this is really up for debate. Regardless the flag was just one possible idea. Country codes are probably a better choice as though less pretty they're (Usually. Not you Switzerland..) more intuitive. – the other one Dec 6 '16 at 13:17
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It's very simple. If your website is in English, the country names should be in English. If it's multilingual, you should translate the names of the countries depending on the language in use.

To make it more clear.

If the website is in English, user want the country names in English. If it's in Russian, use want the country names in Russian.

  • As I explained, that is not ideal. If the website is in a very different language than the one I understand, my country might be translated to something very different. This is particularly important for countries that have names like "United Kingdom" or "United Arab Emirates" that will for sure have very different translations for each individual word of the country name. What you suggest is like having textured latin letters for the blind to read labels instead of brail - if they can't read it, it's not useful. Care to elaborate your point of view? – ecc Dec 5 '16 at 14:08
  • You are right and I am right. But when I use it in English, I can't read all those 80 various languages. So instead of inventing a wheel, let's do what works. If one language - one language. If translations - translations. – Ivan Venediktov Dec 5 '16 at 14:11
  • @IvanVenediktov what is your resource on translation? "Very simple" I have not heard of this site. – Nathan Powell Dec 6 '16 at 7:17
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    @ecc irrelevant. You'd either make sure you see the entire site in a language you're comfortable with (including the content of the list) or learn to live with the differences. As a Dutch person I do NOT want to see Japan listed in Japanese, China in Chinese, Oman in Omani, Dubai in Arabic, Indonesia in Bahasa, etc. etc. and have to decipher which I want to select for our customer who called us saying he lives in Thailand. – jwenting Dec 6 '16 at 13:55
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    @ecc - if you don't understand the language in the website well enough to be able to navigate it, it's unlikely you are needing a dropdown of countries to improve your experience. You would need a "get me to a site I understand" button - which is language specific, not country specific. I think Ivan makes an excellent point. – Floris Dec 6 '16 at 20:58
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If the website is in German, I would expect it to display country names in German. If there is a language selection, I would expect the languages to be displayed in their language.

ex:

dutch website -> country would be België Nederland Verenigd Koninkrijk -> language selection would be (English Nederlands Deutsch)

english website -> country would be Belgium The Netherlands United Kingdom -> language selection would be (English Nederlands Deutsch)

  • well said. Distinct difference here between the purpose of each select. – jwenting Dec 6 '16 at 14:06
  • What if your language uses a different character set? – user67695 Dec 6 '16 at 17:31
  • I 've seen language select drop downs with english in english and japanese in japanese writing. Maybe it will give the web developer a headache to implment. But it is possible :) – roel Dec 7 '16 at 15:26
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The display language of the site (i.e. localization of the entire interface) and user's country of residence are two separate concerns.

Ideally, the user would select the language first, which would be a global setting for their session. The interface for displaying language names should present them in their "native" format. Then, after the user's preferred language is set, the user can be asked for their country. Country names should be displayed in their standard representation in the user's selected language.

The default language is typically the most common language of the site's owner/company/target market. Therefore, you would expect that http://dell.de would default to German (including German names for countries). If the site was expected to be an international portal, it could use a landing page to allow the user to select their preferred language.

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On the basis of the question, it appears as if the localised Dell websites are badly constructed in that the list of country names are localised for the current locale in use.

However, most new users will navigate to Dell.com unless they know what the local version is.

Landing on Dell.com will immediately redirect the user to the correct localized web site based on the user's IP address.

This doesn't happen when you intentionally go to Dell.de. When you go directly to a localised website, Dell is assuming that you know that language.

The use-case you're using here in your question isn't typical of most visitors to the Dell website.

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    So the use-case is the English-speaking user in Germany who goes to dell.com, gets redirected to dell.de and can't escape because they don't speak German. – David Richerby Dec 5 '16 at 20:11
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    @DavidRicherby And that use case is actually quite common. Even more annoying than a web page is a program that insist on installing itself with language X because your locale happens to be the predominant language of place X, not considering that my operating system is set to English. Its just a bad assumption, besides why would I wan't to suffer form your bad translation. – joojaa Dec 6 '16 at 8:02
  • @joojaa I think you are hitting said nail on said head. Detection is assumption really. In this situation we need to detect BOTH variables and serve the user appropriately. I'm In Germany, speak Dutch and want my software in English, kthxbai. :D – Nathan Powell Dec 6 '16 at 8:58
  • Or even better, TOR browsing any site: locale detection becomes shit then really. Language is first here I suspect. – Nathan Powell Dec 6 '16 at 9:02
  • "Landing on Dell.com will immediately redirect the user to the correct localized web site" > Yes, but I live in Germany, but can't speak German and I didn't want to order something to be delivered in Germany either. So redirecting is just twice as annoying for me, but that's another story. – ecc Dec 6 '16 at 12:42
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A dropdown box with more options than it would be reasonable to show with radio buttons is simply horrible UX. Nobody wants to search through a huge list with a scrollbar (and, on mobile, it may be very difficult to do so) in order to find an option that might have several possible names/spellings that would all collate differently.

Instead, use a textbox with auto-complete/suggestions, and prompt the user on submission or on defocus if their choice does not match something you recognize.

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    Oh - I love this answer. I absolutely ABHOR those websites with 192 predefined countries in their scrolling-dropdown. And which will sometimes put the United States at the top of the list (The Most Important), at other times right after United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. – Floris Dec 6 '16 at 21:02
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Displaying the country in the country's native language is the most safe option. People know at least one language, so will definitely understand one of the options.

It's like when in middle school one of my friends changed my Nokia 3310's system language to Russian. All countries were displayed in Russian. By trial and error I got it back to the right language.

The only case I can make for languages displayed in just one language is when the website only offers local content. If site analytics show most of their site traffic is from one country, it's quite safe to display the languages in the domains' local language.
But then again, a case can be made for a select with all countries in their own language.

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    That works until I want to send something to Japan, or any other language that uses characters outside my native alphabet of 26. – Nathan Powell Dec 6 '16 at 7:14
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    What language are you going to use for Belgium? Are you going to write Belgique, België, or Belgien? In other words, which parts of Belgium do you want to offend? – user42005 Dec 6 '16 at 8:57
  • hence show a graphic to indicate country and language, like a national flag, in the select list. – jwenting Dec 6 '16 at 14:04
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    @NajibIdrissi all parts, of course. It's Belgium, always fun to offend them ;) – jwenting Dec 6 '16 at 14:05
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The advantage to displaying each country in its own language is that the list doesn’t need to be locallized!

But, it's a pain to find anything, as the OP notes. Since there are two use cases with contradicting needs, it makes sence to include both names in the list. If I was looking for “China (PRC)” and found it in the currenly local collation order that I’m used to, I would not have to explore the tail of the list with every entry in a different character set and not sorted in any meaningful way.

But, if the Chinese user was changing it herself, it would be better to spot the familiar writing style. That's more important if the current setting is not English either. Lots of people may know their English written country/language name, but what about Greek or one of the many Indian scripts?

So, on a compact device platform, just populate the list with both. On a large screen, make two side-by-side lists.

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The only good option is a comprehensive search, with keywords in the database set up based on the LOCAL of my search, and my language from browser.

For example I input: *america*. My browser detects I am in the U.S. but my language is German. It finds "Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika" first because of my LOCAL and my language. On the contrary should I be in Germany, and input *america*, I should see a list of countries in German relating to the name, such as "Mexiko" and "Kanada".

  • I use a jQuery plugin called "selectize". It allows me to provide additional context to my options in a JSON format. For example, I list the Fontawesome icons with their pictographs and names as the "language" but provide the JSON "tags" for each icon as searchable text. So when I search for "business" I see things like a briefcase and a person with a tie. – Nathan Powell Dec 6 '16 at 8:47
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Using the "local name" of the country can be awkward. Several countries have more than one name, depending on the language - for example, Eire/Ireland in Gaelic/English respectively. You could choose to display both, but that will make your list bigger and harder to manage. And it might not help in places that dispute the right to a particular name.

In general, it's best to display country names in the current display language of the UI, but to make it very easy to find and change the display language first. (On the Web, display language should be initially set by HTTP content negotiation, to the user's most-preferred available language, but it's still wise to let this be changed - there's more use cases for the non-preferred language than you expect). Usually, you'll want an iconic representation of language (I think a speech bubble is gaining acceptance for this icon) and either language-native language names or ISO 639 codes for the values.

Remember that if your list of countries is sorted, then changing the language may change both the collation rules and the country names, so ensure either that your ordering is dynamic (e.g. if you're using a QSortFilterProxyModel in Qt) or that you re-sort when the display language changes.

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I agree with all the comments that 'location choosing' and 'language for this site' should be separate selections. I may live in the US, but speak and read Spanish, for example.

I will add one suggestion that I hadn't seen mention. List both. Have location list, by default, list countries in the current language. Next to it, list the country in the native language.

Example choosing a location from the English version of the web site:

Afghanistan (افغانستان)
Albania (Shqipëria)
Algeria (Al-Jazā'ir)
etc.

This isn't perfect, of course, because some countries have multiple native languages, but that could be accommodated as well if so desired.

As for UK v Britain v England, ideally it'd be the country name (England) but if not, list all 3 in the appropriate alphabetical location. Then someone looking for any of those can find it.

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