Often when I visit corporate websites they obviously have i18n. Often the chosen language they will display is based on the country I am in, NOT what I have set as preferred language in my browser.

I'm from Sweden, live in China, and often use a VPN to Japan. The displayed language of dell.com and ebay.com is Japanese if I use a VPN in Japan, and Chinese if I don't use a VPN. My preferred language is English first, then Chinese, then Swedish.

I'm a data scientist and software engineer and have done multiple web projects using different frameworks, and everytime the standard way of doing i18n is with gettext and .po/.mo files, and the language chosen is 100% based on the preferred language list provided by the browser.

How can it be good user experience to show me Japanese text on a site just because I happen to currently be in Japan, even though I've stated I want to see sites in English? I'm having a hard time seeing what the possible reason can be for this choice; but obviously there are arguments for doing it this way since so many multinationals choose to do it this way, but I have never heard or realized what it could be.

Please enlighten me. :)

EDIT: Also, often when I manage to find the dropdown to change the language, they tell me to choose a country, not a language (e.g. paypal.com). It far from obvious if I should choose the country I'm born in, the country I live in, or a country who's language I wish to see the site it. The best experience I have ever seen is att offgamers.com, where I can choose to see the Chinese market (where I live), with prices displayed in Swedish Crowns (since I have a Swedish mastercard), and the language used as English (because it's what I'm used to).

  • Same here. I wouldn't mind so much if the local language was any good, but in many cases it's a very crappy machine translation, and the site is really only usable if I can switch to English. And then pray that the site remembers my preferences for next time.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 15:58
  • 6
    It's just bad UX, not much to explain
    – Devin
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 17:49
  • So how we can explain those web devs doing bad UX that they are ruining our UX. Or maybe the digital nomads are simply an irrelevant user group? I am getting so annoyed by this after so many years. It seems that browser language settings has become unpopular in web design, since they do not care about user preferences ..... Some of the chinese multinational sites are just about impossible to use outside your official language location. (maybe thats why there is no feedback channel ?!? )
    – U.V.
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 14:54

3 Answers 3

  1. Bad UX. Often happens because the site developers didn't think ahead or don't live in a country that doesn't speak their mother tongue. If you can understand everything clear as a developer, you will put good a i18n in a lower priority tier.

  2. Logistics. Some companies have websites targetting different countries and on each country they sell specific products and have a dedicated customer care teams that are only trained in one language or two. Even Amazon only recently started deploying different languages for each website.


This is an answer based on observation and experience: many times, specially in countries where software piracy is rampant, you will find that users have cracked version, often in English, no matter which country or which language they speak. While some people are smart enough to change language or at least their browsers language, there's an important number who doesn't (funny fact: I speak Spanish, live in Argentina and all my software is in English, but that's because I need to know the commands when explaining to my clients or when I do screen captures).

In this scenario, it's somehow logical to consider that GeoIP is a better choice. And it usually is. However, it doesn't mean that users shouldn't be able to change their language as their wish. Not offering that option is bad UX, I cannot think of any realistic reason to deny locus of control to users if you already have i18n in place.

  • "And it usually is" Except it rarely is a better indicator than browser language. The amount of natives that use software in another language is smaller than the amount of immigrants that would rather use their mother tongue or English.
    – ecc
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 15:04
  • sorry @ecc, but at least in the countries I know where this is an issue, natives using software in another languages (mostly because it's cracked, but also for other reasons, going from work reasons to cultural colonialism) are WAY more than immigrants. I don't know much colleagues using software in Spanish, not even my daughter in college. This is for Argentina, but Mexico, Columbia and Costa Rica are pretty much the same (and probably other countries I don't know, as well as other languages). Still, it shouldn't be done that way, just explaining a possible reason to do this
    – Devin
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 16:58
  • I guess we live in totally different environments, me being in Europe where people are moving in to, and you in South America. Good to know a different prespective. Cheers.
    – ecc
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 8:44
  • I fail to see what the language of a "cracked version" (if even that version is hard-linked to one and only one language) has to do with a language preference setting in the browser. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 6:57

While it is possible to configure a browser to send user's preferred language list, it is not explicitly requested at any point. Aside from user having installed a language pack or a localized browser version, the list could stay at some default value, which would not represent the true preferred language.

Most websites are therefore configured assuming that there will be fewer mistakes when offering language based on IP address, rather than relying on a header, which might be inaccurate. Furthermore, experiments with user patience by giving instructions on how to configure a browser just don't seem like a good idea if website in question was not expected to provide such information.

  • Ah great, there we go in a useful explanation why we might never get a good UX using our browser somewhere else than in our native environment. This is soo wrong to not be able to force the site to english. I spend a lot of time in spain and its so hard to use the web in spanish as mostly impossible to switch to english in this country. Seems that nobody expects a person being in spain to speak and read very little spanish..... But I am in the canaries a lot where this is obviously a completely a wrong assumption!!! having more foreigners than locals many months of the year...
    – U.V.
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 15:02

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