I hope the title is not confusing.

I am talking about the (so common) drop down menu (doesn't have to be a drop down) where you choose the language.

Something like this:

enter image description here

As you can see this gives you the language options expressen in it's own language.

(It does not say "Spanish" it says "Español")

This seems like the normal way to go, since:

  • If the user would like to select a language it is because he knows it fluently and hence can recognize it a glance.
  • Otherwise you would have to make a (different) drop-down menu for every language you have that may be very impractical

Though I think theese are quite strong argumentes I have seen many(?) sites that chose otherwise.

I mainly ask it here because:

  • I'm no expert on UI and would be basing my decision solely upon intuition.
  • To see if my reasons for choosing this options were good ones (or the right ones).
  • And if there any hard counter-arguments to this choice (that I'm not seeing).
  • I can't create tags (I would have create something like "language" and "choice"), I'm not 100% sure that this question is correctly tagged or if some are missing, please feel free to edit at will!
    – Trufa
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 3:22
  • One important point is that you should pre-select the language that the user's browser tells you about in the http-header. That way most users don't even need to select a language in the first place. Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 19:36
  • See also ux.stackexchange.com/questions/2472/…
    – Inca
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 12:36
  • Intuition is not a bad thing. Not at all. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 15:32

6 Answers 6


It probably depends on who that ‘user’ is.

If he needs to select his own language, then show the entries in the corresponding languages.

If he is some kind of administrator that needs to select a language for others, he might prefer all names to be in the same (his) language.


The only counter I can think of is the order by which the languages are displayed (eg some languages first character changes when you change to it's own). Since this has become quite a standard practice I think that's less of a problem though. Your reasoning seems right and I agree with it.

You could, if needed, include the functionality (link, etc) to show the language names in English (though I don't believe it will be needed).

  • +1 for finding a disadvantage, I do agree it is not huge one! I like you solution too but I don't think is worth the hassle.
    – Trufa
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 13:09
  • No problem, you still need any more help with this issue?
    – Qosmo
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 18:58
  • If you choose to display both the native and the english name per language, then once you select let's say spanish, then the dropdown should display both the native and the spanish name for every language, or did you mean native + english regardless of the selection ?
    – wildpeaks
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 19:00
  • I didn't recommend to display both at the same time, that would clutter the interface a bit I think. I suggested a link/functionality that transforms and re-orders, replacing the native display by the English display of the languages. However your question is a bit confusing, I hope you got what I meant.
    – Qosmo
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 19:13

I think this method is OK! ...anyways people are used to it, because Google uses this solution. It is safe for you to do the same.

The question is rather, do you really need all these languages? Your target audience is all over the world? or what is your website/service about?

  • I don't think the OP necessarily has all these language choices. The screen shot is from Google and just shows the technique being asked about.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 9:21
  • thank you for the feed back! as you say, it is true people are used to it and that is a good thing! but the screenshot was just explicatory as @ChrisF very well explains, I do disagree that if google uses it then it is safe to use it, google targets a amazingly broad audience, most don't. Concerning the how many language issues, again, Youtube was just an example and I don't need so many. Thanks you!!
    – Trufa
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 12:21
  • 1
    Actually Google uses both methods across it's site, just checked ;)
    – Trufa
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 12:28

Having the languages appear in it's own language is indeed a very common and good practice, but you probably need to start by finding out:
1. why the application/content is required in different languages (region/country specific?)
2. how many languages do you need to support

If the content is region/country specific, should you start by asking (or detecting?) the region/country your visitor is from? Will you be using specific domain URL's for each region/country e.g. .fr .de .es .eu for each country/language etc? How about countries with more than one language (Belgium, Canada, Switzerland etc). If the number of language to support is only limited a dropdown may not be required etc ...

E.g. samsung.com, sony.com, oracle.com, switzerland.com, belgium.com

  • thank you for the feedback but I don't think this really answers the question since the question wasn't about if the drop-down method was the best method, rather how would the best method to implement it might be. That said, I do think what you said is correct in concept! Thank you!!
    – Trufa
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 12:24
  • ... hence why I mentioned that the design decision relies on the outcome of the 2 questions above ... anyhow, glad to help :)
    – Geert
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 7:50

enter image description here

Here's my "solution" you may check in if you like.

  • 4
    One problem with this is that languages have no flag, countries have. And there is no one-to-one mapping between countries and languages. The most obvious issue is US vs. GB. Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 19:40
  • 2
    That's a bad solution. It has already been discussed here: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/11891/… Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 9:52
  • Additionally, some flags represent countries that have multiple languages (eg. Canada, Belgium, Switzerland)
    – Erics
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 23:01

It depends on the context. Your method is recomended when user needs to select web page language (also consider accept language browser headers) But better show all languages in english if an english administrator is configuring user languages from a control panel.

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