There are three choices of language. At least on mobile it would be nice if I could save a little space in the footer by omitting the currently active language. This seems risky though as it means the two choices would shift. On the other hand, a user isn't likely to change the language more than once on a page.

EDIT: The language selector will be available on all pages. This is not what the question is about. The question is whether or not the currently selected language should be shown or only the language that the user can switch to. When the switch happens one of the choices will be swapped with the previously selected language. For example if the currently selected language is German, the language selector would show: FR | IT If the user selects FR it will be replaced by DE and the page will be displayed in French.

  • Why isn't it just a one off question/fetch from phone language settings? Are people going to want to switch languages half way through? Surely if your content is inadequate in one language the true UX answer is to translate it more throughroughly into the languages you are going to support!
    – JamesRyan
    May 1, 2013 at 16:41

5 Answers 5


You do not need to explicitly show active language, because this information is already provided by the UI you are showing to your user. There can occur two general scenarios:

  1. User understands what you are telling her and this means she does not need to know what language is on (she knows it and probably most users will guess that it is English/Spanish/whatever by looking at it; if they understand it).
  2. User does not understand the language which means she needs to change it to one she understands. Providing her with information that the characters she is looking at are Japanese and not Chinese won't make a big difference; having a quick and convenient way to switch Japanese to English will.

So the answer is no, you don't need to tell your user what language is currently selected, but give them ability to change it easily if it is the language she doesn't understand.

  • Since the original question has been edited to tell us the languages used (German/French/Italian) your answer fits; it would be pretty difficult to mix them up! But in other cases languages are similar enough that it may be worth letting the user know what they're currently viewing. You can look at some of the Scandinavian languages that way, along with my previous examples of US English & UK English or Belgian French & Swiss French. May 9, 2013 at 9:43
  • I can understand Czech/Slovak/Polish, Russian/Ukrainian . If I stumble upon one of these languages I will be able to determine which language it is. Something is telling me that in case of someone who speaks Scandinavian languages it will be the same. Though if you pop up an UI at me written in scandinavian language I wont care if it's Danish or Swedish — I'll need a way to change it. Also I don't care if UI is in US or in UK english as long as I can understand it.
    – Ruslan
    May 9, 2013 at 11:16
  • My point with regionalised pages in the same language is that content will often differ, though the language itself may not. For example, I work with a site that has unique content for Belgium and Holland. Looking at a page in Dutch, it won't always be clear if it's for Holland or Belgium. So if I'm on a page in Dutch and the language links only show NL & FR, I don't know if I'm viewing the right content for me in my country. May 9, 2013 at 16:21

A user may very well change language multiple times whilst browsing a website. I work with several Belgian websites, and they often have content in Dutch, French, & English. I often find myself (and users) flipping between them.

Businesses would like to think they have equally informative content across all languages, but in practice it doesn't tend to be the case. Some products and information pages often have more detail in one language than the other(s).

Also bear in mind that many languages are very similar to each other, especially when spanning multiple regions with the same language but different content. Many sites will provide different content for US English & UK English, or Belgian French & Swiss French. Letting a user know which version they're currently viewing may highlight that alternative content could be available & applicable to them.

  • Although this ins't really an answer to my question, what you say is true. However, note that I said ''page'' and not website.
    – bernk
    May 1, 2013 at 9:37
  • I guess what I'm saying then is "yes, it is helpful to always show a language selector". I know that some users do flip back and forth between languages, even on a single page. As you don't really need more than five characters for a language selector (e.g. "EN-GB") I'm not sure how much space you'd really save compared to the functionality you're potentially losing. May 1, 2013 at 9:43
  • Re-read the question ;)
    – bernk
    May 1, 2013 at 9:45

In your situation there is little chance that anyone is going to be confused about which language they are reading, given the dissimilarity between German, Italian, and French. I also presume that this is for a Swiss site (given the languages) and so most people will have at least a passing understanding of the other languages. So I would argue that marking each page with the language is unnecessary.

However it is important that you allow people to changed the language on every page. This can be achieved within an action overflow button on Android, or something similar on other platforms.

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Are you showing them as a list or as something like a dropdown? If you are looking to save space you could just create a drop-down and then compress it to one line thus allowing the user to see their currently selected choice and if they wish to go further they can click it and move into another language of choice.

Like Andrew, we work with a company that has multiple language choices and more often than not, users are switching languages (especially European users). Giving users the choice to flip is good but like I said earlier, space saving constraints can be implemented by introducing a selector object on the screen.

You can even mask it with some styles but removing a language option isn't very conducive to letting the user know what language they are viewing and also allows them to back out of a language change selection without having to interact with the canvas of the application or click a language then wait for the original choice to come back and revert to the original language.

  • I'm showing them side by side as DE FR IT (at least on mobile) with enough space around them to make it easy to select the one you want.
    – bernk
    May 1, 2013 at 9:46

Depending on the content, one may not be able to tell easily (or at all) whether the current language is Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese. Since the convention with language selectors is to show all languages including the current active language, the user might be mistaken to conclude that, for example, Traditional Chinese is not supported, and the web site or product only supports China customers and not Taiwan or Hong Kong customers.

(Of course, this answer will or will not be applicable depending on the particular languages that are supported. However, since the established convention is to list all languages, including current language, you will need a significant reason to deviate from the convention. I would suggest saving a few characters worth of screen-estate space is not worthwhile.)

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