As suggested in another question I decided to show the language names in native language itself in the language selector on my page, instead of using country flags.

The dropdown box shows the current displayed language, say Sprache: Deutsch. As an English person, you may not recognize that this is the language selector, because it is not written in your language.

How can I make it easy for people of other languages than the currently selected one, to find the language selector?

  • How many languages do you have?
    – Igor-G
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 11:33
  • @Igor-G For now, three. However, I am interested in a general solution, that would work with say ten or twenty languages.
    – danijar
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 11:41

4 Answers 4


I think the real problem is the fact you are using a drop-down. The only way the user can identify it's a language drop-down is by seeing text in a language they understand. But, in a drop-down, such text is hidden.

I rather like the method that Facebook uses. There are a variety of common languages shown, in different scripts. Even if you don't speak one of the languages, it's seems clear that this is the language selector. Clicking '...' will open a more comprehensive language selector.

Facebook language selector

You could get a little more sophisticated with this. For example, you could include languages from the browser's Accept-language header or include the languages commonly spoken in the user's location.


My first suggestion would be using a more or less common pattern and placing the drop down where it might be expected - e.g. top left or top right corner of your page. You might also consider placing it above the actual layout.

Second and probably more complicated, but also more effective (though additional) suggestion would be to check the browser language. You could do that through JavaScript and then present a note in that language – might be some hint like "change language" or "is this not your language?" or similar.

German broadcasting station Deutsche Welle uses that approach to a) pre-select a language and b) customizing the language selector -> http://www.dw.de -- you'll find the language selector at the top right corner. Opening that page for the first time will forward you to 'your' language, inform you about that forwarding and offer you to modify that preset.

If you have only few language, printing all of them could also be an option - something like "auf deutsch / en francais / in english". That's how french broadcasting station france24 does it -> http://www.france24.com


My favorite solution to language issues is if there's a user action required, such as a login, have the "login" submit button in several different languages. The user will naturally choose their preferred language, and from that point forward you know what language to display.

  • If we're looking just at this question, which is about the language drop down, do you suggest having "Select language" (or whatever the text is) in all possible languages? That doesn't scale well and just adds clutter.
    – elemjay19
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 19:34
  • This doesn't answer my question, though it is a clever solution for (different) problem.
    – danijar
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 12:08

Just put the small language icon near the "Language" option. Globe or flag graphic is self-explained. Don't let the user search for the language option somewhere in subitem, make it visible (for example in top right corner in case of websites).

As alternative (or when you cannot use graphics) instead of full native names, use the ISO 639-1 code. For foreign users, the two-letter words will be recognized as language code and also for natives it will be still clear even if they do not understand English.

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