I'm working on an application that is multi-lingual: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, ... Arabic.

In some parts of the application, I use a little flag to represent the language used.

For English, French, Spanish, etc, I'm OK with using the American, French, Spanish (...) flags.

For arabic, though, I was wondering if there was one country flag that would be an instantly recognizable and non-controversial representation for the arabic language ?


  • 8
    Flags are not Languages
    – JonW
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:18
  • 6
    I'm wondering why you're not questioning the controversy of using the American, French and Spanish flags for EN, FR and ES
    – msp
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:27
  • 2
    Consider this case: I speak English but I am NOT American.
    – Pdxd
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 15:55
  • I would hope that the 3 comments above will overshadow any answers below. Flags are just not appropriate. Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 16:10
  • all flags are controversial.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 16:41

3 Answers 3


Besides being a representation of a country and not the language, flags are culturally very sensitive. Consider what's going on in Middle East or how Portuguese and Brazilians feel about being identified as a unique entity.The best approach is to avoid alienating some of your users by opting for a convention that all your users will understand. In this particular case I would use labels only:

  1. English for English
  2. 日本 for Japanese
  3. Français for French
  4. العربية for Arabic
  5. Español for spanish

I think, this is far more inclusive and understandable for all your target audience. Hope that helps.


The 'flags are not languages' thing gets repeated a lot and it certainly has a valid point. But it shouldn't be taken as an absolute law. Flags are not languages but users do associate a French flag with the French language (for example) and so will be drawn to flag pictures as a way to change the display language.

In the case of something like setup for an OS, big international software, then yes, flags are wrong. But if you are for example making the website of the Moscow branch of the Turkish-Russian Friendship Association then flags are totally appropriate and fit in very well with the feel of the site (though they could well get lost midst the million other flags that would be seen on such a site!).

In my experience testing with Irish users nobody really has any problem when people use the British or, rather more rare in Europe, the American flag for English, they get what it means just fine and it helps them to navigate, which is the core point of usability (though when the British flag for English is coupled with the Republic's flag for Gaelic...then things get silly. I've no idea what those designers were thinking.).

If you really must use a flag- the Arab League has a flag, that maybe?
Though in this case it sounds like you are going for a very global program rather than a more localized affair (its not the Saudi embassy in Rome) so flags are not the way to go. By the sounds if it there would be so many of them that it would look rather messy anyway.

I'd suggest just going with Arabic written in Arabic with (Arabic) or / Arabic in English (or whatever the currently selected language is) next to it.

  • What's the problem with using the UK flag for English and the Irish flag for Irish? Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 13:12
  • 1
    1: Nearly everyone in Ireland speaks English as their main language. 2: Using the British flag to mean English language is pretty innocent and accepted. Putting it against the flag of Eire for Irish gets into a lot of iffy history and political stuff (not just the troubles and all that sort of thing either, modern Irish language politics too). 3: In my observations where the British flag alone is used it is usually taken to mean English language. Where the British and Irish flags are used for different options it is taken to mean country. Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 13:40

The arabic script is so distinctive that the best solution is to have an icon showing something in that flowing script.

The word arabic (below from google translate) looks a little long, but there must be something shorter that you can use.


  • 3
    Of course, writing "Arabic" in Arabic is clear enough to a reader proficient in Arabic, but use of Arabic script itself is not enough to represent Arabic. Persian (110m speakers), Urdu (70m), Pashto (45m) and Kurdish (40m) are all languages that use some form of Arabic script. Commented Sep 8, 2014 at 4:23

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