We're re-building this app for a client and he already has several language choices, including: English (US), English (UK) and English (AU) as well as Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America). Of course we're going to narrow it to English and Spanish, but wondering if there's some easily recognizable icon or concept, at least for English language.

As we're at it, I've used a football (soccer) ball for Spanish and an oval ball (American football/rugby) for English before and it worked like a charm (kids toys), the reference is automatic. However, this is for another kind of business, so while I don't mind using a metaphor or lateral symbolism, it needs to be more "global", so to speak. But mentioning it just in case it is of help.

EDIT: Since this question seems to be kind of conflictive, I want to make clear I want to know if there's an answer for this, not on ways to do it differently, I know those ways, I want to know my SPECIFIC QUESTION and nothing else. Answers could be yes or no, with an explanation or example. Everything else not related to the exact question goes on anyone's subjectivity. Although I could be interested on subjective views on some scenarios, I'm not interested in this specific case.

  • This question has been asked before and not once. Please look at the Related section in the sidebar on the right.
    – dnbrv
    Feb 16, 2015 at 23:11
  • None of these questions answer my question. As a matter of fact most of the answers aren't even answering the question. I already gave an answer more related to my question than any of the answers of those questions, only that more limited. I'm looking for a broader solution , so any "it can't be done" or "do something else" answer is not an answer, in any case it's a comment. If whoever marked this question as duplicate actually saw an answer, please point me to that answer, because I couldn't find it
    – Devin
    Feb 17, 2015 at 1:58
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    Your anecdote about icons working only in a particular context shows that there's no universal way to solve this problem. The spirit of UX.SE is to help solve general UX questions with design patterns, not individual, contextual, narrow-scoped situations. The question that we linked describes a number of strategies of dealing with language selectors that cover the majority of use cases and provide guidance for rest. Icons are not the answer to all interface needs.
    – dnbrv
    Feb 17, 2015 at 14:27
  • Maybe I'm mistaken, but an icon works in context BY DEFINITION, it's the whole essence of an icon, unless all the semiotics courses and books I took are wrong. For example, 3 lines in a paper, or a book, or in a middle of a website layout are just 3 lines. 3 lines in a website or app header are a menu. 20 years ago, a cassette icon would mean music. Todays it means retro. What didn't have a meaning last year has a meaning now. Furthermore, some of the concepts you believe to be general aren't shared by most mankind, go figure.
    – Devin
    Feb 17, 2015 at 17:05
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    @Devin You're asking for an icon which doesn't exist in the sense that there is no commonly understood icon for what you want. That is why all the answers to essentially the same question have looked at other approaches. If you're asking for the impossible, and all the questions tell you how to change your needs to make it possible, they are valid answers. As it stands now I don't see any "new" part to your question that hasn't already been dealt with. If you want to discuss it further, you're welcome to do so in Chat.
    – JohnGB
    Feb 17, 2015 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


Language selection is a very common UX situation and the typical solution is to spell out the language (English, Spanish, etc). If the app has a global audience you may want to use the native word for the language (eg Espanol).

There are icon based approaches which can work, but icons are usually used to visualize a selection rather than present a set of selections (eg icon in top right corner indicates you have selected English, but when you click on it, a drop-down spells out the languages in English).

Language selection is usually made infrequently so it's a waste of user attention to get cute with icons. Using a rugby ball may seem cute to a developer, but it forces users to figure out what the icon means, which is a waste of user attention that could be better spent elsewhere.

Moreover, there is no set of icons that maps intuitively to languages (flags indicate nations not languages), so using icons instead of spelling out the language automatically creates a cognitive tax for users.

So, unless you really need to get cute, I'd suggest sticking with the tried and tested approach here.

  • I actually tested the " balls" approach and it worked amazingly well. The reason for icons is not to get " cute", but actually to have the same logic accross the whole app which uses icons and Google Material guidelines. Just FYI iconography works in context so your "cute balls" actually had a meaning in a kids site. And YES, they were tested
    – Devin
    Feb 17, 2015 at 2:03
  • @Devin nicely done. Kids are a great example of where UX conventions can be very effectively broken (e.g. use of large icons, colors, animation, font sizes, etc) yielding good results.
    – tohster
    Feb 17, 2015 at 8:35
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    the only place I've seen the balls approach was with regards to differentiating (american) football and (association) football. Seems a little unusual for a general language select. I would agree that it sounds cute and fun but...I'm not so sure Mr Smith in Melbourne would associate the little picture of a kangaroo with access to the australian local version. I really disagree with the flags are not languages mantra though. Using the name of a language in the language is the best option but flags draw people's attention and in many circumstances are an appropriate choice Feb 17, 2015 at 10:03
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    "Flags indicate nations not languages" is a very important point. There is no one-to-one relationship between flags and languages. What flag must a French Canadian click? The French Tricolore?
    – Matt Obee
    Feb 17, 2015 at 17:50

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