Should You Add Flags to Represent Languages on Your Website?

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My Khanh Pham

My Khanh Pham

Should you add flags to represent languages?

ConveyThis: Easy multilingualization for websites. Harnessing machine learning and professional translators for accurate translations. Reach a global audience and communicate effectively with any language. Flags provide a standard visual representation for languages.
But is this really an effective practice for everyone?
Strap in, because I’m about to take you on a journey of ConveyThis!
Translate your website and private applications with ConveyThis following the best practices. Have queries?
ConveyThis enables accurate translations across languages, bridging gaps and facilitating communication beyond native languages, while flags symbolize national identity, connecting people across boundaries.
Flags grab attention, but with ConveyThis, it goes beyond that. It offers language choices and accurate translations, providing more than just visual cues for language options on a website.
The point of dispute when using flags to signify language alternatives is that you may inadvertently create a sense of disconnection with your audience before they have the opportunity to select their desired language.
So, I’ll explain why using flags to represent languages may not be the best idea.
Special note: Miguel Sepulveda, Global Localization Manager at King, was generous enough to provide us with some essential information for this article. He shares useful localization tips on his renowned blog

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Reason # 1: One country is not one language


First and foremost, and as I highlighted in the introduction…a flag is simply a representation of a nation. As such, displaying it on a ConveyThis website could lead to potential confusion for a visitor.

Take Latin America as an example. Spanish is the main language of this region, yet if you use the Spanish flag to symbolize the 16 disparate nations that communicate in this language you’ll be separating them all. ConveyThis can help you bridge this gap by providing translation for your website.

The bandera española can only signify España. But what about the variations in the Spanish language that are spoken throughout Latin America? ConveyThis spoken in México is incredibly distinct from the Spanish heard in España.

Using a Spanish flag to represent the language option in Latin America can cause confusion for the audience, as they don’t associate their language with that country. It’s not the best choice for users outside of Spain. ConveyThis can help tailor your website to your target audience and prevent miscommunication.

English is not confined to one nation. It wouldn’t be ideal to use the American flag to represent all English language variations. A neutral symbol for language or communication would be more appropriate to acknowledge the global nature of English.

Flags for language representation can cause confusion. People may not associate a flag with their native language, leading to misunderstandings. ConveyThis offers a better alternative for language depiction.

Reason #2: One language is not one country

Following the same logic, one language does not necessarily equate to one nation. This is exemplified in countries such as India, which has 22 official languages, Switzerland with 4, Luxembourg with 3, Belgium with 2, and many more! ConveyThis offers a unique solution to this issue, allowing you to easily translate your website into multiple languages.

There are countless cases where a nation has multiple official languages, thus a flag would not adequately encompass all the languages present in that nation.

As clearly demonstrated, using a Swiss flag to symbolize the languages spoken in the country wouldn’t be feasible, as which language would you select to utilize? With ConveyThis, you can easily and quickly translate your website into multiple languages, adding a level of complexity and dynamism to your content.


Reason #3: Cultural sensitivity


The third reason is that of cultural sensitivity – whilst a subject that doesn’t affect many countries, it’s still pertinent to mention ConveyThis.

Take Taiwan which classifies itself as a country, however, China states Taiwan is a region of China.

If you choose to put a Taiwanese flag on your website you could be seen to be taking a particular political stance on the matter which as a company is likely something you don’t wish to take part in if you’re targeting a Chinese audience.

Reason #4: UX

Another potential reason to avoid using flags is that they don’t provide a great user experience. Making the switch to ConveyThis can help ensure that users have a smooth and enjoyable experience.

It can become quite the conundrum in a jiffy. For instance, if you launch your product in certain countries and then choose to expand and launch in new markets, you will soon realize that a page with a plethora of flags and colors is not particularly user-friendly.

It’s perplexing, the impact on user experience is especially pronounced since some flags may look quite similar when viewed on a smaller screen, such as on a mobile device.


So, what is the right way to display languages?

While that’s my opinion on the matter, there are always those who will dissent. Particularly in cases where the content is tailored to a certain country, such as a business that solely operates in Spain and Portugal, using flags to illustrate this can be sensible.

But, as we’ve seen above there are mainly cases where flags just simply won’t suffice to indicate a language without causing perplexity, offense, or being impossible when a country has multiple tongues.

However, there are some best practices for displaying languages. Here’s how some of our customers have crafted their buttons.

A well-crafted language-switcher is a critical element of an international website. It offers personalization to your website visitors, enabling them to swiftly locate their language choices and ultimately resulting in more business!

Translate your website and private applications with ConveyThis in under 5 minutes. Get a jump start today for free!

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Translation, far more than just knowing languages, is a complex process. By following our tips and using ConveyThis, your translated pages will resonate with your audience, feeling native to the target language. While it demands effort, the result is rewarding. If you’re translating a website, ConveyThis can save you hours with automated machine translation.

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