MSDN: Language Options Not Intuitive

Published on February 1, 2007

Since MSDN caters to an international audience, it is necessary for it to offer its content in different languages. The MSDN website does this, but how well?

One measure of usability is the time it takes to complete a task. How long would it take you to switch to the English version from the Chinese version of the MSDN website?

Thumbnail Version of the Screenshot of MSDN Chinese Homepage

To someone who does not read Chinese, switching to the English version is going to be a daunting task.

Now, my English-reading audience, take a look at the English version of the MSDN website below. How how does it take you to find its language options?

Thumbnail Version of the Screenshot of MSDN (US) Homepage

It probably didn't take you long to notice that there is an item on the top right portion of the webpage that says, “United States – English.” The downward triangle next to those words is sufficient enough invitation to mouse over it. And when you do that, a drop down menu with a selection of other languages appears. Tada! You can now switch languages!

Obvious lesson: language options are best presented to the user in a language the user understands. Otherwise, you can’t expect the user to know what to do.

If you are ever faced with having to support multiple languages on your website, here are some approaches you may want to consider:

  • Display All Language Options

    Ideally, each webpage would contain the language options available to a user. (Yes, it would probably be needed on every page since you usually don't know what the user's entry point is to your website.)

    This works for websites that only support a small number of other languages, though. Trying to include a large number of language options on a webpage may cause it to look cluttered.

  • Display Some Language Options

    If it's not possible to display all of the language options, then maybe displaying some might suffice. Choose your top languages based on your users – and display those on every webpage.

    It might also be helpful if there was a “More Languages” option presented in the user's language (see next tip).

  • Use Users' Language

    A website could programmatically determine which country a user is connecting from – and use that information to determine a user's “default” language.

    This isn't fail-safe, though. For example, this doesn't help the English-only speaking user who is connecting from his hotel room in China.

Your situation may not allow for any of these suggestions. Or perhaps your solution may incorporate one or more of these suggestions. The approach you choose should depend on the language(s) your users’ speak, their behavior on your website, and your goals.