ISO language codes and country codes don't mix

In 2012 I wrote about Deezer mixing up ISO country codes and languages codes — specifically Montserrat for Melayu and as a result using the flag of a small English-speaking Caribbean island for the Malay language. (Deezer has since replaced their flags and languages with a simple list of languages presented in their native name).

I recently spotted a similar set of mix ups on a plug in for accessibility and translation from Recite me used on sites such as London’s Gatwick Airport.

recite-me

There are some curious flag choices made for representing languages: such as Andorra for Catalan. With a population of around 80,000, there are are fewer people in Andorra than the seating capacity of Catalonia’s largest football ground, FC Barcelona’s Nou Camp (almost 100,000 people).

Traditional Chinese is represented with China’s flag while it is far more commonly used in Taiwan (where Simplified Chinese is rarely used).

The Indian flag is also used three times — for Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. However, Gujarati does not have an Indian flag: instead it has the flag of Guam. Galician also has the Greenland flag.

This is where checking your country codes and languages codes is very important: the two-letter ISO language codes for Galician (GL) and Gujarati (GU) are the same as the two-letter ISO country codes for Greenland (GL) and Guam (GU) respectively.

However, by far the strangest combination of flags and languages here is the first one: Afrikaans is shown with a Saudi Arabian flag. Another mix up possible with the “SA” abbreviation of South Africa (where Afrikaans is spoken) and Saudi Arabia?

Confusing language and country codes is one pitfall of using flags to represent languages: another is the added onus of having to ensure you’re actually using the “right” flag (and determining the “right” flag is also full of pitfalls).

Had this language selector used a simpler approach with just language names presented in their native name and script then mixing up and even confusing flags wouldn’t even be an issue.

5 thoughts on “ISO language codes and country codes don't mix”

  1. I’m curious what you think about having a translator on a website at all. I run a site that has 89% English speaking visitors. Many of the visitors of other languages are visiting in Chrome, which has its own built-in translation. Do you think it’s necessary to provide a translation option on my site for that remaining ~5%? It sounds like the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    1. Chrome autotranslate is great, and if the majority of your users are using Chrome, then it’s probably not worth the outlay of an extra translator. But Google Translate isn’t perfect, and if your site is of a specialist or technical nature, the translations might not be of a sufficient quality. Depends on your content really!

  2. James,

    I’m relatively new to Recite (having started here in April) and I’ve only today been made aware of this piece.

    I wanted you to know that as a result of this, and other comments, we removed the flags from the dropdown menu.

    Thanks for pointing out the errors in the first place.

    Regards
    Martin

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