flag overload? is an excellent online language resource with online translation as one of its core services — in an impressive 22 languages.

The site makes heavy use of flags as iconography, with some interesting flag choices: Arabic is represented by the Egyptian flag, Swahili by the Kenyan flag and Hindi by the Indian flag.

Arabic is an official language in 24 countries other than Egypt (however, Egypt is by far the largest by population) and Swahili is an official language in four countries. While Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India, there are 22 official languages in India.

Furthermore, English is represented by the Union Jack; however it is an official language in over 50 countries. Also, the United States which has many more English-speakers than the United Kingdom. (The same argument can be applied to the use of Spanish and Portuguese flags for those languages in relation to Mexico and Brazil respectively).

Regardless of whether flags are appropriate in this situation, another question can be posed: do the flags actually aid in legibility of the translation menu? Or are they actually distracting?

Consider the Google Translate interface that supports 65 languages:

Arguably the Google Translate is easier to read and far more compact on screen: and it achieves this in part by not using flags to represent languages.

4 thoughts on “ flag overload?”

  1. I agree, flags are not languages!

    But worth noting that the Google Translate interface shown here is intended for those who understand English who may be clicking on ANY language for which they require a quick ‘translation’.

    If you change your preferred language on Google then the language names are given in that language, which makes sense – as long as your language is supported.

  2. I take exception to your assertion that “English is…an official language in over 50 countries — including the United States”–English is not an official language in the United States. Per our guarantees of free speech, the government may not enact any official language.

  3. So Interesting! As a translator and interpreter, I was trying to design my name card, and was looking for language flag icons to use when I stumbled upon this website.

    Also I agree so much with what is being said here, I dont know of a good alternative to flags… Generic speach bubble can mean so many more things than a language.

    Also, the google translate language selection dropdown menu, in my opinion, is a disaster. It feels so cumbersome to find the language I’m looking for, every time. It just takes one too many seconds before my eyes can correctly identify the difference between Japanese and Javanese, or Norwegian and Nigerian.

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