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Andy Johns' Blog Andy's twisted brain....

So I can write code in 5 or 6 computer languages, I can read code in a dozen or so, but when it comes to human languages I'm a complete moron.... I struggled through the requisite two years of high-school Spanish and promptly killed off all those brain cells my first semester in college.... The title of this entry comes from a particularly stupid moment I had when visiting Paris many years ago: I was in a small shop when a girl came up to me and asked, in French obviously, if I needed any help. I tried to tell her I didn't speak French, but what came out of my mangled brain probably sounded more like "you don't speak French". Not the kind of thing you really want to tell a Frenchwoman in her own country. We'll just say she was a bit offended and I didn't actually purchase anything in that shop...

What does this have to do with anything? Well, another story.... My local Home Depot has self-service checkout machines. These machines have a touch-screen interface, bar code scanner, and support various pay options. There's one clerk to oversee four machines.... Generally, if you're buying simple things with bar codes the self-service machines are much faster than waiting for real checkout person to help you. Unless you're me... ;) You see, the first screen on the touch screen interface is a language selection, you can pick English or Español.... And I'll be damned if 75% of the time I go to hit that English button and my finger accidentally hits Español.... Great now the whole interface is in Spanish and I can't even figure out how to reset to get back to the language selection screen.... I have to flag down the clerk and have them reset the thing.

Another aspect of this, I was trying to check out the Zoho writer when I was put into a demo that was, I assume, German.... Nice, I got some idea of it, but I couldn't really tell what I was looking at completely, nor could I figure out how to change the language selection.... (I'll have more to say on Zoho and Ajax in a later blog...)

So WTF am I trying to say? If your app is public and supports multiple language modes (i.e. a web site, or a touch screen self-service checkout machine) consider having a language selection bar at the bottom of every screen (or at least the one directly after the language selection) that allows you to change the mode without knowing the currently selected language. Many sites that do this right use flag icons. This usually works fine, I would presume if you speak, say, German, you know what the flag of Germany looks like... ;) You do have some issues like British flag or American, or Mexico or Spain, but those are fairly minor and usually depend on if the site (assuming web site) is based in the States or Europe...

-Andy

PS. I really try not to be an Ugly American when traveling.... I successfully butcher French, Italian, Spanish, etc all quite well.... but at least I try ;)

Posted on Wednesday, October 11, 2006 9:57 AM | Back to top


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