Written interfaces and localization

I live in a non-English speaking country. Although a significant part of the population can speak English a little, the vast majority of it does not know a single word. This is the case for my wife. She perfectly speaks Portuguese and French, and she has some solid notions of Italian and Spanish, but no English at all.

Of course, there is nothing wrong. The most annoying for her is the plethora of little devices we daily uses (computers, recorders, music players, etc.) and which have been designed for international marketing but without any consideration for localization of the user interface. Look at that radio alarm for instance:

Each time my wife wants to change the settings, she has to ask me whether she must switch it on or off. That is because she has no idea what "on" or "off" means. For her, it could be so well written "sglurmf" and "zxqwaghs"! Without any reference, it is very difficult to remember a foreign word and its meaning.

In the IT world and especially on the Internet, the possibility to switch between languages is so common that we do not notice it any more. But unfortunately, it is not so easy for non-software user interfaces.


_sahirs said...

I'm sure if you lived in France or Portugal, you would have devices with the labels in French or Portugese. Hence, and English speaker would be in the same situation.

So, the conclusion is that the interface is designed for the majority of the people who will use it, and not for the minority.

Hmm, so what's new?

Yann Trevin said...

I partially agree with you when you say that interfaces should only be designed for the majority of people who will use it. I believe that when you intend to sold a product in several cultural areas, all speaking different languages, you should either localize your interface (not always possible), or preferably avoid language-dependent interfaces.