Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

Pet peeve #392 automatic region specific localization

As you may or may not know, Belgium is a funny old country. Not satisfied with just one national language, we decided to have 3 of the buggers, namely Dutch, French and German – with English as an unofficial fourth. This means that most of us are quite gifted multi-linguists, and can read, understand and write several of the 4 languages with varying degrees of success.

The peeve I have though, is that while the majority of the Belgian population is flemish (i.e. dutch-speaking), many international websites/applications throw all of us in with the french speaking lot by automatically changing the site’s language to french, based solely on the region from which we’re surfing.This became quite apparent this morning when I was checking the Facebook app on my iPod Touch, when I noticed that it had decided to automatically assume I was a french speaking belgian, and had translated the entire app since the last update.

As far as I could tell there was no immediate way to change the language back to english, so now I’m stuck with a francophone version of Facebook. It’s not that it’s a huge inconvenience – I can understand french just fine – but I just prefer to enjoy everything in it’s original language where possible. I don’t watch dubbed movies, or read translated books unless it was originally created in a language that I don’t know. I just feel that certain semantics are always lost in translation. So that’s why I want to use the Facebook app in English, thank you very much.The website itself seems to be spared this inconvenience for now.

Now, I’m all for localization – in fact I’ve written an actionscript framework to facilitate different flash site language version – but let’s not take away the choice of language from the user shall we?

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