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Everywhere you search on Google says website localization is a good thing, well, it is, if done right. Otherwise it could result into a terrible mistake, and here is why.

About 4 months ago I moved to Switzerland, as you might know the three official languages are German (63.7%), French (20.4%) and Italian (6.5%). Actually there is a fourth official language which is Romansh but only 0.5% of the population speaks it.  Entering a website from within Switzerland will “turn on” localization services for a lot of sites, offering content in only the official languages, and this is a mistake.

A user needs to be able to choose what language to read, of course would be impossible and not practical to localize every website on every language spoken in the world right? But what if at least they add English?

English is the most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin (China) not by so far. But the main difference (besides the amount of people) is the English is a language spoken around the world on many different countries officially and not officially and Mandarin is generally fixed on a particular region of Asia. If you are wondering which is the third most spoken language in the world, is Spanish. So, it makes sense to offer English as a language no matter where the website is getting accesed? Definitely yes.

When a person enters a website from let say Switzerland, the IP address of the connection your are using is revealed to it and that’s how they know in which country you are at that moment. So the website assumes you speak the local language and shows you the content. But this is a total mistake! People travel, and people move around the world living in a lot of countries that are not where their mother tongue is spoken. It is estimated that more than 200 million people around the world are immigrants! And thats a lot!

Although I am learning German, since I arrived to Switzerland I faced different experiences with different websites regarding localization:


Yes, Google the mega-super big company worldwide and one of the leaders of the Internet sometimes messes up the languages on which it is showing me content.
For example if I enter on a browser without being logged in, I see all content in German. And worst part is that I don’t even have a language changer. I guess this is going to be solved in the future, but on the meantime its really a headache.

Rosetta Stone:
They are providers of software to learn different languages.
I´ve entered to check the pricing of their software, and automatically I´ve been forwarded to the German website, with of course, all content in German. (By the way, the language I was trying to check prices to learn). Bear with me, in this case is even worse, because they do this for living!.

So, as a good samaritan, I contacted the rosetta stone team over Twitter and explained them the situation and suggested to add a language switcher to their website. Their response was: “@fscheps Try RosettaStone.EU instead. That will give you English-language content.” Of course I tried, and when I go to that URL I am being forwarded again to the .DE website. This happened a couple of months ago already, and I´ve checked today and the problem still remains. Of course I decided to go and take the German course in an institute 🙂

VistaPrint is a great website where you can hire printing´s of every type (Cards, Mugs, MousePafs, etc.) (if you haven’t tried it yet you should). Well, I decided to get some personal cards, so I could hand out in meetings with my contact information. So I entered and found everything in German. I´ve noticed at the very top a language switcher, nice!, so after reviewing the options, I was still unable to select that I was located in Switzerland but needed to see the contents in English. I ended entering the United Kingdom option to see everything in English which was fine. The problem ocurred when after entering the purchase order I received an email saying that I asked for a product to be delivered to Switzerland from UK and why didnt I try to use the Swiss page instead. Of course this message was (guess..) In German! so after using Google Translator to understand what they where trying to tell me. I´ve answered the email explaining the situation. I didn’t receive an answer so I guess nobody read it?. This is another example on how things can get really complicated just because language is not very well taken in consideration. I could have get my products delivered from within Switzerland if the website has been correctly set up.
By the way, if someone at VistaPrint read´s this, I´ve applied for a job as a Senior Lead Systems Engineer in Zurich but been rejected :(, I was hoping I could solve this issues myself 🙂

Origin is part of the Electronic Arts group, I came around the website, it seems they are about to launch an online version of the great strategy game. Then, I decided to register for Beta testing on this link. As I didnt remember my password, I went to and surprise!  I need to choose a language between German, French or Italian, and I couldn’t choose any other language. Again the website was assuming that because I was entering from Switzerland so I should speak one of the three.

Paypal (Added 1/9/12) 
I have a Paypal account in Switzerland and set it to English (I am still learning German). I sent a money request to a person in another country and they received  the mail in English but when they wanted to enter Paypal´s website to process the payment (through the button on the mail) all content was in German, so my friend didnt knew what to do!.
This is not the only localization problem Paypal is having, today I saw a message (on their website) saying: “Your Payments will be temporary held, Learn More”, when I clicked on “Learn More” link, I was forwarded to a page where all the content was in German.

In all of these cases, the problem should be really easy to solve. Just add the option to choose a/or several International languages just in case the visitor doesn’t speak the local language of the country. This would add flexibility to their websites and will prevent in certain cases to avoid loosing visitors or business opportunity A.K.A. = Sales 🙂
Also, companies should really take in consideration the kind of feedback I´ be provided to Rosetta Stone guys, the problem still remains, which says they are not very good in considering comments and take action from them.

What about you? Did you also came across problems with localizations?  Share your experience below.