Language Problems

The obvious frustration in this post from a frustrated Swiss Blogger gave me a definite feeling of relief that the five companies she has issue with (MySpace, PayPal, eBay, Amazon and Google) are all in America, so all speak a language that is similar enough to British English that I can use their default site without relying on localisation.

The issue she is contending with is that she is one of the 20.4% of the population of Switzerland who speak French. All of the companies are apparently producing Swiss versions of their sites that either default to German, or are only available in German, excluding more than a third of the population that speak one of the other three official languages.

It’s not an uncommon problem though – a couple of years ago I was reinstalling Windows on a PC at Beth’s parents place, and foolishly told the Windows installer that I was in Canada, at which point it set the machine up in French, because of course all Canadians speak French don’t they…

Anyway, for anyone involved in writing software for an international market, it is a salutatory lesson in how a poor attempt at localisation can actually result in more frustration – note particularly her comment that many of the non-German speaking people in Switzerland are better at English as a second language rather than German. To be honest what I tend to do with regards to localising an application is to make sure that there is a simple way to override the settings – a command line switch for example. Apart from anything else it gives our installation engineers a fighting chance to work the application if they are testing a Chinese install of an application!

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