How not to search

We are of course steadfast proponents of multilingualism, which pretty much nobody does right.

Our example this week? Search engines.

EuroSeek, a Europe-only search service, reads the language setting of your browser and talks to you in that language. You can choose a different language for the interface, and you can search in a particular language.

EuroSeek handles those two functions differently. To select the language of interface, EuroSeek gives you an alphabetical menu listing available languages in the name of the language: Balgarski, Brezhoneg, Català, Cetina, Cymraeg, Dansk, Deutsch, and so on. (We face a wee character-set problem with the name of the Latvian language on Macs, but what can you do? Like the Icelandic characters eth Ð/ð and thorn Þ/þ, plus half the characters in Turkish and Hungarian, Windoids have a true advantage. Have you even looked at the full character sets in Arial, Georgia, and Verdana? But we digress.)

However, when it comes to searching for content in specific languages, EuroSeek flubs it majorly, giving you a menu with these options:

Search in:

  1. any language
  2. Bulgarian
  3. Czech
  4. Welsh
  5. Danish
  6. German
  7. Estonian
  8. Greek
  9. English
  10. Spanish
  11. Esperanto
  12. French
  13. Croatian
  14. Icelandic
  15. Italian
  16. Latvian
  17. Lithuanian
  18. Hungarian
  19. Macedonian
  20. Dutch
  21. Norwegian
  22. Polish
  23. Portuguese
  24. Romanian
  25. Russian
  26. Slovak
  27. Slovenian
  28. Finnish
  29. Swedish
  30. Turkish

Spot anything amiss there, like screwy alphabetical order? The entries actually are alphabetical, if you imagine writing the language names in the actual language, translating them to English, and retaining the original order:

A pedant’s delight, this. Vulcans nod in approval. And EuroSeek is at least consistent, doing exactly the same thing in French (Slovène,Finnois,Suédois).

But an English-speaking user has already selected an English interface. All the menus should read like perfectly fluent English. We’re not quite sure why this isn’t obvious.

Meanwhile, Google, the first service you should try for any search, hides its language options behind a special screen. It doesn’t read your browser language setting, and you have to be able to understand the English phrase “Language, Display, & Filtering Options” to change the language. Google then asks you to select language of interface and languages you’d like to search in by naming the languages in English. (That’s permissible with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, given the likelihood that real-world users won’t have the appropriate fonts installed, but ridiculous otherwise; even with those languages, use romanized names in the original language.)

All in all, a prototypically American approach to localization: We’ll work in your language, but only if you ask us in English first.

Posted on 2000-10-08