Using Flags to represent Languages considered problematic

LingQ uses flags to visually represent languages, this can potentially create problems related to political sensitivities, inaccurate representation and makes it challenging to represent minority languages. It would be appreciated if LingQ could consider alternative ways of representing languages beyond the use of flags.

Here are some potential arguments based on the following ChatGPT prompt: “give me some arguments for why it is a bad idea to represent languages by means of country flags in the context of UI/UX design.”

Inaccurate representation: Using flags to represent languages can be inaccurate. For example, using the flag of Germany to represent the German language may not accurately represent German spoken by Austrians and Swiss. Also, many countries have more than one official language or multiple languages spoken by different communities, resulting in ambiguity e.g. in the case of India whose flag currently represents Gujarati on LingQ.

Political Implications: Flags can be loaded with political connotations that may not be relevant to language learning. Therefore, not all speakers or learners of a language may identify with the country LingQ associates with that language. I wonder how Russian speaking Ukrainians feel about being represented by the flag of the Russian Federation?

Exclusionary: Some languages are spoken across multiple countries, and using only one country’s flag to represent the language can be exclusionary to speakers from other countries. For example, using only the flag of Spain to represent the Spanish language ignores the fact that Spanish is also spoken in many other countries.

Perpetuating colonialism: the culture and identity of the former colonies are subsumed under the cultural and political power of the former colonizers. This can be particularly problematic in the case of languages spoken in former colonies where there is ongoing political tension or conflict related to their colonial past. For example, the use of the French flag to represent French-speaking African countries could be seen as insensitive to the ongoing legacy of French colonialism in Africa.


I just wanted bring this topic up and start a discussion. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal and I making a mountain out of a molehill? Feel free to tell me, I’m interested in all opinions. I believe this topic will only become more relevant especially considering the upcoming languages on LingQ.

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I do agree with you that the national flag is not a correct representation of the language.

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I’m convinced that national flags are better be replaced by abbreviations (or full names). EN - for English, DE - for Deutsch and so on. In fact, that’s exactly how it’s been done for quite a while.
Unlike languages, countries are temporary entities, not to mention flags - for example, Germany has gone through at least seven flags, and Afghanistan has changed its flag 30 times in 100 years! No one can keep track of all these changes.

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What a world.

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If the questions is whether anyone could potentially be offended or consider something to be problematic, then nothing (meaningful) could ever be expressed, written or said.

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bamboozled did not get 1.4K likes on her/his comments by being batshit insane. s/he? has been a pleasure to work with as a librarian and is an extremely helpful member of the forums. No need to be an ass while disagreeing with her/him.

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Using Flags to represent Languages considered great

In the context of languages flags are commonly used as symbols. They are visual, quite easy to recognise (instanty) and don’t need much space. Furthermore, flags tend to be colourful and stand out much more than plain text.

Many people tend to associate languages with regions or countries where those are commonly spoken. Sometimes the name is similar (e.g. Spanish Language and Spain / Spanish Country) - that makes the association even easier. However, these are useful associations and not political statements. There is no unnecessary exclusion of dialects, people or countries and colonialism is not supported - not by a flag as symbol for a language.

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As I wrote in my opening post I wanted to start a discussion and I think I succeeded in that. It’s always great to have an open exchange and I appreciate everybody’s honesty. Rest assured, I am just a simple user and don’t make any decisions at LingQ, I’m sure the flags won’t go anywhere. It’s a curious fact that the paragraph that most likely kindled the controversy was actually written by ChatGPT, I do apologize for this lack of originality.

By the way, I tried to find examples of how other companies implement a language selector, I looked at a number of operating systems, Microsoft Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS interestingly none of them show flags to represent languages, they only show flags to represent countries.

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“Using flags to represent languages can be inaccurate. For example, using the flag of Germany to represent the German language may not accurately represent German spoken by Austrians and Swiss”

That’s more of a point for the countries flags… When you click on the french flag you know that you will learn french from France, and not from Sénégal or Québec.

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I love the flags.
We should have more flags.
Also please make sure this site never uses the american flag for english.
God save the King!

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I do think this is a “real” discussion, whatever that means, and one I do not immediately have a good solution for. There is a “joke” that the difference between a dialect and a language is a flag and an army/navy. In that respect listing a language as a language is inherently political, which is something one should be sensitive about.

The issue comes in however, is people like categorize things and like simple, easy-to-digest logos for those things. I think this is easier to solve if LingQ was prescriptive in its approach. Other tools tell you what you are learning when you use the tool. You are learning Standard German as it is in Germany. In that context, a flag makes perfect sense.

What should a user of LingQ expect to find when they look at a language supported within the tool, and how can you clearly communicate that to the user most effectively, without communicating something unintended or excluding something?

What if LingQ supports several varieties equally well within the same slot? How do you communicate that? What if it doesn’t? What do you do if the written language has different official standards and LingQ only supports some of them?

I like what Glossika does, to typically just give a description of what variety you will be learning, and an image, but it is not as immediately clear from the image. I like what Readlang does, where they have the name of the language in its language, and then a translation into the UI language, but on their website they also have flags.

I think giving users the ability to add a bit of their own customization could help. Pick from a set a flags or images, have them specify exactly what variety they are learning, using ISO language codes could help. Even being able to do this when uploading or sharing content could be helpful, beyond the tagging system we have today.

As I think about it, I would almost take the language concept out entirely. That is, what if I want to use my Spanish LingQs to review Portuguese content? I certainly can do that by importing content to my library, but what if I could just see library content agnostic of the language slot or profile I am using and search for content tagged how I would like. In that case, my selection of a “Language” just pre-enabled a set of features that I could customize.

I definitely got off topic here, but my point is that this an interesting and difficult question.

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bit woke, does it really matter?
a

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Hello, I only have a passing familiarity with the term ‘woke’ but I don’t see how it applies here. This is a rather technical issue and the idea behind not using flags is expressly to keep politics out of the realm of language learning.

My opening post seems to have elicited some strong negative reactions, I had not anticipated this. My best guess is that the phrasing must have been off, so let me try again and give a more parsimonious statement of my original point:
Do flags do a good enough job at representing languages?
Or more fundamentally:
Why should the flag of a country be used to represent a language?

The original issue that prompted this topic was, by the way, the potential addition of more languages to LingQ, namely Hindi and Tigrinya. Currently Gujarati is represented by the Indian flag. So, use the same flag for both, Hindi and Gujarati? But by that logic one could just use the EU flag for most European languages? As for Tigrina, should it be Eritrea or Ethiopia, or one of of the diaspora countries?


I normally treat the forum as a way to practice writing in English and I do enjoy the occasional intellectual exchange, but judging from some reactions here it seems I have overstayed my welcome and probably shouldn’t respond anymore. Therefore, I wish everyone a good day.

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lol

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Judging by some of the repies in the thread, I’d say it’s some of CS:GO discord servers has been down for a while, so the kids needed to take it out somewhere.
While spring is ongoing, we should expect things… Today my neighbour runs into me and asks me if I can help him (as a computer guy) to stalk out his ex, because she’s hacked his phone, TV and kettle and is spying on him :smiley:

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Coming late to the party…

Sorry, Bamboozled that you had to be confronted with some very rude comments in this thread from certain people. It is the distance and anonymity of the internet or maybe their lack of manners in the first place…

I think this is an interested debate. I can see the appeal of visual icons (flags) compared to text to symbolise languages and make the interface more appealing. Since there are no symbols for languages that I know of, flags might be the best approximation. Therefore, personally, I would be inclined to overlook/forgive the political incorrectness of it for the sake of convenience. Having said this, my flag identification skills are not as good as in 4th grade anymore and I do come across flags on Lingq that I cannot identify…

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I think you are right about everything, but at the end of the day, with all it’s problems, having the flags is probably still the best way to present languages or the least bad way, if you may.

Representing the languages with letters/initials like EN, ES, IT, FR, NL, DE might not be too bad but I don’t think all people will get that either. The German language is called german, deutch, duits, alleman, alemana, tedesca, tyska, þýska just as far as I know, for example. Anglophones, Italians and Spanish speakers might not always know that DE is for German/Germany. Do people who are used to hearing “Dutch” or “holanés” always know that it will be presented by “NL”? You also understand pictures faster than letters/initials etc.

With languages like German, it shouldn’t be such a problem that it is also spoken in Austria and Switzerland or that Spanish is widely spoken in most Latin-American countries. People know where these languages came from. I think there is a bigger problem when a country has several languages, like in India. You might use the Indian flag for the most widespread language (Hindu?) and other regional flags for the less spoken ones, but I am not sure if that would even be accurate enough for India. Then you can have the problem where a language doesn’t necessarily so much have a country and/or region it is considered the most associated with. What would Jiddish have for a flag for example? We don’t have a lot of African languages or Native American languages here on LingQ but they could pose some huge problems, because of how many of them exist within the same country and how much they cross borders.

To the people who want to talk about the OP being “woke” and throwing insults, you need to clam down. The problems listed are not just about someone possibly being offended, but also just about confusion and practicality. We should be able to talk about matters like this without having people being called “insane” or worse. We should be better than that and be able to talk about pros and cons of these approaches without losing it.

It is also impossible to completely separate politics and distinctions of languages, although you can do it to a greater or smaller extent. Politics already determine quite a lot about how you decide what is a dialect and what is a separate language and often it has to do with borders of countries. The Norse Scandinavian languages (DK, SE, NO) are similar enough that they might be considered dialects if they were all within the same country. The written vocabulary of the Bokmål version of Norwegian is nearly identical to Danish, but the Nynorsk version starts to be a bit more like Swedish, for example. Since we have 3 separate nations, it is more practical to identify one language per country though. The different dialects of Arabic are quite different but are all considered the same language. Swiss German is normally not talked about as a separate language, but children in Swiss schools often learn standard German as a separate language because it is practical for them.

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This is really a non-issue for me. Having a Spanish flag to represent the Spanish language makes sense because Spanish is from Spain. It’s the same reason I speak “English” and not “American” or “Freedom”. Plus, it is a visual that many will recognize. It might not work for every language, but that does not mean we have to always use a flat.

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Initially, the title sounded a bit pedantic, but after reading your post I actually agree with you. But what better iconography could LingQ use? I can’t think of any other imagery that wouldn’t also have the same issues.

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Maybe for some or even all languages, there could be a combination of a flag and initials. It could solve some matters of confusion. You could have the Indian flag with the letters “HI” inside it for Hindi and the Indian flag with “GU” inside it for Gujarati etc. This could be done for all languages, or only for the ones needed, or perhaps only the smaller languages associated with each flag could have them. I am sure LingQ has more pressing things to be fixed at the moment though, just interesting to wonder what might be the best solution.

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