Help a user to choose the languages they prefer for communication.
This pattern allows users to indicate the languages they prefer to use for either written or spoken communications.
About this pattern
What problem does this solve?
Approximately 8 percent of the total U.S. population over the age of five is considered Limited English Proficient (LEP). They may speak English, but speak it less than “very well,” and they may not read it well, either. Limited English proficiency can lead to misunderstandings and frustration. Individuals may miss important deadlines or may submit the wrong material. In some circumstances, the miscommunication can be critical—but it is always alienating.
When to use this pattern
Use this pattern when collecting information on the preferred written or spoken language of a user, in order to provide documentation in their preferred language, consultation with a speaker of their preferred language, or translation/interpretation services.
What’s the solution?
The pattern allows users to select their language preferences for both written and spoken communication and to indicate their preferred language if it is not in the list.
What to do
Do list the languages in their native spelling
Capitalize the name of each language (for example, English, Español).
Do include American Sign Language (ASL) in spoken preferences if you are committed to supporting in-person communications, such as in a health care setting.
Do order the languages alphabetically by the common, native language name. For example: العربية (Arabic) 简体字 (Chinese - Simplified) English Español (Spanish) Français (French) Italiano (Italian) Pусский (Russian)
Provide an “other” selection that allows the user to specify the specific language, if you are committed to supporting their language needs, such as in a health care setting.
Do allow the user to select more than one language.
Do consider providing an option for an individual to indicate “I need help completing this form,” if your program can support providing assistance. Some people with limited English-language skills or low literacy may not be able to complete the form themselves.
What not to do
Do not include languages other than those you can support.
Do not use icons or graphics, since they may mean different things in different languages and cultures.
Do not use flags or country codes to indicate languages. Flags do not map to languages; Arabic, for example, is spoken in many countries. It may not be universally understood that ES indicates Spanish.
Do not assume that the language a user prefers to speak is the same language they prefer to read.
Preferred language - Spoken
Preferred language - Written
Strongly consider providing language to reassure the user that there are no penalties associated with accessing information or completing forms in languages other than English. Some people with limited English-language skills have concerns about stigma or that use of a language other than English will impact their immigration status, program eligibility, or future opportunities.
Once a user has saved a preference setting other than English, default to their preferred language for future mail or email communications whenever possible.
Consider that individuals may have other challenges in addition to limited English proficiency, and may require other types of support.
Translation and navigation functions in languages other than English should still meet appropriate accessibility standards to ensure equal access.
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Meaningful code and guidance updates are listed in the following table: