Designing for Non-Native Speakers

Some curious facts emerge when you compare the languages most sites use, versus the languages most internet users speak. While around half of all web pages are in English, only about 28 percent of the people using the internet speak English as a first language. Interesting, right? There are billions of people who use and browse the English web, but are not native speakers.

Asking for fully translated and localized sites is a mammoth task, one only large international conglomerates can afford. Instead, we can take some other simple steps to make our sites accessible for non-native speakers. We can focus on clear language, interfaces, and prompts, to help users as they navigate a largely English-speaking web.


…In order to get an objective idea of how complex our copy was, we ran it through the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. The test measures how difficult a passage in English is to understand, and assigns a score or US-reading level. You can do this with the “Show readability statistics” tool in Word, or by copy and pasting your content into an online tool. Our marketing copy was topping out around the 13th grade level, meaning you needed at least a year of college to understand what we were saying about our product! We should have been sticking to a level of 6th-8th grade to make sure our content was clear and accessible to our customers. No one wants to stumble through dense text just to get info on a new product!…

Standardized interface language

…So how can we do this? I have found that creating a spreadsheet or list of all your interface language and sharing that with your design team is a great way to maintain a sitewide standard….

Support tools

Sometimes though, simplified language is not enough. When we pair icons and text, we increase the speed at which recognition happens. It is an attempt to build a common language, one that is less dependent on English comprehension. But this is easier said than done. Look at these icons in Chinese mobile apps, and try to figure out how many you recognize.


Non-native speakers of English often need a little extra help to get through English web interfaces. That is OK. If they are a significant part of your customer base, these are some simple ways to support them, making a more powerful online experience possible. Aligning your readability level with your users’ reading comprehension level, standardizing your interface, and expanding the range of help options available to users are all things you can do now—you don’t need to wait until the future when you have the time and money for a complete overhaul of your content. By planning and delivering these discrete steps, you can do a lot right now to help all your users, whether they are native speakers or not.

(curated by Lifekludger)
Complete story at source: A List Apart: The Full Feed

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