countries or nations.
of communication between people.
Flags are unique to a country or nation: but languages are often spoken across national borders. By using a flag for a language, you may confuse or even offend users.
Consider these examples:
Arguably, the flag of England is the most appropriate flag to represent the English language. But how recognizable is the English flag?
However, often the British flag is used to represent English. Within Britain, other languages other than English are spoken — including Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.
Often the United States flag is used to represent English — and while the USA has far more English speakers than Britain, English does not originate from the United States.
Furthermore, English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world: it is spoken in countries including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa to name just a few. How will users from these countries react to an English, British or American flag?
The Spanish flag is often used to represent the Spanish language.
However, in Mexico alone there are more Spanish speakers than Spain.
Spanish is also spoken in numerous other countries including Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. There are also a large number of Spanish speakers in the United States — including Puerto Rico. Is a Spanish flag the best choice for users outside of Spain?
The French flag is an obvious choice to represent the French language. While most French speakers live in France, French is spoken in many other countries — including Belgium, Ivory Coast and Switzerland.
French is spoken in Switzerland along with other languages — Italian, German and Romansh.
Similarly, in Belgium French is also spoken with other languages — many speaking Flemish and German in a small minority.
How will users from other French-speaking countries — Belgium or Switzerland especially — feel about the use of the French flag?
Many other languages share similar issues when combined into a single flag — including Arabic, Bengali, German, Hindi and Portuguese. Flags are specific to countries: languages often cross borders.
If you are targeting users from a specific country, then flags are highly appropriate. However, if you’re targeting users of a specific languages, think again before using flags.