How Websites Automatically Detect Your Preferred Language

Have you ever tried doing a web search for something in a different language and having the results automatically translated to your regular spoken language? Have you opened a French website only to have it get translated to English? What is happening is that the website can automatically detect your preferred language. Now before you start worrying that your every move is being tracked, having websites detect language is actually a lot simpler than that.

So, how do websites automatically detect your preferred language?
There are actually a bunch of ways that can be used to do this, but one, in particular, is the most widely used. Here, we will discuss the different ways language is automatically detected and what the pros and cons of each method might be.

Browser preference

Detecting browser preference is the most common and most effective way used by websites to detect your preferred language automatically. Very simply put, when you install and set up the browser on your device, you choose the language that you want to use. Users in England will choose UK English; Germans will choose German; Chinese choose Mandarin, and so on.

When you use that browser to access a website, the website and browser communicate with each other, and the website is informed of the preferred language. Using this information website can either automatically translate the content of the website to your preferred language or ask you if you would like it to be translated into your language. The latter has its advantages when you want to view a website in its original form either because you already speak the second language or are learning it.

So how does the website know which translations to keep handy? They don’t know for sure, but most websites these days have translations of the more widely used languages. When you access a website an HTTP request with your language preference is sent to what is called the Accept-Language header. If the server does have the option of your preferred language, you will get that translation. If your preferred language is not available, other languages of preference are checked for or you get the default version of the site.

IP address lookup

Looking up the IP address and getting information on the user’s country, is another way websites can automatically detect language preferences. However, this method is fraught with problems. The first being that you could be traveling and using your laptop in another country. So, while you would prefer English, the IP address shows that you are in France and the server sends you the French version of the site.

Another problem that arises from IP address tracking is that the information is inaccurate if a proxy is being used. Because there are limitations to this method, it is rarely used to detect the language of preference.


What websites should also go along with automatically detecting language preferences is to identify variants of languages. The widespread example is US English and UK English. Not only are spellings different between the two variants but also systems of measurement, date format, and more. Both language and modifications should be detected automatically for effective localization.

Why use Localize?

Localize offers websites a feature called detectLanguage that can provide users with an array of preferred languages using the Accept-Language header method. The feature allows users to also manually choose the language if they want to change their preferences. The feature will not override the user-selected preference which helps with improving the user experience. Websites that use Localize can seamlessly automatically detect and deliver the users’ language preference.

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