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I am not an American, so I rather resent the US flag representing my language!

February 17, 2015



The main problem the way I see it, is that flags represent countries, not languages. Ideally, flags shouldn't be used as symbols for languages at all. The issue then is, of course, that few languages (I can only think of Esperanto) have symbols representing them. So the alternative is often just the name of the language in text, which is not very effective from a visual point of view.

Regarding Swedish, this is a problem because Swedish is spoken in both Sweden and Finland, but you only ever see Sweden's flag representing the language. Now, for a Swede, that's not a huge deal, because we wouldn't think much about it. Sadly enough, we're used to the concept of Swedish=Sweden. Consider on the other hand a Swedish-speaking Finn. Born and raised in Finland, with Swedish as their native language. But everywhere they go, their language is represented by the flag of a foreign country, and the flag of their own country is used for the other official language. The effects of such usage is that the common misconception of Swedish being a foreign element in Finland, is strengthened. The same could basically be said about Finnish speakers in Sweden.

English analogies could be the Scottish flag being used for Gaelic, while English being represented by the flag of England. Or the Canadian flag representing French while English being represented by the US flag (I've actually seen this happen on products, it honestly amazed me).

I ended up ranting now, but I do think that this is a problem, because this usage reinforces the idea that languages belong to a single particular state, and in that state there is one "correct" language. Unfortunately I don't really know what could be done, since there really is no alternative that is as visually effective as a flag.


I feel like a lot of international web-stores will do a split image for their English sites, half Stars and Stripes and half Union Jack. I don't know how feasible that is for the small icons that Duolingo uses, though.


On the vast majority of multilingual sites I've seen, the Union Jack is used to represent the English language. Duolingo is certainly an anomaly. Remember that the Union Jack is not the Flag of England.


I know - it's the flag of the United Kingdom, combining the crosses of saints Andrew, Patrick, and George, representing Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England respectively. Why Wales gets left out of the flag like that is something I don't totally understand.


I think it's because the Kingdom of England had already included Wales for so long, but that's just my guess.


Yeah, I think that's the official reason. Still, I'd love to see the Union Jack reimagined with the Welsh dragon included somehow. Maybe keep the current flag, with red dragon passant in the extreme foreground. Dragon rampant might also look pretty cool.


Duo teaches American English, although Commonwealth spellings of words are also accepted, so it makes sense for them to use the American flag. In addition, for ease of recognition and simplicity of coding each language has just one icon, so the Spain flag has similarly been picked for Spanish and the Brazilian flag for Portuguese.


Yeah! I, too, would have preferred the Australian flag!

Kidding aside, the star-spangled banner is a fairly natural choice, given that it is the most populous of the countries listed here.


When I first joined duo last year, I was shocked to even see the American flag as English. Whenever I see English as a choice of language for other things it's always a British flag.


Yes, 1999Josh, so do I! But we have to acknowledge that for an international org to overlook the Americans would be perilous.


This topic tends to come up about twice every week. ;) One must also keep in mind, however that Duolingo is an American company, based out of Pennsylvania, so it is understandable why they would teach American English/have an American icon. :)

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