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Do Latino immigrants to the U.S. use browsers configured to request Spanish?
March 31, 2012 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Can I trust a web browser's language preference setting to determine whether to provide Spanish-language content to Latino immigrants to the U.S.? (NB: This isn't a technical question, it's a social question.)

I run a state-level legal self-help website. I would like to display special information to website visitors who speak Spanish, to encourage them to call their local legal aid society to get Spanish-language legal guidance. Although it seems logical to use the browser's "Accept-Language" header to determine the visitor's preferred language, I'm left wondering whether that's realistic for this demographic.

Can I expect that people whose first language is Spanish, in the United States, who are googling for legal help, to be using a web browser that is configured to request Spanish-language documents? Or are these folks more likely to be using somebody else's computer, and not own one of their own?
posted by waldo to Society & Culture (10 answers total)
 
Can I expect that people whose first language is Spanish, in the United States, who are googling for legal help, to be using a web browser that is configured to request Spanish-language documents? Or are these folks more likely to be using somebody else's computer, and not own one of their own?

I think that most people have no clue you can even change the language on a computer. This is true of almost any demographic, not just Latino immigrants. Add to that the fact that a huge proportion of low-income people of any background are dependent on public libraries for web access, and you've got a situation where I wouldn't even bother looking at browser settings - you need a clearly visible "Click here for information in Spanish" button.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


Many of the Spanish immigrants I know are parents of children in my classroom, and they typically use library computers because they cannot afford a computer to have at home. I think Tomorrowful's observation that few people know that you can change the language on a computer is likewise an important factor here -- changing browser settings is actually kind of beyond basic computer literacy skills in my experience. Maybe having a splash screen prior to going to the home page of your site wherein browsers could choose their native language would be a workaround?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


To be clear, I do not intend to offer anything in Spanish, other than this one message. Ideally, it would be an aggressive, pop-up style alert, appearing only to the tiny percentage of viewers who do not speak English fluently, giving them the phone number for their local legal aid office. If I cannot suss out whether they would prefer Spanish over English, though, I'm left having to display such a message on all pages, which necessitates a much less noticeable alert, since it will not apply to well over 99% of visitors.

While interesting (I hope), those details don't actually matter—the implementation is my problem. :) I'm just looking to know more about Latino immigrants' computer usage, a topic about which I know nothing at all. Thank you, These Birds of a Feather, for your observation about parents of your students—that's just the sort of information that I'm looking for!
posted by waldo at 2:13 PM on March 31, 2012


Tom-B, he isn't talking about switching based on your IP location, but on the language the browser requests from the server. Usually the browser asks for whatever language the rest of the OS is running in (and usually websites only offer one language, so it has no effect).

In my experience, you can't rely on the browser to tell you what language someone wants, but it is useful information. Since you aren't actually providing a bilingual website, I think the best thing to do is to put the "here's info for spanish-speakers" on all pages, but make it larger or more prominent if the browser's Accept-Language put spanish in front of english.
posted by hattifattener at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you just put it on the page/footer/etc. anyway, regardless of language setting?
posted by rhizome at 2:26 PM on March 31, 2012


To be clear, I do not intend to offer anything in Spanish, other than this one message. Ideally, it would be an aggressive, pop-up style alert, appearing only to the tiny percentage of viewers who do not speak English fluently, giving them the phone number for their local legal aid office.

I should note that from my experience with people with low levels of computer literacy, most either obsessively read every single pop-up they see - or they totally ignore all of them and click "OK" as soon as they appear. In the latter case, they would never see what you want them to see.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:27 PM on March 31, 2012


I've seen a private study of the HTTP Accept-Language header conducted for a web site primarily targeted towards California residents. The study was small and had obvious methodological issues, but of those in the study, literally every single user except one of a browser sending an accept language "es-es" was determined to be a non-US resident. Furthermore, of those determined to be US residents and whose primarily language was Spanish, only one was using a browser sending "es-es". Because the sample size was small, I think technically the results were something like "less than 3% of US residents whose primarily language was Spanish visiting our site use browsers that send 'es-es' in the HTTP Accept-Language header". The single outlier was a user using Safari on Mac OS X with the System language set to Spanish. This was about five years ago.
posted by RichardP at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's going to depend on the segment of the population you're looking at. From what I've seen among students at my university, L1 Spanish speakers who own a laptop pretty much all set the system language to Spanish. But kids with a college education and their own laptop are going to behave differently than (f'rinstance) older adults without much money or computer skills.

My suspicion is that the people you really need to reach with this message — monolingual Spanish speakers who don't have the research skills to dig up this phone number in some other way — will be the least likely likely to have their system language set to anything other than the default.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:42 PM on March 31, 2012


Be sure to post the phone number info in both English AND Spanish... That way whether the unilingual person is browsing for themself or seeking help for someone else, the info will be available.

This could arise for me when trying to help someone spanish-speaking I don't wish to invest my life in, but hope to help get to the right resources.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 4:42 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


RichardP, that's really stunning—a worst-case scenario, really—and exactly the sort of data that I had hoped for. Thank you so much for that!
posted by waldo at 5:14 PM on March 31, 2012


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