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Setting language preferences in a browser

29. April 2012

Internet Explorer. When you install a copy of Internet Explorer version 7+, your preferences are automatically set according to the Windows user locale, although you are given the opportunity to modify this when you first install.

Note that, if you haven’t customized your browser’s language preferences, when you change the Windows user locale the browser preferences get changed too. If you customize the browser settings, they no longer follow the changes in the Windows user locale. (The Windows user locale settings allow you to switch formats, such as which character is used as the decimal separator, the order of date information, etc. by selecting different locales.)

By default, the values sent in the Accept-Language request-header from IE7 onwards are typically of the form language-region. Typically no language-only form is included. For example, if you are French your Accept-Language header will present fr-FR to the server. This has implications for some servers, particularly if you add other language tags.

To change your language preferences go to Tools > Internet Options > General (tab) > Languages > Language preference. In IE you can also specify your own customized language tags: click on the ‘Add’ button in the language preferences dialog, and type your language tag into the ‘User defined’ field.

Firefox. To change your language preferences go to Tools > Options (Windows) or Firefox > Preferences (Mac OS X), and select Content (tab) > Languages > Choose (button).

You can add languages to this from a (long) pre-defined set, and Firefox will send all the languages you choose with the Accept-Language header in the order in which you arrange them.

You can’t create custom language tags using the standard interface. (You can, however, via about:config, using intl.accept_languages if you are geeky enough.)

Safari. On Mac OS X the language sent is that specified in the OS X system language preferences. To change those preferences go to System Preferences > Language & text > Language. You can have a long list of languages in this dialog box, but Safari will only send the top item with the Accept-Language header. You can’t create custom language tags.

On Windows, you can’t change the language sent by Safari. The language sent with the Accept-Language header is derived from your system settings.

Google Chrome. To change your language preferences go to Options (Windows) or Chrome > Preferences (Mac OS X), and select Under the Bonnet > Web Content > Languages & Spellchecker settings.

You can add languages to this from a pre-defined set, and Chrome will send all the languages you choose with the Accept-Language header in the order in which you arrange them. You can’t create custom language tags.

Opera. On Windows you can change your language preferences at Menu > Settings > Preferences > General > Language > Details (button).

You can add languages from a pre-defined set, or create a custom (User-defined) language tag. Opera will send all the languages you choose with the Accept-Language header, in the order in which you list them in the dialog box.

On Mac OS X, Opera takes the list of languages to send with the Accept-Language header from the OS X system language preferences. To change those preferences go to System Preferences > Language & text > Language. You can have a long list of languages in this dialog box, and, unlike Safari, Opera sends all of them with the Accept-Language header.

You can’t create custom language tags using the standard interface. (Again, you can if you are sufficiently technically aware to use opera:config and the Network > HTTP Accept Language setting.)

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