4a. Language impact on Layout

text length

Omniglot looking at different languages and the effect on text length (http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/multilingual_websites.htm)

The layout for any written work will need careful localisation treatment as many languages take up different amounts of space and some require larger fonts and characters than others.  For instance Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French have sentences that are up to 25% longer than those written in English.  Allow plenty of space within edit boxes and for command buttons that will also change size depending on the language. 

Cursive and Arabic characters need to be larger for easier reading especially if diacritics are included.

alphabet examples

Key Points 

  • Choose a font for your work that has an extended character set to include the accents and if possible the diacritics.
  • Font size 12 and above works best for Arabic and other cursive scripts as this increases readability.
  • Choose font styles carefully for screen reading rather than paper based reading.  For example angular and serif fonts may look good on paper but reduce readability when seen on small low resolution screens such as the mobile phone. Examples of useful sans serif fonts would be Arabic Transparent and Simplified Arabic Fixed rather than Koufi or Andalus or in English Helvetica, Arial and Verdana rather than Times New Roman.
  • It can help those with reading difficulties to left justify text so when viewed overall there is a jagged edge to the content and users can see where they have reached in their reading. This may not be the case in cursive script languages where there are specific elongating characters which act as connectors.  By fully justifying text  may make it easier for readers to recognise characters and diacritics.
  • In languages where there are both spaces between characters or letters within words and between words (such as in Arabic) it ihelps to increase the space between the words to help screen reader users and those with print impairments or reading difficulties.
  • Don’t forget that different short cut keys may be used in the different languages so if you wish your users to have access to text edit forms and they are keyboard only users you may find that ‘Ctrl+B’ or ‘Command+B’ does not make the text bold – in German for example it may be ‘Strg+F’ namely ‘Steuerungstaste-fett’ which would be Ctrl+F or ‘Command+F’ which is ‘Find’!
  • Spaces are used after a word in English and hyphens may be used between words – Chinese, Korean and Japanese character breaks occur at any time and care is needed no to impact on meaning – spaces are not linked to words necessarily – the same may be true with Arabic sentences.  Punctuation in these languages and Arabic vary in the amount used so careful proof reading is required.
  • Don’t forget bidirectional languages – so for Hebrew and Arabic letters go right to left and numbers left to right or there may be a mix! This can have an impact menus as well as content especially for technical terms when coding.
  • Some texts are still written vertically which means a complete change of layout such as is illustrated in the image below of a Chinese Newspaper.  
chinese text

Example of a newspaper article written vertically in Traditional Chinese with a left-to-right horizontal headline. Note the rotation of the Latin letters and Arabic numerals when written with the vertical text. (wikipedia)


  1.  Introduction to typing and using RTL (Right to Left) text, and configuring software applications to support RTL  http://dotancohen.com/howto/rtl_right_to_left.html
  2. “CSS Writing Modes Module Level 3” W3C Working Draft 15 November 2012
  3. “Requirements for Japanese Text Layout” W3C Working Group Note 3 April 2012