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July 12, 2010 / Ben Chun

Cultural Layout Flow

One my students just got really confused by some JavaScript he was writing. He wanted to append a div with some text and another div with an image, to notify the user when a file upload had completed. He wanted to image to be on the left and the text to be on the right. The CSS seemed to be correct (both elements were inline, neither was floated).

So I asked to see the JS source. And it looked like this:

appendChild(textDiv);
appendChild(imgDiv);

And he was totally stumped as to why the text was on the left with the image on the right. I was having a hard time figuring out what could even be confusing here. Suddenly it came to me. I said, “Nir, are you thinking of this right to left?” And he said, “Yes, in Hebrew!” (This is the case for Arabic as well.) We both laughed, seeing the problem.

Unless you change the CSS writing-model or layout-flow, the browser’s layout engine moves left to right. That’s not something I’d ever really thought about or looked at. (And I’m not sure how well non-left-to-right flows are supported anyway.) Just another challenge to keep in mind when teaching and learning in the Middle East. Even the assumed order of things — something that seems so obvious — is culturally relative and can be a source of confusion!

One Comment

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  1. Hélène Martin / Jul 12 2010 9:48 am

    Oh wow! That’s very interesting! I’ve had some students whose native languages were written right to left and I’m suddenly wondering whether they had some moments like that.

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