The default language is often already specified during operating system installation. When the operating system is installed, the installer typically asks for the language used for the installation process and, separately, for the language to use in the installed system. Some OS installers only ask for the language once.
This determines the system-wide default language for all users. But the installers often give the possibility to install extra localizations for additional languages. For example, the localizations of KDE (the K Desktop Environment) and OpenOffice.org are often bundled separately, as one installable package per language.
At this point it is good to consider the intended use of the machine: If it is a machine designated for personal use, additional localizations are probably not necessary. If, however, the machine is in use in an organization or company that has international relationships, one can consider the needs of guest users. If you have a guest from abroad, for a week, what could be his preferred locales? It may be worth installing these additional localizations ahead of time, since they cost only a bit of disk space at this point.
The system-wide default language is the locale configuration that is used when a new user account is created. But the user can have his own locale configuration that is different from the one of the other users of the same machine. He can specify it, typically after the first login, as described in the next section.