Over 7,000 languages, just 1 Windows

Over 7,000 languages, just 1 Windows

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Hi, I’m Andrew, a first-time blogger on The Windows Blog, and today it’s time for something completely different (well, not completely different: but as far as I can tell the last time we talked about languages was Windows Vista). I’m going to dig into some of the details about how you can use multiple languages in Windows 8.1.

So, how many languages does Windows support? For starters, Windows 8.1 has 108 display languages that you can see Windows displayed in (there’s a full list on the Windows.com language packs page—it’s a lot of languages). But even more impressive is the number of languages you can type in. With the 202 keyboard layouts in Windows 8.1, you can enter text in more than 7,000 languages. Included are several keyboards that were created by Microsoft before a standard keyboard layout was available, such as Sora and Gothic (If you’re contributing to http://got.wikipedia.organd need to type in Gothic, we’ve got you covered). And Windows is the only operating system with built-in text input and display support for languages like Xishuangbanna Dai, which is spoken by fewer than 1 million people in southern China.

The Sora keyboard layout
The Sora keyboard layout

The Gothic keyboard layout
The Gothic keyboard layout

The Xishuangbanna Dai keyboard layout
The Xishuangbanna Dai keyboard layout

That number, 7,000, might seem a bit unbelievable at first, but it’s no typo. It’s because there are a lot more languages in the world than there are scripts, or writing systems. For example, English, French, and Spanish all use Latin script for their alphabet, but so do hundreds of other languages that don’t have a unique writing system. So by including the main 50 scripts, we can support 7,000 languages, which is enough to support text input for about 98% of people in the world for at least one of the languages they speak. And if you’re in that 2%, and there’s no keyboard that has a particular Unicode character your language uses, you can create your own keyboard layout!

Not all of the 7,000 supported languages appear in the list of languages when you’re looking to add one in PC settings or Control Panel. But you can find any supported language in Windows by searching for the name of the language or its IETF tag (Open the Search charm, search for “Add a language,” and then click Add a language).

Searching for Lushootseed in the language Control Panel
Searching for Lushootseed with its IETF tag, “lut-Latn”. Lushootseed is a language used by several Native American tribes in Washington State.

The basics, and the not-so-basics

There are a lot of reasons you might use multiple languages on your Windows PC. Maybe you live in a country where multiple languages or dialects are spoken. Perhaps you IM with family in one language, and email coworkers in another. Or you’re a student studying a foreign language and you want to practice reading or writing in that language. There are a lot of different languages out there, and the possible combinations of multiple language speakers are just about endless.

You might already know how to add a language pack or quickly switch between keyboardsby hitting Windows key + spacebar. But there’s more you might want to know. And this is where it gets fun.

What if you want to see Windows in English, but your apps in Portuguese? Or if you want to use a keyboard for Xishuangbanna Dai (so you can write an email to your Mom), but your display language is in Simplified Chinese? Or you want to use a nonstandard, techie English keyboard like Dvorak, and hate that the standard QWERTY keyboard pops up all the time? Read on for a few things you can do.

Change the display language but not your apps or keyboard

Even if you’re not a native English speaker, you might have gotten used to using Windows in English during the couple decades when Windows wasn’t available in your native language, and you want to be able to continue to use English as the display language for Windows text, while keeping your apps and keyboard in your native language.

To do this, make sure the language you want to see apps in is at the top of your language list (Open the Search charm, search for “Add a language,” and then click Add a language). Then, click Advanced settings, and under Override for Windows display language, choose English (or whatever language you want to see Windows text in) from the dropdown. If the language you want isn’t there, you probably need to install the language pack.

Language list in the language Control Panel
A language list in the language Control Panel

See apps in different languages

What if you want to see your personal apps in a different language than your Windows text and keyboards? Say, for instance you work in an office that speaks English, but you want to open up the News app and read it in German, your native language, on your lunch break. Some apps, like the Bing News and Health and Fitness apps, can display text in multiple languages independent of your other language settings. For these apps, you can find the control for changing the language under Settings charm > Options. If you love any apps that display in different languages, post them in the comments!

Change default keyboards

In Windows 8.1, whenever you add a language to your language list, a keyboard or input method is added so you can enter text in that language. But say you're someone who likes to tinker with your settings a bit more, you use a nonstandard English keyboard like Dvorak, and you’re sick of switching from the QWERTY keyboard every time you want to type something (I’m guessing you probably want to keep the regular QWERTY keyboard installed in case someone else needs to type on your PC). To change the default keyboard, you’ll need to set an override for that keyboard layout. From the desktop language Control Panel, tap or click Advanced settings, then choose an input method from the Override for default input methoddropdown. The keyboard or input method you choose will stay at the top of your keyboard list, regardless of what display language you’re using.

The Dvorak keyboard layout
The Dvorak keyboard. Look familiar? Didn’t think so.

Use multiple keyboards

If you frequently switch between keyboards, you might want to customize when certain keyboards appear. If you set the default input method override, the keyboard you choose will turn on when you start Windows. But if you switch to a different input method, such as the Japanese Input Method Editor (IME), and open a new app, the Japanese IME will still be your input method. If you want to use your override keyboard for every app, no matter what keyboard you were using when you opened it, select the check box for Let me set a different input method for each app window under Switching input methods.

Advanced language settings
The advanced settings menu in the language Control Panel

We’re always learning new languages

These aren’t all the language options in Windows, but I hope you got a good idea of the scope of the support Windows has for people who use their PCs with multiple languages. We’re always pushing for better coverage of languages, but it’s a moving target: languages are always changing, and so are we! Do you use more than one language in Windows? Let me know if this is helpful info by leaving a comment, or let me know if you have other questions about using multiple languages in Windows.

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16 Comments
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  • Dsienko, make sure you use the search box on the Add a language page.

  • Sukigu, thanks for sharing your scenario. Apps can provide a mechanism to set the App UI independently of the language preferences list. Unfortunately most apps do not do this. You can switch directly between any two input languages by pressing Win+Space and the number corresponding to the position of that language in the input switcher list. You can also toggle backwards through the input switcher list by using Win+Shift+Space.

  • @Regunathan Umapathy, thank you for the feedback regarding Tamil input. We continue to evaluate ways we can improve the input experience. Getting feedback like yours is an important way for us to prioritize future investments.

  • MaryBranscombe, you can get Dvorak by going to Control Panel->Clock, Language, and Region->Language, and then clicking Options next to English. Then, under Input method, click Add an input method, and scroll to find Dvorak.

  • dsienko
    0 Posts

    So after searching for the lut-Latn keyboard several times, nothing comes up.   What am I missing.   Working on a Surface-RT.

  • Sukigu
    0 Posts

    There's something I know many would like, which is the ability to set apps to display in languages different from keyboard layouts. For example: I'm Portuguese and a self-teaching Japanese learner, so I frequently change my input method from Portuguese to the Japanese one so that I can type in Japanese (usually small words in order to check their translation). However, I'm still not in a level where I can fluently read big chunks of text. If I set my languages as 1. Portuguese > 2. Japanese, if there's an app which isn't translated into Portuguese but is into Japanese, I get the Japanese version, which I don't want. So what I do is I set my languages as 1. Portuguese > 2. English > 3. Japanese. This way, apps which aren't in my language fall back to English first. However, this forces me to have to be constantly changing keyboards from Portuguese, to English, to Japanese, and back to Portuguese, which is somewhat of a nuisance.

  • So how do you get the Dvorak keyboard up? Is it a specific language pack? Have been looking for it for ages!

  • I am glad to hear that. Why don't you include Tamil phonetic keyboard with your windows. I have been using NHMwriter software.nhm.in/.../writer  software to achiever this. It would be great if you can incoperate the availble keyboards of my mother toungue.

  • , we have Cyrillic handwriting recognition for Russian and Serbian. Handwriting recognizers are packaged with our language packs so you will have to install the corresponding language pack before you can use handwriting recognition for Cyrillic. Note that you don't have to switch your Windows display language to Russian/Serbian if you don't want to.

    Instructions for downloading a language pack for Windows 8.1 are here:

    windows.microsoft.com/.../add-language-keyboard

  • Thanks for the detailed answers, . , I tried out the United States - International IME because I sometimes need to type in French with accents, and it does indeed add this capability globally for both the hardware keyboard and the touch keyboard. Thanks for the great question!

  • , The shortcuts you described below are enabled in the RichEdit component, which means they are available in rich edit controls (including Office) but not plain text and other text controls. You can get access to diacritics system-wide by using the United States-International keyboard. If you look at the options for English, or whichever language you prefer, you can add a new input method. The United States-International keyboard is available for any language that is written with the Latin script. This keyboard uses dead-keys to access diacritics. So ‘, `, ^, and “ followed by a letter, e.g., e, produce: é, è, ê, ë. There are a couple of others: ~ n >>> ñ and ‘c >>> ç. I hope that helps!

  • , if you would like to install the Chinese Traditional language pack, please add Chinese (Traditional, Hong Kong SAR) to your language list. You can only have one regional form of Chinese (Traditional) at one time, so you may have remove Chinese (Traditional, Taiwan) from your language list before you can add the Hong Kong SAR form. The Hong Kong SAR LP is available for download and is almost the same as the Taiwan version. Once you have enabled the Hong Kong SAR LP you can change your language list back to Taiwan if that is your preference.

  • Ikinal
    0 Posts

    This is all very nice, but what I have been waiting for since Windows XP Tablet PC Edition is handwriting recognition for Cyrillic languages.

  • Thank-you for the Dvorak keyboard layout. Would like to have it on Phone 8 too.

  • Unfortunately, I have not been able to get the Chinese Traditional (Taiwan) display language installed on any of my systems.  

    At work my company has the Action Pack subscription and it is not available in Windows 8.1 from the web as a download or in the control panel.

    At home, I would like to setup an account for my wife. But my Microsoft Surface Pro cannot install it via the control panel or via the web.

    I have seen iOS platforms and Android platforms do this well... but still waiting for my favorite windows platform to catch up.

  • ozaz
    3 Posts

    I have difficulty with typing diacritics in Windows.

    On a Mac all you have to do is hold down a key on the keyboard that corresponds to a character that can appear with an accent mark (for example, e), a menu then appears that shows the character with its possible accent marks. The required mark can then be selected from this menu using the arrow buttons on the keyboard. This is easy and does not require remembering of any keyboard shortcuts and operates on a system-wide basis.

    support.apple.com/.../PH11264

    On Windows, as far as I can tell if you are using a hardware keyboard you have to use keyboard shortcuts (e.g. ctrl+' followed by e, in order to type é). However, this does not seem to work across the whole OS in all applications and you have to remember keyboard shortcuts (I inevitably forget them after a while). Is there an easier and OS-wide method for entering diacritics in Windows for hardware keyboard users?

    Thanks