Going global: Language support in Windows Phone 8

Going global: Language support in Windows Phone 8

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“When will Windows Phone support my language?” As a member of the phone’s international engineering team, it’s a question I once heard nearly every day.

Not anymore.

It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago I touted the 22 languages in our last release. My teammates and I were proud of the work—but knew we had more to do. And you told us as much: Language support was the No. 1 customer request on Suggestion Box for Windows Phone 8. So we kept busy—and now have more than doubled the number of display languages to 50 (you can see them all below). Today I’d like to tell you how fluent Windows Phone 8 has become.

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Simple vs. complex languages

What does it take to make a phone display menus and other interface text in Russian or Dutch? In some cases, adding languages is straightforward; we’re limited mostly by the number of quality translation efforts we can manage simultaneously.

But it can also be a knotty technical problem, as there are a set of languages that require some sophisticated engineering in the operating system itself.

We call these complex scripts. Some, such as Thai and Hindi, do complicated things when letters combine. For example, the shapes of Hindi letters can change in surprising ways depending on adjacent letters. In the picture below, the two letters on the left yield the single glyph on the right when displayed.

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Mirror, mirror

Perhaps most challenging are the languages that are written right-to-left, specifically Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian. Maybe it’s because I’m left-handed, but I’ve always had a special fondness for these languages and was amazed (but delighted) that we had so many requests for Persian in our Suggestion Box forum. (And you’ll note we managed to get it and a few other top vote-getters added. So keep those votes coming in. We do listen.)

Initially we considered localizing Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian as we do other languages: the text would flow right-to-left, but the screen orientation wouldn’t change. This is similar to what some of our competitors have done.

However, early investigations showed this didn’t really work for Windows Phone, mostly because text is such an integral part of our design. For example, in Windows Phone, the end of a word often flows onto the next screen. Without mirroring, this would cause the beginning of right-to-left words to flow off screen—not very readable. So we adopted an approach for these languages that we share with Windows 8: we call it “mirroring” because it reverses the appearance of the screen for these languages.

If everything was mirrored, the design wouldn’t be too complicated, but in reality only certain things are. For example, mirroring the phone dialing pad or a map would be a very bad idea. Adapting our design philosophy required us to look carefully at every screen in Window Phone and judiciously choose which elements to mirror. Below is a screenshot from the Arabic interface. Note that text is now aligned on the right side of the screen, and the flow is towards the left as is natural for a language such as Arabic, although “Facebook” is still written left-to-right. More subtly, the arrow icons still point to the right since users associate this direction with “play” as opposed to “reverse”.

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Reading A to Z (and beyond)

While 50 display languages was ambitious, we felt the reading experience required even more. Our goal was “If you can read it on Windows 8, you can read it on Windows Phone 8.” To achieve this, we added many fonts and upgraded much of the core code for email, Internet Explorer, SMS, Office, and more to handle complex scripts.

This screenshot shows the language portion of the www.wikipedia.org page displayed in Internet Explorer 10 on the phone.

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I’ve drawn a red circle around the two reading languages listed here we don’t support because we lack fonts: Lontara and Myanmar (also known as Burmese). But as you can see, you’ll still be able to read nearly any website or email in your language. For example, a colleague here follows his favorite cricket team on a Tamil language site on his phone, even though it’s not among the 50 supported display languages in Windows Phone 8.

Where do they speak Hinglish?

Text prediction has been thoroughly revamped for Windows Phone 8, with features such as word prediction, auto-correction, and auto-accent. (Jason Grieves recently wrote a nice post explaining some of these changes.) Not every language supports every feature, but 40 of the languages have some form of advanced support.

Windows Phone 8 offers on-screen keyboards for each of the 50 supported display languages, plus a bit more. French supports text prediction for French as it is written in France, in Switzerland, and in Canada. Dutch text prediction supports both Belgium and the Netherlands. And English supports text prediction customized for India, the UK, and the US. (Learn how to change your keyboard language.)

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One of my favorite features is our support for Hindi input. Windows Phone 8 supports an on-screen Devanagari keyboard with Hindi text prediction, but we also support Hindi written using the Latin alphabet (popularly known as “Hinglish”). Some of the engineers I work with speak Hindi and they seem especially enthusiastic about this new text prediction support. I’ll be very interested to see how well this feature is received; the same principle could apply to other languages.

We can hear you now

We’ve covered display and reading languages, but there are still other ways we’ve improved language support in Windows Phone 8. For example, we’ve expanded the set of speech recognition languages.

From the six supported in our last release, we’ve grown in Windows Phone 8 to support 15 languages and dialects spoken in the following countries or regions: Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India (English), Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States. (Learn more about speech support in Windows Phone 8 and how to use it on your phone.)

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But that’s not all

There’s so much more I could talk about. As much progress as we’ve made, it’s still a big, diverse world: According to one authority, there are almost 400 languages with over a million speakers each. It will take a while for Windows Phone to support this many (and sadly we may never get to Rongorongo). The good news is that the engineering work we did in Windows Phone 8 on complex scripts should make adding new languages easier than in the past.

The comments many of you wrote after my last post were insightful and encouraging. I hope you’ll see that we take your requests seriously and have tried to address many of them in Windows Phone 8. So do please keep the feedback coming. We’re not done yet.

39 Comments
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  • I want to add Austrian German (Deutsch (Österreich)) and Swiss German (Deutsch (Schweiz)) as display languages in GDR3.

  • why microsoft won't support myanmar language package.....

    we need myanmar language package for windows ( Computer , Tablet and Phone)

    i hope microsoft will support myanmar langugae package in the future...

  • Hi John!!!

    I am very happy to hear that so much has been done for Hindi. Got work Microsoft!!!!!!!!!! But I was a bit disappointed that Hindi is not included in the Speech Recognition languages. I wish in the near future I could see this coming up.

    Thanks for the blog JOHN!!!!!!!!!

  • Avik
    0 Posts

    Just got a WP 8 device and I guess the maker wanted to save space and didn't put all the language packs on the device. I am having a bit of  a problem finding where to download the language pack. No problem as you'd ecpect adding the right keybrd but the UI langauge dropdown is really really short.

    If anybody can direct me to the download site I'd really appreciate it.

  • Deepthi
    0 Posts

    Microsoft has been working closely with the relevant state agencies in Sri Lanka to popularize and develop IT education. The language used by the majority of Sri Lankans, Sinhala is pre-installed in Windows 7 and 8. So why is it that Windows Phone does not include Sinhala?

    Enabling the reading of web pages in Sinhala is not sufficient. We need to be able to use Sinhala for input as well as for using apps which contain interfaces in Sinhala. Microsoft has already developed Unicode fonts for Sinhala. So why is it that Windows Phone is not incorporating what has been available on its PC platform for several years now?

    Also, it should be noted that Nokia is still a trusted and respected brand here in Sri Lanka. Some years ago, Nokia did us the favour of enabling text messaging in Sinhala, going to the extent of manufacturing handsets with Sinhala keypads. The font rendition was not perfect but it was highly appreciated. Samsung also enjoys a huge following here, although they are promoting Android versions more than Windows based models.

    Most Android app developers whom I have contacted are more than happy to include Sinhala versions of their apps. In fact, 2 are already available and 1 will be included in the next update. One of the apps is the leading e-book reader in the Google Play site. It may interest you to know that Sinhala is the only language used in the South Asian region which is featured in this e-book reader app to date. No Hindi, no Tamil, no Telegu, although there are more native users of those languages than Sinhala. That is in all probability because no one has volunteered to translate into the previously mentioned languages.

    Microsoft should include all the languages included in the PC version in the phone version as well. if Windows Phone were to include Sinhala as one of the operating languages, there would be a huge shift towards Windows Phone devices in Sri Lanka.

  • PeterF
    0 Posts

    Dear Microsoft, I am very excited that you now support over 50 languages.

    However I just bought a new Lumia 520 in Dubai and I want to give it to my mother who is a Czech speaker. I checked the regional settings and despite being able to set keyboard and all other settings to Czech, I cannot set the phone UI to this language. How on earth do I achieve this? Slovak is there and they are just our neighbors, so how is it possible that some of your 50 languages were left out? I mean, I can use Czech keyboard, but not Czech UI?!? Why is this so hard?

  • Windows Phone is not displaying Telugu and other Indian Unicode formats. Apple and Android is rendering these languages very well. Why haven't you solved this problem yet? I am not able to read facebook posts, I have done the mistake of buying windows 7 and I am not going to do the same mistake buying windows 8 phone until you resolve this issue.

  • CFynn
    0 Posts

    Hi John

    I see from msdn.microsoft.com/.../hh202918%28v=vs.105%29.aspx

    that Windows Phone 8 supports the Microsoft Himalaya font - so obviously there is already support for Tibetan script rendering.

    How about adding keyboards for Dzongkha (dz-BT) and Tibetan (bo-CN) so we can actually use this script?

    I can use Dzongkha, Tibetan, and all other complex script languages on my Nokia N900 and N9 - so, right now, lack of more support for languages using these scripts in WP8 phones is a step backwards for Nokia phones.

    It would be nice to see a way for users to install fonts and customize the keyboard layout too.

    - Chris

  • mmd
    0 Posts

    Windows Phone is dead to me because of the pitiful language support. I had Thai language support on my Nokia handset from a decade ago, and it never came for my WP 7 phone.

    I guess MS thinks that people can speak and read only one language.

  • Myanmar fonts are supported in windows 8. I thought windows phone 8 will support too and bought Nokia Lumia 920. But so sad for Myanmar fonts not support in wp8. Hope next update will support Myanmar fonts in wp8

  • Wp7.8 is out and persian input language is not supported.It is really disappointing.

  • AndyPT
    0 Posts

    Hi, from WP7 to WP8 we lost the ability to personalise the regional settings.

    I need to use my phone with an ISO date ("YYYY-MM-DD") and specific currency ("# ##0,00 €" - actually very common).

    Out of the huge amount of regional settings available, I can't find such combination.

    It was very easy in WP7, now it's completely impossible.

    Why don't you just create a "Custom" item and allow us to use OUR phone the way we want?

    It's really not that difficult.

  • How can I add more languages to my WP8 phone? In the mango build, I can use cab sender to push a new language that is not available on the phone, but WP8 does not have such option. The AT&T HTC 8X only has English and Spanish, it is too limiting. I wanted to get it to my parents who only reads Chinese, but I have to get a Lumia instead

  • nj8870
    0 Posts

    I hope Windows Phone 8 will support Tibetan in the future too!

  • fyronik
    0 Posts

    I am using a lumia 710 right now. The time to upgrade my phone is approaching and i would love to upgrade to a 920, but theres No way right now that I would upgrade to another windows phone when you have taken away support for the zune software... and for what reason? none. Windows and xbox were once about giving people choices, now you are taking choices away, saddening. New sync software = 100 steps in the wrong direction, not just choice, but features as well. horrible. Plz take this feedback and fix...

  • nesher
    7 Posts

    Is it possible to delete the language pack if I don't use it anymore?

  • India number one country in world. Next superpower. numberone in IT. without us no computers.

    Microsoft is Indian company. without us Microsoft finish.

    ROCK India ROCK!

  • I hope Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 support Vietnamese TELEX and VNI keyboards like the program Unikey you may found on SourceForge. The keyboard currently supported by Microsoft is good enough, and I like it, personally. For an wider usage, that keyboard layout may be nice for the future, but for now, it creates a huge usability for most of Vietnamese. Simply say, ppl hate it, and recommend others don't use it.

    I know this may needs and extra effort but is Microsoft really want it?

  • vale
    0 Posts

    What about wp7.8, languages supported in the new update?

  • So many languages and displaying TEXT is nice, but how about VOICE RECOGNITION AND SYNTHESIS for more

    languages beyond only the 12 that are currently supported? Voice distinguishes WP8 from all the other phones and is a unique advantage.  

  • rajan
    0 Posts

    Hi John

    Thanks for the update. You could add Nepalese on your list of supported languages as it uses the same Devanagiri script and every characters are exactly the same as in Hindi. There might be some anamoly  with the input character but that's not significant. The  only difference is vocabulary, which means text prediction might go wrong. Also, it would be great to see the new languages in the 7.8 update. At least do enable browsing support for Hindi. That alone would prevent a sizeable WP 7.5 users in India from deflecting to android or IOS. Thanks

  • O Windows.....good work man I love WP I am really very interested about ur next update7.8 because at this time I can't afford for wp8...but seriously I don't want squares in the place of Hindi fonts...is these languages will be  available for 7.8 ?

  • Leila
    12 Posts

    I second 's request.

    Windows OS already have Urdu keyboard support. Also, Urdu language processing research group, CRULP, has done work on voice recognition, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, Latin-transliteration Urdu keyboard etc. for Microsoft OS. More on http://crulp.org/ and PAN localization project http://www.panl10n.net/.

    Please implement Urdu language support in Windows Phone in your ongoing efforts.

    Thank you!

  • I also speak multiple languages and there are a few things which annoys me not just in Windows Phone but sometimes multi-lingual software environment in general.

    1)  Just because I set my phone language to English as my main language because I use it the most, I don't want that setting automatically carried over to other services and apps like maps and have other languages removed with no way to toggle them back on.  For example I travel between Hong Kong and Japan, I speak and read the local languages fluently so I want the local destinations to be displayed in either Chinese or Japanese and NOT just English.  Multi-lingual users really need the choices to toggle instead of the system assuming the user only wants the system in one single language.

    2)  The current Chinese Traditional handwriting IME in WP8 has Simplified Chinese character suggestions.  That's just not acceptable when the IME says it is Traditional Chinese but Simplified Chinese characters gets suggested causing both confusion and wasting time for the user to choose the correct script.  

    3)  The Chinese Stroke Input only inputs Simplified Chinese characters, why not have Traditional Chinese Stroke as well?  

    4)  English Australia/Hong Kong/whatever is sorely needed.  We need keyboards which suggests the British spellings but instead of using the pound symbol and .co.uk as the first default suggestion because there are many countries which uses English but aren't the UK and the US.

  • toybook
    0 Posts

    Internet Explorer on Windows Phone allows the user to maintain a list of favorite web pages and tiles linking to web pages on the Start screen http://www.bankinfoonline.com/

  • arrow22
    50 Posts

    @Nathanael @mrmckeb I agree. It's the same problem in Canada. Shouldn't time format and currency be obtained by the region language? (as opposed to the keyboard language)

    Also, if I can make an important suggestion, the "REGION+LANGUAGE" page has the following:

    -Region format

    -System local

    -Browser & search language

    -Display language (which is greyed out, and looks like it can't be changed)

    Isn't there a way to simplify this? I have no idea what these will even change.

  • Umair
    0 Posts

    Awaiting Urdu language as well, Its similar to Arabic, so it shouldn't need much work :)

  • You should consider adding an Australian English keyboard. Should take about 10 seconds to make the changes from a UK keyboard. Just change £ to $ and .co.uk to .com.

  • As always you didn't mention about wp 7.8 .will the new languages be available to it?you keep mentioning you listen to your customers.Supporting persian language was one of the most voted features.people who voted there were mostly wp early users.if new languages are not going to be ported to early devices then you would better say the suggestion box is merely gathering marketing data.what benefit would the early customers have if their requests are not implemented in future os updates?some features can't be ported to early devices due to hardware limitations,correct,but I don't think new languages are one of them.I'm not going to prejudge anything but if new languages are not going to be available in early devices, many people are going to mad.Persian users are supposed to write in Finglish(persian with English characters)and not only its really inconvenient to do so but also can be really unprofessional for businessmen.I cant insist more on how important persian language is for us when surfing the net.Also texting fees with persian characters is half in Iran(government policies for encouraging using persian inputs).It may not be much but in this tight competition it's enough for me to change my cellphone.And no I'm not going for a wp8.I just won't like MS as much as I did before.You're gonna lose my loyalty. so as you can see a language update can go a far way for us

    Hope MS is not going to let us down.

  • mvadu
    8 Posts

    Nice to see this post John. I was one of the initial Windows phone 7.5 user, and I pester you about supporting Indian languages. We had many email exchanges, and I remember you explaining about the technical difficulty of supporting complex scripts (most of the Indian languages). Does any of these languages flow back to WP7.8?

    -Adarsha

  • I hope you guys support Tamil soon. I cannot buy a WP phone for my parent's unless it supports Tamil.

  • This looks great news for Indian consumers like me.

    But it must be properly highlighted in the marketing and sales. People have to be made aware of such a useful feature.

    Front sales people in India are very uneducated and uninterested in selling windows phones.

    I have experienced that they will even tell you not to buy a windows phone because of certain features are unavailable, which is not true but purely their lack of knowledge.

  • mrmckeb
    26 Posts

    Will you be adding a keyboard for Australia? Currently we have to choose either US or UK - neither of which are right (one has the correct spelling, but wrong currency symbol, wrong URL buttons and the other has the wrong spelling).

  • Please make date and time format customizable again. In addition, I want to have Hong Kong (English).

  • danielgr
    73 Posts

    As a pretty international person this is more than welcome news.

    That said, it's all pretty fancy in a blog but useless in real life if when you buy a phone is locked with a given number of languages and you are given no way out of it.

    Already happen to me past year buying an unlocked WP7.5 in Japan, only to discover HTC had only put English and Chinese on it, and there was no way to add my native Spanish, nor my local Japanese.

    It seems the same is true in WP8 and that's a pity. Language packs should be downloadable as they are in Windows8, isn't so much of the OS underpinings shared after all?

    As I said, stop wasting precious storage on preloaded languages, simply make them downloadable as in W8/RT.

  • arrow22
    50 Posts

    One more comment. I speak multiple languages, and have contacts in different languages as well. Why can't WP remember which contact I text/email in English, French or Spanish? As it is, I'm constantly writing, realizing the keyboard is set to the wrong language, then having to re-write my sentence. If each contact retained the last used language for that person, it would make my life much easier. The keyboard could default to whatever the phone's display language is set to for the case of a conversation with a new contact.

  • arrow22
    50 Posts

    I love how each language significantly lends some of its character to the OS. It's truly a unique feature of the typography driven design, and it looks beautiful.

    A comment on the localisation of the keyboard auto-correct: it doesn't seem to be tested thoroughly enough. The English UK language, for example, always changes "false" to "FALSE" and "true" to "TRUE" among many annoyances, in WP7.5. And apparently, WP8 has made things worse, by no longer capitalizing " i " to " I ". Are these dictionaries constantly evolving, or obtain periodic updates, or, as seems to be the case in WP7, are permanently stuck doing odd corrections?

  • Please split out the sorting rule from regional settings.

    Basically I have many contacts in Chinese, and living in Canada.

    If I change the language to Chinese, and regional format to English (Canada), all my contacts in Chinese are under "international" section with weird order.

    If I change the regional format to China (Chinese Simplified), the contacts are sorted correctly, but my WP App Store is switched to China region. All apps are priced in RMB, and I lost all my purchased apps. The music store seems still in Canada region.

    So now I have to switch between regions if I want to buy some new App, or update.

    This really needs to be fixed in WP8.

    BTW, in WP 7.5, the regional format doesn't change the Marketplace region. The Marketplace always stays the same as Windows Live ID region setup.

  • I hope Windows Phone 8 will support Galician in the future (we've got voice guided navigation in the Nokia Drive application).