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February 5, 2014

Over 7,000 languages, just 1 Windows

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 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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