Language support in Microsoft Office

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How can you get more languages for Office – or maybe you already have them?

Following our look at Which languages come with Office in the last issue we received quite a few questions from Office Watch readers about language support in Office; this and related articles will attempt to answer them and, hopefully, save our readers some money.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding, even inside Microsoft, about how languages are supported in Office. Some of this is because the situation has changed a lot over the years so advice for past versions of Office doesn’t apply now.

Most of these articles only applies to Office 2010. That’s because it is the only version of Office legally sold now and the only Office 2010 has language packs you can buy.

To make matters worse, there are places where the Microsoft documentation is inconsistent or contradictory. We’ve done our best here to sort out the mess.

Check carefully what is and is not available for a specific language. Don’t accept general statements (from us or Microsoft) as necessarily applying across all languages or local versions of Office.

First, a quick overview. Language support in Office comes in two different types and it’s important to be clear which one you mean.


Dictionaries etc

There is spelling/grammar and sometimes thesaurus language support. This is where Office uses a plug-in dictionary etc. to check your documents for spelling errors, grammar irregularities and maybe suggest alternative words. Not all languages with a spell-checker also have grammar and thesaurus as well.

Microsoft uses the term ‘proofing tools’ to cover the various language tools that may, or may not, be available for a specific language. The language support always has a spell checker but can also include support for other Office features like



  • Grammar and style checkers
  • Thesaurus
  • Hyphenators
  • AutoCorrect
  • AutoSummarize
  • Translation
  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
  • Input Method Editors (IMEs) (for East Asian languages)

Not all these features are supported in all languages though, as the years roll on, the coverage becomes more complete.


Interface

Then there’s the ‘Language Interface’ – this is the language that appears in the menus, ribbons etc. Here’s the familiar Word but with a Chinese language interface:

Office ribbon in Chinese.jpg image from Language support in Microsoft Office at Office-Watch.com

All the tabs, buttons and menus are in the same place, only with different labels. Experienced Office users can, and sometimes have to, use the program with menus they can’t understand but navigate easily because everything is the same, even the icons.

Local versions of Office will have Help files in that main language however translated help isn’t usually available for additional languages (either supplied or downloaded).

The language interface is entirely separate from the spelling etc feature for obvious reasons. You can only have one language interface at any time but multiple languages checked in the same document.

In the bad old days of early Office versions, each release of Office was tied to a particular language interface. The language was integrated (compiled) into the program. This made it harder for global companies to deploy Office and occasionally led to curious language release specific bugs (since each release of Office across the world was slightly different).

These days Office has ‘core code’ with all language dependent elements separated from the main program. This means everyone in the world uses the same Office 2010 programs with ‘plug-ins’ for both language interface and spelling.

For most people this is hidden from view. If you buy Office in say, France, it comes with French language setup, language interface and default French proofing tools.

Anyone who travels or is multi-lingual might like to dig into the language options.

For example a Frenchman writes documents for his compatriots in Quebec and he’d like the documents to be accurate for his Canadian friends. They all speak French but there are differences which Office knows about. The ‘French’ dictionary is really a global French dictionary with variations for different locations – specifically there are both French (Canada) and French (France) dictionaries included in the French dictionary in Office. Here’s the language selection list in Word 2010:

Word 2010 - French language options.jpg image from Language support in Microsoft Office at Office-Watch.com

There are options for both France and Canada French language variations, plus many others. The ‘ABC tick’ icon on left indicates that the dictionary pack for that language is installed and ready for use. For most people the long list will have many languages that don’t have a dictionary installed.

Office has features to select language on a document or style based level or you can choose it manually. It can also detect the language being typed automatically and switch to the correct dictionary, if installed.


A rarer situation is someone who mixes Windows from one region and Office from another. The computer was bought in say, Finland, with Finnish language Windows menus. If you buy Office in Spain you can install it but the Office menus will appear in Spanish and you won’t have the Finnish proofing tools to check documents. A Finnish language dictionary is only available for a price as a language pack download (and we dip our hats to anyone who knows both Finnish and Spanish!).

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