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Add Keyboard Input Language to Ubuntu

Want to type in multiple languages in Ubuntu?  Here we’ll show you how you can easily add and switch between multiple keyboard layouts in Ubuntu.

Add a Keyboard Language

To add a keyboard language, open the System menu, select Preferences, and then select Keyboard.

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In the Keyboard Preferences dialog, select the Layouts tab, and click Add.

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You can select a country and then choose an language and keyboard variant.  Note that some countries, such as the United States, may show several languages.  Once you’ve made your selection, you can preview it on the sample keyboard displayed below the menu.

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Alternately, on the second tab, select a language and then choose a variant.  Click Add when you’ve made your selection.

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Now you’ll notice that there are two languages listed in the Keyboard Preferences, and they’re both ready to use immediately.  You can add more if you wish, or close the dialog.

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Switch Between Languages

When you have multiple input languages installed, you’ll notice a new icon in your system tray on the top right.  It will show the abbreviation of the country and/or language name that is currently selected.  Click the icon to change the language.

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Right-click the dialog to view available languages (listed under Groups), open the Keyboard Preferences dialog again, or show the current layout.

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If you select Show Current Layout you’ll see a window with the keyboard preview we saw previously when setting the keyboard layout.  You can even print this layout preview out to help you remember a layout if you wish.

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Change Keyboard Shortcuts to Switch Languages

By default, you can switch input languages in Ubuntu from the keyboard by pressing both Alt keys together.  Many users are already used to the default Alt+Switch combination to switch input languages in Windows, and we can add that in Ubuntu.  Open the keyboard preferences dialog, select the Layout tab, and click Options.

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Click the plus sign beside Key(s) to change layout, and select Alt+Shift.  Click Close, and you can now use this familiar shortcut to switch input languages.

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The layout options dialog offers many more neat keyboard shortcuts and options.  One especially neat option was the option to use a keyboard led to show when we’re using the alternate keyboard layout.  We selected the ScrollLock light since it’s hardly used today, and now it lights up when we’re using our other input language.

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Conclusion

Whether you regularly type in multiple languages or only need to enter an occasional character from an alternate keyboard layout, Ubuntu’s keyboard settings make it easy to make your keyboard work the way you want.  And since you can even preview and print a keyboard layout, you can even remember an alternate keyboard’s layout if it’s not printed on your keyboard.

Windows users, you’re not left behind, either.  Check out our tutorial on how to Add keyboard languages to XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 05/19/10

Comments (11)

  1. R Duke

    What I was actually looking for is how to make my custom keyboard variant appear in the list of variants. It works when I use ‘ setxkbmap “ch(fr_myvariant)” ‘, but I cannot select it in GUI interface shown here.

  2. Michael

    Hi, Thanks for this article.
    I did it but then I did some thing, don’t know what and now instead of having an icon with the letters of the language keyboard currently in use like “USA” or “ISL” (for Israel) I have a simple keyboard icon.
    How do I bring the back the icon with the letters describing the language? currently I don’t know to what language I am changing when I hit the ‘ALT+SHIFT’ …..
    Thanks!
    Michael.

  3. Ernst Tremel

    Hi Matthew

    This had been working on my Ubuntu 10.04 installation as described here.
    But now it is not more functioning.
    I can’t “add” not any keyboard layout anymore though I only have three layouts installed.
    The options button shows an empty window without any choices.
    So I think my Ubuntu 10.10 installation is something like incomplete.
    Do you know how to repair it?

  4. Serch

    I have the same problem like Micheal; I can’t see the language indicator. Just the keyboard icon and I don’t know the current language. It’s annoying!

    Has anyone solved it yet? I’m running on Ubuntu 11.04 btw

  5. sirius

    Thank you.

    Somewhat working because of ubuntu bug.

  6. Rosa

    It works perfectly. Many many thanks!

  7. sinisa

    Thanks for the easy tutorial

  8. htn

    thnx

  9. mbm

    thanks very much. your tutorial very good.

  10. !UbuntuUltimate!

    - Thanx a lot!! Foolproof!!!

  11. mehdi tahmuresi

    thanks
    for this learning

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