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Change the User Interface Language in Ubuntu

Would you like to use your Ubuntu computer in another language?  Here’s how you can easily change your interface language in Ubuntu.

Ubuntu’s default install only includes a couple languages, but it makes it easy to find and add a new interface language to your computer.  To get started, open the System menu, select Administration, and then click Language Support.

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Ubuntu may ask if you want to update or add components to your current default language when you first open the dialog.  Click Install to go ahead and install the additional components, or you can click Remind Me Later to wait as these will be installed automatically when you add a new language.

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Now we’re ready to find and add an interface language to Ubuntu.  Click Install / Remove Languages to add the language you want.

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Find the language you want in the list, and click the check box to install it.  Ubuntu will show you all the components it will install for the language; this often includes spellchecking files for OpenOffice as well.  Once you’ve made your selection, click Apply Changes to install your new language.  Make sure you’re connected to the internet, as Ubuntu will have to download the additional components you’ve selected.

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Enter your system password when prompted, and then Ubuntu will download the needed languages files and install them.

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Back in the main Language & Text dialog, we’re now ready to set our new language as default.  Find your new language in the list, and then click and drag it to the top of the list.

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Notice that Thai is the first language listed, and English is the second.  This will make Thai the default language for menus and windows in this account.  The tooltip reminds us that this setting does not effect system settings like currency or date formats.

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To change these, select the Text Tab and pick your new language from the drop-down menu.  You can preview the changes in the bottom Example box.

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The changes we just made will only affect this user account; the login screen and startup will not be affected.  If you wish to change the language in the startup and login screens also, click Apply System-Wide in both dialogs.  Other user accounts will still retain their original language settings; if you wish to change them, you must do it from those accounts.

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Once you have your new language settings all set, you’ll need to log out of your account and log back in to see your new interface language.  When you re-login, Ubuntu may ask you if you want to update your user folders’ names to your new language.  For example, here Ubuntu is asking if we want to change our folders to their Thai equivalents.  If you wish to do so, click Update or its equivalents in your language.

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Now your interface will be almost completely translated into your new language.  As you can see here, applications with generic names are translated to Thai but ones with specific names like Shutter keep their original name.

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Even the help dialogs are translated, which makes it easy for users around to world to get started with Ubuntu.  Once again, you may notice some things that are still in English, but almost everything is translated.

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Adding a new interface language doesn’t add the new language to your keyboard, so you’ll still need to set that up.  Check out our article on adding languages to your keyboard to get this setup.

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If you wish to revert to your original language or switch to another new language, simply repeat the above steps, this time dragging your original or new language to the top instead of the one you chose previously.

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Conclusion

Ubuntu has a large number of supported interface languages to make it user-friendly to people around the globe.  And since you can set the language for each user account, it’s easy for multi-lingual individuals to share the same computer.

Or, if you’re using Windows, check out our article on how you can Change the User Interface Language in Vista or Windows 7, too!

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

  • Published 05/21/10

Comments (3)

  1. Mauricio Mora

    It is a pain in the ass, because I installed Spanish; Castillian and after that I still cannot see this spanish in the list of “Drag and Drop”. So I am unable to drag spanish because there isn no spanish. I can see Spanish as installed in the list of “Install/Remove Languages”.
    What can I do?

  2. Kyle

    Look for español.

  3. Gerald

    I have Ubuntu 10.04 installed with English as the interface language. I wish to change this to French as an alternative.
    I have installed French as follows:-

    1)System/Administration/Language Support/Install Remove Languages
    2)English and French are now shown as being installed.
    3)Under “Language” tab the only language which is available is English, all of the others are greyed out. So the opportunity to apply French system wide does not exist.
    4)In the “Text” tab all options are available.

    How can I get French to appear as a “Language for menus and windows” please?

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