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.

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


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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.



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 Guay
Matthew Guay is a veteran app reviewer and technology tip writer. His work has appeared on Zapier's blog, AppStorm, Envato Tuts+, and his own blog, Techinch.
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