Parlez-vous Mac OS X?

David Braue
18 August, 2011
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You may spend most of your time online browsing English language websites, but that doesn’t mean there’s no role for foreign languages in your Mac life. Assignments, letters to Nanna or just making sure your foreign-language music is catalogued in its native tongue – there are many reasons you might want to handle text in a different language. Fortunately, Mac OS X offers many options beyond English. The following tips are compatible with Snow Leopard and Lion operating systems.

In Windows, language settings are handled through the Control Panel > Clock, Language and Region setting, which lets you set display formats, switch between a dizzying array of input languages and download exotic language packs.

Mac OS X houses its settings within the System Preferences > Language & Text setting. There are four main settings here. The Language pane presents a list of supported languages – all the main European and Asian languages are covered by default and you can choose from dozens more by clicking Edit List.

Drag the languages into a prioritised list that represents how you’d like your applications to show themselves. For example, if you pick Español, Français and then English, your applications will run in Spanish if they can, French if they can’t run in Spanish and English if they can’t speak Spanish or French.

You can also adjust the language Mac OS X uses for sorting lists. Depending on the language you choose, this could result in items being listed in a different order than the English lists you’re used to.

The Text pane controls text and symbol substitution, smart quotes, spell-check options (Mac OS X uses the dictionary for the current language but you can override it or choose Spelling > Setup to add new dictionary files) and word-break styles, while the Formats pane lets you choose regional settings such as date, number and currency formats.

By default, only a couple of dozen countries are listed in the Region dropdown, but ticking the ‘Show all regions’ box opens up more choices. The Input Sources pane lets you set up your Mac so you can type in languages other than English. Scroll through the list and tick or untick all the languages you want to use as inputs; once you’ve selected a second language, you’ll notice a flag in the top-right of your status bar. This indicates the current input method and remains visible across all applications. At any time, you can click on the flag to bring up a drop- down menu of your languages.

That menu also lets you launch Character Viewer – a hovering window that that groups symbols and foreign-language characters to let you insert special characters into whatever application you’re working on – and Keyboard Viewer, a resizable keyboard showing the layout of the current soft keyboard you’re using.

Voilà! Votre Mac est bilingue!

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