How to add languages in Linux (Gnome)

Updated: September 20, 2010

Although English is pretty much the universal language of the Web, most of the people on this planet feel more comfortable, and prefer, using their own native language. Not a big problem. Whenever you're installing your favorite Linux distribution, you have a language setup menu, where you select your favorite choice. Job done.

However, once the operating system is installed, you may discover that you might need to use another language, in addition to your default choice. While you can get by with phonetic spelling, this can be awkward. Then, you may also need the dictionary and grammar checks. Bottom line, you need to add a second language to your desktop.


How do you do that? Well, let me show you. I will be demonstrating using openSUSE 11.2, with Gnome desktop. Basically, the principle is virtually the same for all Gnome desktops, with only small variations in menu layouts.

There are two things you need to do: 1) download the extra languages 2) configure your keyboard shortcuts so the second language is in use.

Add language

Open the Gnome Control Center > Language.

Control Center

In the Language menu, choose the languages you want to download and install.


After you click OK, the languages will be downloaded and installed, including application plugins, spell checkers and more.


Configure keyboard preferences

Once the second (or third or other) language is installed, you will need to configure your keyboard. This will allow you to switch back and forth between available languages easily. Once again, open the Control Center.

Choose Keyboard Preferences > Layout.

You will notice there's only one layout; the default language you installed the operating system with. To add a new one, click Add.

Keyboard pref

This will open a window where you can choose the layout, by either country or language, including variants. The keyboard layout is shown, for visual reference.


Once you've chosen the second layout, click the Layout Options button. This will let you customize the language settings, including adding key position and key behavior, as well as the key sequence for changing the layout.


And basically, you're done. Use the keyboard sequence to switch the languages and test.

Optional: Add language applet to panel

Like Windows, you may want to have a visual indicator showing you which language you're using. Indeed, the basic principle remains the same. Right-click on the panel and select Add to Panel. In the available list, look for Keyboard Indicator.

Add to panel

And there you go. Now, you have a language indicator in the system area:


And that's it!


Adding new languages to your system is a relatively simple affair, although it is probably not that intuitive for new users, hence this tutorial. Basically, there are two steps you need to take, install languages and configure the keyboard. Optionally, you can also use a visual indicator to make the desktop use more comfortable.

Well, I hope you liked this. See ya!


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