Scott Hanselman

How to add a keyboard and write in YOUR language in Windows for free

July 25, '14 Comments [25] Posted in Internationalization | Win8
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A lot of people don't realize that Windows supports a LOT of different languages out of the box. After Windows 7 and now with Windows 8 and 8.1, you can add keyboards to dozens of languages without buying or downloading anything. You have non-English keyboards now, today! Even if you just have English Windows out of the box, you can add a Japanese Input Method Editor (IME - a way to enter kanji), or any of a dozen other methods for entering non-English text on an English Keyboard. This is great for writing family back home, letting your teen write reports for Chinese class in Word, and more.

If you know someone who could benefit from knowing this, tell them! I met a woman from Ethiopia who spoke Amharic recently and somehow we got to talking about the unique syllabary (an alphabet of symbols) that one uses to write Amharic/Ge'ez using Fidel (their lettering system). She had used Windows for 10+ years and had NO idea she could write emails, make web pages, and write Word documents in her native language FOR FREE. She had this feature in Windows and never turned it on.

In Windows 8 or 8.1, press the Windows key and type "Add language."

Screenshot (29)

Select one of these options (doesn't really matter which) and then select the language you want to add. There's a lot.

Look how many languages are available!

I'm selecting Amharic. Note that I could also select Tigrinya as well.


I'm just adding the Keyboard so I can write letters, but many languages also have a Language Pack where I could change the look and feel of Windows itself. This could make Windows more comfortable for the grandparents, so experiment with this and their settings.

Amharic IME

An Input Method Editor lets you type English/Latin letters and output non-Latin characters. For example, I'll L-A-space, and get ላ or H-I-space and get ሂ.

Typically as you type a list of options appears and is narrowed down by your choices. Sometimes these are phonetic (they sound like the language) and sometimes they are just letter combos you'll learn.


The Ethiopic IME

The results are awesome though, and it makes Windows just that much more usable for folks who regularly need to switch between languages.

Scott Hanselman

Use the Hotkey "Windows Key + Space" to toggle keyboards, or just press the keyboard that appears in your Taskbar.

Switching languages

Now, go tell your family and setup alternate languages on their PC! I can speak from experience that a great way to make a computer more accessible for a relative (and get a smile) is adding support for their native language(s).

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Friday, 25 July 2014 04:34:05 UTC
As a somewhat off topic/on topic... the windows lock screen needs to fix selected language in my opinion.

Back when I lived in Australia, we used to play practical jokes on each other at work, and on one occasion I left my PC unlocked and went home, so one of my co-workers changed my language to Spanish.

Next day I couldn't log into my computer, was on our internal support for like 3 hours trying to login to my computer...

Then someone asked why the bottom corner didn't say 'En'...

I wanted to die :(
Friday, 25 July 2014 04:35:39 UTC
That's actually kind of awesome.
Friday, 25 July 2014 05:19:15 UTC
The US International keyboard is worth mentioning: it enables lots of international characters such as éàüñ from a regular qwerty keyboard. It may not help a lot with non-latin alphabets, but is a life-saver for people who, like me, switch from English to a European language all the time. Switching keyboards is not practical, but using a single keyboard for both languages is awesome.
Friday, 25 July 2014 05:29:10 UTC
I have only one advise, if you're a developer, don't mess with the language packs !
Because now your error messages will be translated too, and oh boy, is it fun to understand what the hell they're trying to tell you, if you don't see their well known English counterparts anymore.

Though it is fun and handy to write emails in your language and don't have autocomplete interfere anymore and the squigglies are all gone.

I wish I could have my English error messages and emails in my language of choice without the hassle of changing it all the time via the task bar.
Friday, 25 July 2014 06:16:31 UTC
I got a really annoying problem. Maybe someone has some advice. In control panel I have only the Romanian language with the Romanian (Programmers) layout. But in the language toggle window I allways got English (United Stats) with US keyboard layout and I can't get rid of it.
Friday, 25 July 2014 07:31:00 UTC
@Michael, I know what you are saying regarding the spelling checker. I keep my Windows UI all in English, using the Ireland international settings. (keeps me sane using normal date/time, number and € currency formatting)

Yet using a Belgian (Apple) Keyboard layout, and having the Dutch language installed (but not using it as the UI language). This does give me the option to have Dutch spelling checked, but it does require a switch on the task bar.

Futhermore, in Office I also have the proofing pack for Dutch installed (I'm not sure I actually need it). So I can actually write in two different languages with spelling being checked in a single mail. Works OK, as sometimes the Auto correct feature will prematurely interfere and do all sorts of crazy things.
Friday, 25 July 2014 07:40:51 UTC
IME keyboards for Indian languages are available here:

These are 'phonetic' keyboards - you type English characters and get back selected language characters. For example, with Hindi language keyboard from above location, on typing "namaste" i get "नमस्ते".
Amol Khiste
Friday, 25 July 2014 09:52:27 UTC
Wouldn't it be awsome if you could roll your own. You know, a Klingon one for geeks and a a Papiamento one for Arubans. Or a Papiamentu one for Curacao. So people speaking uncommon languages (<100,000 users) can use Windows Phone too..
Bart Kemps
Friday, 25 July 2014 10:42:19 UTC
@Oltețeanu Bogdan Andrei : you can't remove (AFAIK) the language that corresponds to the actual Windows UI language.
Friday, 25 July 2014 14:43:12 UTC
Thank you Scott !!

One minor typo :) your name should be spelled ስካት ሃንስልመን .
Friday, 25 July 2014 14:43:49 UTC
Maybe a little off topic, but I have two adopted Ethiopian children who are rapidly losing their Amharic and wasn't aware that this was available...well, maybe not really off topic ;)
Betam ahmesugenalew!
Sunday, 27 July 2014 04:45:06 UTC
Speaking of languages, we've been asking Handwriting support for Turkish language for years :( Still nothing...
Sunday, 27 July 2014 15:46:40 UTC
@Bart Kemps

You can write your own keyboard driver using Microsoft's Keyboard Layout Creator ( I wrote an extended English one with support for:

• Combining diacritical marks with no dead key using Alt Gr (right Alt) after the characters (` ' " , ~) : à, é, ö, ç, ñ
• Common fractions (1 2 3 q w): ¼ ½ ¾ ⅓ ⅔
• Monetary units (e y $): € ¥ ¢
• Common Greek letters (a b g d D m S): α β γ ∂ ∆ µ ∑
• Math symbols (= + - u n v / 8 < >): ≠ ≈ ± ∪ ∩ √ ÷ ∞ ≤ ≥
• Footnotes/Paragraph (! @ # N \ | ; :): ¹ ² ³ ⁿ † ‡ ¶ §

Even the bullets in the list above are Alt Gr + *. Just having an Alt Gr key on a US keyboard can be very helpful. Of course, it will annoy the heck out of you if you regularly use right Alt.

If you would like my driver, you can download it here. (I assure you it is virus free, I'm just trying to be helpful to show what else can be done with Microsoft's built-in and free keyboard stuff):
Monday, 28 July 2014 00:25:53 UTC
Cool but why is Microsoft doing this? I cannot even add and existing language (Traditional Chinese (Taiwan)) so my wife can use it.
Donald Adams
Monday, 28 July 2014 04:37:05 UTC
Great to see you advertising the indeed often overlooked language features in globalized MS-Windows, given that you likely have a few more subscribers than Language Center directors. :-)

For the recent upgrade of our language center which supports 20 languages, I put together an overview, with explanations/download links (not checked in a while), of a large number of MS technologies for Windows 7/Office 2010 (language packs, more limited language interface packs, screen tip languages, IME's, some distributed only with Office) , freely available, mostly - well, if you had an enterprise SKU and volume licensing, but a bit hard to find sometimes: .

I enjoy using and have advertised the US international keyboard layout for over 10 years now, even though Michael Kaplan ( recently pointed out that the design could be more intuitive and seems to need a lot of initial explaining every time: .

Better still, third parties can extend Windows by writing their own IMEs, many free - and not only Google can manage ( , see Imran’s Phonetic Keyboard for Arabic or extended versions of international that support length markers for Latin e.g. for Pinyin tones and , one by a colleague of mine:

A great additional feature is that Windows 7 language packs not only install proofing tools and change the GUI language. You get also also "free" speech-recognition for 5-7 languages (depending on how you count language variants). Since Windows allows you to train the preloaded model to adjust to your voice, the recognition is mature enough that we can actually use this for language learning speaking practice (, either free form, or using known commands to control the menu interfaces. I a spreadsheet together where language learners can easily compare voice commands in their native and target language for practice:

Would be great to have a similar overview for Windows 8 on the MS website. I realize, though: It is not only a great, but also a big organization…. :-)

Monday, 28 July 2014 19:47:23 UTC
Nice for globalization. Thanks...
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 20:11:45 UTC
Thank you Scott. As a native Amharic speaker, I found your tip to be very valuable. I was hoping that I could add the Amharic keyboard in my Windows 2008R2 developer machine but was unsuccessful.

I will definitely share this tip with anyone that uses English as a second language though.
Thursday, 31 July 2014 08:46:00 UTC
What I still find weird is that if you RDP to a machine your keyboard layout is changed. So if I RDP from the UK to a US machine I get the US keyboard layout where certain keys are different.

This seems like an odd default to me as it will not usually be what the user wants. There is a registry key to override it but nothing I can see in the RDP setup UI.
Thursday, 31 July 2014 09:22:30 UTC
I assume that MS tries really hard with localization and adjusting to the needs of the customers outside of the US but I constantly see them fail were people are involved who cannot be put in a single region or language or will not stay in the one they first had to pick. Personally I think that the persons who decide about the localization features have a very naive or too simplistic way to look at the problem they are trying to solve.

Two current examples:
  • Windows 8/8.1: Syncing your user settings between different devices. In my opinion a good idea BUT it has consequences. My keyboard input and language settings are constantly messed up because I use devices with different keyboard layouts.
  • XBox One: Who really thinks that locking languages to a region/country is a good idea? I cannot pick English in Germany? Seriously.
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 07:55:04 UTC
You should maybe also mention that switching input language also enables spell check and such in the Windows 8 Mail app, etc. That's why I for example add English as an input language, even though I can write English fine on my Norwegian keyboard.

Also note that you can have for example English as input language with Windows thinking your keyboard is actually English (meaning the key labels don't match up) or with Windows using the same keyboard layout as you had (so spell check and such will work, but keyboard labels still match).
Thursday, 07 August 2014 01:58:49 UTC
The Vietnamese keyboard needs some serious love. It doesn't follow any "pseudo" standards commonly used, and as such the usability is pretty much nerfed.

The Google Translate website gets it right: Screenshot
Monday, 11 August 2014 09:59:35 UTC
I can't belive that MS haven't added support for custom keyboard shortcuts for switching keyboard layout/language...
The provided shortcuts (Win7) are Ctrl+Shift, Ctrl+Left Alt, Grave Accent, all of which I use either in other shortcuts or need for other things.

As a developer it's sometimes more practical to use the English keyboard layout than my native Norwegian one. However switching keyboards using keyboard shortcuts is not really working for me and using the mouse to navigate is not an option.
Kristian Schmidt
Thursday, 14 August 2014 20:49:56 UTC
So that is cool. I didn't know about the shortcut key (Windows Key + Space). A while back I edited the custom English US keyboard mapping so I would no longer have to hold a shift key down to type a curly bracket. So when I opened up Visual Studio 2013 to do some Windows Phone or something that needed a {}, I was opening up the little keyboard icon on my Windows 8.1 toolbar to do the switch. Now I can just switch it with the shortcut key. Thanks!
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