No need to translate

Changing the display language in Windows Vista

By Tatsuo Yamada

My mother immigrated to the United States from Japan when she was 18. She knew very little English when she arrived, but after immersing herself in American culture and attending English classes at a local community college, her language skills improved greatly. Although she's fluent in English now, there are still times she prefers to use her native language—such as when dealing with complex or technical subjects.

Time for a change

Until recently, my mom owned a computer that had three previous owners and was still running a version of Windows popular during the late 1990’s. For the most part, she used it to view and print the latest pictures of her grandchildren and to send e‑mail messages to her family overseas. But whenever the computer displayed an error message or did something unexpected, she felt intimidated and was unsure of how to proceed. Granted, some of the error messages in Windows can be difficult for those of us who speak English as our first language, but for a non-native English speaker, it can be even more of a challenge to identify the problem and understand how to fix it.

About two months ago, her computer stopped working. She pushed the power button, it let out a loud screech in protest, and refused to respond. My mom was disappointed, but I knew this was the perfect opportunity to introduce her to Windows Vista.

Windows doesn't need to be foreign to you

My mom was pretty excited when her new computer was delivered. After we set it up in her room, I sat beside her and talked about the basics of using Windows Vista, setting up an automated backup, and using Windows Help and Support. After rambling on about this stuff for a few minutes, it was obvious that I had lost her. She had a look of concern mixed with uncertainty on her face similar to the puzzled look she had when I declared creative writing as my major in college.

When I asked her what was wrong, my mom explained she was worried she wouldn't understand how to do half of what I was telling her, or, worse, would somehow break the computer if she did something wrong. To put her mind at ease, I explained that with Windows Vista Ultimate we could install a language pack and change the display language so that the menus, Help content, dialog boxes, and wizards were all displayed in Japanese. She was still a bit apprehensive, so I knew it was time for me to show her exactly what I meant.


  • Windows Vista language packs are only available for Windows Vista Ultimate and Windows Vista Enterprise.

Picture of translated Start menu
Changing display languages can make you feel more at home

We started by downloading the appropriate language pack for Japanese. I clicked the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicked All Programs, clicked Windows Update, and then clicked Check for updates in the left pane and waited for Windows to display the latest updates. Scrolling through the list of available updates, I found what I was looking for listed under Windows Vista Ultimate Language Packs. I selected the check box next to Japanese Language Pack and clicked Install.


  • If you are prompted for a password or permission to continue when following the steps above, type your password or provide permission.

After installing the language pack, we still had to tell Windows to use Japanese instead of English as the display language. Here's how you can do what we did:

  1. Open Regional and Language Options by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Clock, Language, and Region, and then clicking Regional and Language Options.

  2. Click the Keyboards and Languages tab.

  3. Select Japanese or another language from the drop-down list, and then click OK. You must log off the computer for the new settings to take effect.

Picture of Regional and Language Options
Selecting Japanese as the display language

An English-to-Japanese dictionary is no longer needed

My mom logged on to Windows and said, “Oh my goodness!” The translation of Windows Vista into Japanese was immediately apparent and impressive. As she looked through the different menus and read the descriptions aloud, she began to smile. It wasn't that she wouldn't have understood the text if it had been in English, it just made more sense when she read it in Japanese.

I asked her to click Start once more and then click Help and Support. Instantly a translated version of Help appeared on the screen. I explained that by entering keywords in the search box and pressing Enter, Windows Help and Support would return a list of useful topics intended to help her figure out how to do almost anything. To test this, she entered the word "photos" and then clicked on a topic about working with digital pictures. She read the instructions and said, "This isn't so hard."

Picture of Help and Support in Japanese
Help is even more helpful in your native language

Writing letters home about Windows Vista

After my mom finished reading some of the Help, I wanted to show her how to send e‑mail messages in Japanese. She opened her e‑mail account, clicked the Input language button on the Language bar, and then selected Japanese. She now had the option to write e‑mail messages using hiragana, katakana, and even kanji. This was more than she was expecting. She was excited by the fact she no longer had to type messages to her relatives using the phonetic English spelling of Japanese words. My mom wasted no time and excitedly typed a message to her cousins in Japanese, explaining how we changed the display and input languages in Windows Vista, and how if they ever visited her in Seattle, they'd feel right at home on her computer.


Changing the display language to Japanese in Windows Vista was definitely a turning point for my mom. She feels more confident using it and understands clearly what she needs to do. I called her recently to catch up and see how things are going. She informed me that she backed up all of her pictures to DVDs, turned on automatic updates for Windows, and sent numerous e‑mail messages to Japan. It was my turn to be impressed.

"Thank you for helping me set up the new computer," she said as we neared the end of our conversation, "But I still need you to come over and clean the gutters." I guess a son's work is never done.

About the author

Picture of columnist Tatsuo Yamada

Tatsuo Yamada is a writer on the Windows team at Microsoft. Before joining Microsoft, he was a freelance technical writer for various software companies in the Seattle area. Outside of the office he enjoys playing mediocre golf, snowboarding awkwardly, and spending time with a dog named Trout.

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