Breaking the language barrier

Install language packs and change your display language in Windows 7 Ultimate

By Andy Myers

Language diversity is all around us—on street signs, storefronts, bumper stickers, in passing conversations—and now it’s on our computers, too. If you have a PC running Windows 7 Ultimate, you can install language packs (also known as Multilingual User Interface (MUI) packs) that let you switch between dozens of display languages.

Picture of Windows Explorer with the Japanese language pack installed
Windows 7 with the Japanese language pack installed

These can really come in handy if you speak a second language, or even if you’re simply trying to learn another language. I’ve recently been trying to learn Japanese, so I thought I’d try installing the Japanese language pack to see if it might help me in my efforts. I know my way around Windows 7 well enough, so I thought I'd be able to avoid getting hopelessly lost. And who knows? Maybe I'll actually learn something along the way.

Pick a language, any language

If you have Windows 7 Ultimate, you can download and install language packs. There are dozens available, including French, German, Russian, and Korean. Installing them is easy—you can even install multiple packs at once. Just open Windows Update and check for updates. All available language packs will appear as optional updates. For step-by-step instructions, see How do I get additional display languages?

Picture of installing a display language from Windows Update
Installing a display language from Windows Update

I decided to install Japanese and Spanish, and the process took around 15 minutes. Then, it was time to change my computer’s display language to see what Windows 7 looked like in Japanese.

Make the switch

Once a language pack is installed, switching to the new language is simple: just a few clicks in Control Panel and you're done. For step-by-step instructions, see Install or change a display language. After you click OK, you’ll need to log off of Windows, and then log on again for the change to take effect.

Picture of switching languages in Region and Language
Once a language pack is installed, switching is simple

Whether you’re multilingual or not, switching languages can take some getting used to. Most features in Windows will look a little different.

Picture of the Start menu with the Japanese language pack installed
Almost the entire Start menu gets the language-change treatment

If you’re having trouble finding your way around, look for clues—such as icons or keyboard shortcuts in menus—to help familiarize yourself. After a few days with Windows 7 in Japanese, I began to recognize certain Japanese characters that I’d seen before.

You can also experiment with options, depending on the language. When you log on with a different language enabled, you might see a menu bar on the top of your desktop. This is called the Language bar, and it includes language-specific options, such as changing your keyboard layout. For more information, see The Language bar (overview) and Change your keyboard layout.

Picture of the Language bar with the Japanese language pack installed
In the Japanese language pack, you can use the Language bar to decide how you want text to display

For instance, with the Japanese language pack installed on a writing device such as a Tablet PC, one option is to write out Japanese characters instead of typing them. Windows 7 also supports handwriting recognition for other East Asian languages. For more information, see Using the writing pad and touch keyboard in Tablet PC Input Panel.

Travel the world on your computer

Each language pack is a little different, with its own options and behavioral quirks, so you'll have different things to play with depending on which one you install. And if you ever get lost, you can easily switch back to English (or the language you started in) by looking for the Region and Language icon in Control Panel.

Picture of Region and Language in Control Panel
Region and Language in Control Panel

Whether you're part of the ever-growing multilingual community or, like me, you’re just curious about other languages and cultures, language packs are a fun, useful, and free addition to Windows 7 Ultimate, and you can install as many as you’d like. Now, that’s speaking my language!

About the author

Picture of columnist Andy Myers

Энди Майерс (Andy Myers ) — автор статей в рабочей группе Windows корпорации Майкрософт. Ранее он работал в индустрии видеоигр в качестве журналиста и автора книг по стратегии. В свободное время он играет и записывает музыку с различными коллективами.

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