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Unleash Your Multilingual Mac

How to Read/Write Languages Other Than English on your Mac
by Tom Gewecke (tom at bluesky dot org)
Updated 2/28/2008



One of the best-kept secrets about MacOS is the built-in support it contains for reading and writing languages beyond English, including ones that use non-Latin scripts and characters. This document explains these capabilities and provides various resources to help users exploit them to the maximum degree possible. Comments and additions from readers are most welcome.

In addition, readers may find it useful to consult this list of Tom's Apple Discussion Forums User Tips, which includes special notes on typing Arabic, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Tamil, and Tibetan.

OS X 10.5 Leopard

These comments are based on OS X 10.5.0 (Build 9A581), issued 10/26/07. A similar text relating to 10.2 (Jaguar), as well as 10.0 and 10.1, can be found here, for 10.3 (Panther) here, and for 10.4 (Tiger) here.

Since Classic/OS 9 is no longer supported by Leopard, we have removed the sections of this page that refer to it. If you need them, go to the Tiger page mentioned just above.

OS X is a complex animal, supporting various kinds of applications -- Carbon, Cocoa, and Unix -- each of which can have different capabilities. The successive versions of OS X also differ considerably. So it is sometimes difficult to generalize about how applications, languages, and modes of operation work together. Finally there are custom versions of OS X used in hardware such as the iPod, Apple TV, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Basic Apple documentation can be found in the Help menu of the Finder if you put "languages" in the Question box.

Here is a list of new language-related features which Apple has announced as being included in Leopard.


OS X offers the choice of 18 system languages out of the box -- English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Russian, and Polish. These languages, which affect system-wide menus and dialogues, can also be changed, for your next login, via the Languages menu of the International pane in System Preferences. Just move your preferred language to the top of the list.

"Fast User Switching," activated in the Accounts preferences, enables you to quickly rotate your screen, with an interesting "cube effect," among different system languages if you set up separate users for them. Be careful to keep your keyboard the same for all login and logout operations, or you can find your password will not work.

If you poke the "Edit" button in the Language menu to see all varieties available, you get a list of over 130, the exact number depending on whether you have added any additional language fonts. These relate primarily to user preferences regarding menus and dialogues for applications. Also OS X uses the order of languages set by the user in this menu to determine default fonts and collation and which encodings are available in Mail.app. So if Chinese is ahead of Japanese in this list, Chinese fonts should normally get first choice by the system in any ambiguous situation. You should make sure that any languages you want to read or write are on the list. Also the order will determine which localization will be used for any app which does not have the files needed for the language at the top of the list.

Applications normally contain their own localizations independent of the system. To activate these, do File/Get Info on the application's icon, select the Languages tab, and choose the language you want the application to be in. Apple's information on how to localize applications can be found here.

Note that the system language is distinct from the keyboard language, which determines what you can type. The latter is set from the Input Menu in the International Pane.

The language of the login page is fixed at whatever is chosen upon installation, though you may be able to modify this by changing /var/log/CDIS.custom, or by reinstalling. Other ways to change language behavior may be to manually modify the file Users/username/Library/Preferences/.GlobalPreferences.plist or by opening Terminal and typing:

sudo "/System/Library/CoreServices/Language Chooser.app/Contents/MacOS/Language Chooser"

If you do not want all the 18 system languages, be sure to do a Custom Install. To get rid of system languages after they have been installed (normally to liberate hard drive space, about 50MB per language), you can check out the programs Monolingual. To install a missing system localization, you can do so directly by running the Language Translations installers found in the OptionalInstalls.mpkg of the Leopard DVD.

Use the Formats Tab of the International pane to set your preferred locale for date, time, and number formats.

Typing Foreign Languages

In OS X you can select over 50 keyboards covering Arabic*, Azeri, Armenian*, Belgian, Brazilian, British, Bulgarian*, Byelorussian, Canadian French, Cherokee*, Chinese*, Croatian, Czech*, Danish, Dari, Devanagari*, Dutch, US, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish*, French*, German, Greek*, Gujarati*, Gurmurkhi (Punjabi)*, Hawaiian, Hebrew*, Hungarian, Icelandic, Inuktitut*, Irish*, Italian*, Japanese*, Jawi, Kazakh, Korean*, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Maori, Nepali, Norwegian*, Pashto, Persian*, Polish*, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian*, Sami*, Serbian*, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish*, Swedish*, Swiss*, Tamil*, Thai*, Tibetan*, Turkish*, Uighur, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Vietnamese*, and Welsh, plus Dvorak*, US Extended, and Unicode Hex (an asterix indicates multiple options). In addition to the keyboards, you can choose a Japanese Kana palette, the Character Palette, and the Keyboard Viewer.

The Latvian, Traditional Chinese Hanin YiTian, Tamil Anjal, and Russian PC keyboards have bugs.

To activate the keyboards and palettes you go the Desktop menu, then to System Preferences, International, and Input Menu and check the appropriate boxes. Also make sure to check the box at the bottom left for showing the Input Menu (also known as the "flag" menu) at the top right the Finder. The Preferences Input Menu lets you see the possible keyboard shortcuts for switching scripts and keyboards. By default these are not active, but can be made so by poking the button which takes you to Keyboard & Mouse Preferences/Keyboard Shortcuts.

Leopard no longer has the setting for "Allow a different input source for each document." A possible fix for this is InputSwitcher.

To see which key does what for a keyboard, use the Keyboard Viewer mentioned above. Pressing the physical Option, Shift, and Option+Shift keys will show what these combinations produce.

To type "accented characters" you do not necessarily need to switch to a specialized language keyboard. The standard Mac US keyboard has "dead keys" for 5 common accents activated via the Option key, and the US Extended keyboard has dead keys (plus capability for inputting combining characters) for many other diacritical marks. Here is a chart. Here is a graphic of the special characters which can be made from the US keyboard layout.

Many of the available keyboards can be selected in the "flag" menu and used with all the Carbon and Cocoa programs that run on OS X. The Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tamil,Vietnamese Unikey, and Tibetan IM's are organized differently than the other keyboards. For Chinese (and sometimes also Japanese and Korean as concerns applications) the key info site is the

Chinese-Mac FAQ User Guide

The Help for the Korean, Japanese and Chinese IM's is now available for the first time in English with Leopard.

OS X Kotoeri includes an interesting "reverse conversion" command that will convert kanji text into kana, which can then also be transliterated into romaji. The Japanese IM can switch between Roman and direct Kana input via its Preferences pane (first tab, first item), and also allows you to choose your Roman input keyboard (first tab, last item). Here is a chart of the Kotoeri input codes for Hiragana. For Chinese and Korean Roman input it appears you are confined to English Qwerty.

The Vietnamese Unikey IM's include a menu item "Convert to Hán-Nôm," which lets you convert the modern Latin script into the Chinese characters used in ancient Vietnamese. Here is info on the use of the Telex, VNI, and VIQR layouts.

For users who need the capability of composing Asian languages in vertical, right-to-left format, or with "Ruby" annotations, Word2004 or NeoOffice/J or LightWay Text are probably the most practical choice. Also not all Asian fonts have proper typographical features for vertical text -- the Hiragino Japanese fonts that come with OS X do, however.

Here is some additional info on the Tibetan IM, Tamil IM and the Devanagari keyboard.

Unicode Keyboards and Apps

"Unicode" keyboards, including Azeri, Maori, Nepali, Vietnamese, Turkish, Thai, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Tamil, Tibetan all Afghani and Indic languages, Icelandic, Faroese, Sami, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Armenian, Cherokee, Inuktitut, Uighur, Welsh and keyboards with "extended" in their names, normally require a Unicode-savvy program to function, which excludes MS Office (prior to the 2004 version) , AppleWorks, and many DTP programs. Examples of Unicode-savvy Apple programs are iWork (Pages and Keynote), TextEdit, Stickies, Address Book, Mail, iChat, iTunes, WorldText 1.x and the Finder.

Unicode Word processors and similar programs worth looking at include Nisus Writer Pro and Express (with automatic keyboard and font activation for any language chosen), Mellel (with excellent Hebrew/Arabic support), NoteTaker, AbiWord, OpenOffice, and NeoOffice. Word 2004 has Unicode support but (like the Adobe CS products) can't do RTL or complex scripts or handle all combining diacritics in certain fonts.

A fully Unicode-capable page layout and design application is Create, which can use all OS X keyboards for publishing to print or to web. Adobe InDesign CS and Illustrator CS (as well as Photoshop CS) are also generally Unicode-savvy, but unfortunately support for RTL, complex scripts, and combining diacritics is lacking. Special versions of Adobe apps for Middle East languages can be found here.For TeX, have a look at the program XeTeX.

Unicode-capable web page creators/editors include iWeb, GoodPage, Web Minimalist, Taco HTML Edit, DreamWeaver MX 2004 (but Arabic support is very limited), Mozilla Composer, and OmniWeb. Some other programs that can use the Unicode keyboards are the OmniOutliner 1.2 outlining application, the OmniGraffle diagramming/charting program, and the notepad program MoosePad.

Unicode-savvy database programs include iData, FileMaker Pro 7, MySQL 4.1, FrontBase, PostgreSQL, and OpenBaseSQL.

For video editing, Final Cut Express 2 (and Pro), iMovie 5, and QuickTime 7 Pro (captions feature) have the ability to do titles in Unicode scripts, but iMovie 4 and earlier do not. iMovie 5 can do Arabic/Hebrew only in the 3DSpin option, others are in reversed letter order. iMovie 6 can do all scripts correctly. LiveType has some limitations. Rolling Credits can do movie credits in all Unicode scripts.

The music composing program Sibelius 4 is reported to be Unicode-savvy, but Finale and the score editor of Apple's Logic Express/Pro 7 are not.

Aperture has problems with certain special characters in some functions.

Input of RTL (Right-to-left) scripts like Arabic and Hebrew poses special challenges for word processors and other programs. The program Mellel mentioned above is especially designed to deal with these. Pages/Keynote can handle copy/paste well, but keyboard input in probably too buggy to use. In TextEdit, for best results use rich text mode and activate the menu item Format/Text/Writing Direction/Right to Left. In Mail, you need to use Control Click and access the contextual menu for the Writing Direction option (and make sure the default font in Mail Preferences is set to Lucida Grande rather than Helvetica). For other programs it may help to use the add-on Direction Service or Writing Direction Menu.

Winsoft has special versions of Adobe products (including Tasmeem plugins for InDesign) and Filemaker for working with RTL scripts and other languages.

Non-Apple hacks/add-ons are also available for doing non-Unicode Greek and Thai.

Unicode Mail programs are covered in the Email section further down the page.

For more info on the significance of Unicode and on using the US Extended and Unicode Hex keyboards, see the section on Unicode below.

Extra Keyboards

If you want make your own keyboards, there are a couple different approaches, often depending on whether a Unicode keyboard is required. Apple Tech Note 2056 has some information on various options. For Unicode keyboards, you can compose an XML .keylayout file along the lines of those contained in /System/Library/Keyboard Layouts/Unicode.bundle/Contents/Resources. An online utility for doing this can be found here, and a utility with a cool graphic interface is here.

For non-Unicode scripts, you can take an existing keyboard from OS9, rename it as a .rsrc file, and put it into /Library/Keyboard Layouts/. You can also modify such keyboards using the ResEdit program. Here are some instructions for editing a kchr resource.

OS X 10.5 includes a new facility for making custom Unicode input methods. Some details can be found here.

If there is a Unicode keyboard that you want to use in a non-Uncode-savvy app, like AppleWorks, you may be able to modify it to work in some cases. For example, in the Slovenian.keylayout file, change the id code number to something positive and also change the keyboard group number from 126 to 29 (for the CE script). Then change the name to SlovenianCE.

Keyboards for Runic Scripts, Czech and Slovak QWERTY, Lao, Tibetan, Urdu, Kurdish, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Uzbek, Coptic, Biblical Hebrew, Esperanto, Azeri, Pinyin, Hausa, Mongolian Cyrillic, Manchu, Old Persian, and Navajo (plus alternative keyboards for Farsi/Persian, Brazilian, Polish, Canadian, Arabic, French, UK, Spanish, and US International) can be found here. Also available is a super-comprehensive Latin Extended Keyboard. and a keyboard for Aramaic. Another source for QWERTY keyboards in several languages, plus Armenian, Georgian, and Thaana, is here.

This site has some alternative Vietnamese keyboards.

Here is a Windows style US-International keyboard for OS X.

For a set of Windows-style keyboards in several languages, download the Logitech Control Center. Do not install this, but do Control-Click on the package to get at the contents, and copy LCCKCHR.rsrc from Resources to one of your Keyboard Layouts folders.

If you need to make unusual accented characters, like macroned vowels, in an app which is not Unicode-savvy, like AppleWorks or Word, you can try the Czech or Slovak keyboards and use one of the fonts ending in CE.

For information on IPA fonts and keyboards or keyboards for Ancient Greek, see the Other Resources by Language section at the end of this page.

To install keyboards that you download or create yourself, put them in Users/username/Library/Keyboard Layouts (or in Library/Keyboard Layouts if all usernames need access to them). Then go to System Preferences/International/Input Menu and check the box for the new keyboard. You may need to log out and log in again to have it appear.

Here is info on how to change the default keyboard layout.

For a source of physical keyboards and overlays for various languages, seeAramedia, CustomKeys, DataCal or Hooleon or SpeedSkin.

Spell Checking

OS X includes a system-wide spell-checker, which is accessible from any Cocoa program via the Edit/Spelling menu. In addition to US English, 10.4 has dictionaries for Australian, British, and Canadian English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, and Russian. A non-Apple Cocoa spell-checker covering up to 74 languages is CocoaSpell. Hebrew spell checking can be found here, and Finnish here.

Leopard's Dashboard has a Translator Widget which handles English, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and Russian.

MS Office 2004 comes with proofing tools for English , French , Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, German, Danish, Swedish, Portuguese, Finnish, and Dutch.

Dictionaries for OpenOffice can be downloaded here, and for NeoOffice you get extra dictionaries by going to the menu "File > Wizards > Install new dictionaries."

The stand-alone spell-checker Excalibur can be used in both Cocoa and Carbon environments, and has dictionaries available for British, Catalan, Danish, French, Dutch, German, Haitian, Indonesian, Italian, Manx, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. SpellCatcherX does English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Spanish.

The Safari add-on Live Dictionary offers Chinese/Japanese plus access to FreeDict dictionaries for Africaans, Czech, Danish, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Nederlands (Dutch) Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Swedish, Slovak, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish and Welsh.

TranslateIt has French, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Persian, and Arabic.

The program WordLookup has the ability to consult dictionaries in Vietnamese, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese, Latin, and Maori.

For AppleWorks dictionaries, see this page.

For commerical bilingual dictionaries and related tools, check out the products of Ultralingua.

Reading Foreign Language Web Pages

For doing this the browser which comes with OS X, Safari, is one of the best. The latest version of Mozilla/Firefox, Opera, Camino, Netscape and iCab 3 also offer good performance with a wide variety of scripts. The Mac-only browser OmniWeb is also excellent and can do Arabic and Hebrew starting with version 5.1. Internet Explorer is not recommended.

When appropriate fonts are installed, the better browsers have many encoding choices and can display a large number of languages and scripts, even on the same page. They convert all incoming characters to Unicode, and then search all installed fonts for corresponding glyphs. Opera 6, the latest version of Mozilla, and (with some glitches) Safari are the only browsers which can read pages that employ Unicode beyond the Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP). A good source for info on several OS X browsers is the Mac Multilingual Browser Page

For information on Safari support for International Domain Names, and possible security issues, see this article.

Some scripts (e.g. Bengali, Telugu, Myanmar, Khmer, Lao, Tibetan) are still put on the web using non-standard encodings and embedded font (.eot, .pfr) technology that only works with Windows browsers. Reading these may require the downloading of custom fonts (usually available from the site itself) and experimenting with browsers, encodings, and font preferences. The Opera browser seems to work better than others in such situations.


A list of fonts included with Leopard can be had here. OS X can make routine use of many Windows fonts. Note, however, that viewing complex scripts which require reordering, contextual shaping, or stacking of characters (such as Arabic, Devanagari, Tibetan, Classic Mongolian, and Thai) requires a combination of font and rendering engine technology. On the Mac this is accomplished via an AAT (Apple Advanced Typography) font and ATSUI, while Windows uses an OpenType font plus Uniscribe. The result is that when you select a Windows font in OS X, complex scripts are unlikely to display correctly, and an Apple font should be used if available.

OS X is gradually increasing OpenType support, and Leopard can now use Windows Arabic fonts in TextEdit (but not in Pages). Mellel is an OS X app that uses more OpenType layout tables. Instructions for using Apple's font tools to add some AAT features to other fonts can be found here.

The largest easily available Windows font I am aware of is Code2000 with 30,000 characters. Leopard comes with Arial Unicode MS, which is still larger, with 50,000 characters, but the OS is programed to ignore certain parts of that font. The multilingual capabilities of various browsers under OS X can be demonstrated by installing these and going to UTF-8 Sampler or Alan Wood's Unicode Sample Pages.

OS X has a built-in font inspector called the Character Palette, found in the Flag (keyboards) menu. This shows all the characters in a selected fonts in any Unicode range, and allows you to copy/paste them into documents. Note that copy/paste will not work for many characters into non-Unicode-savvy apps like Word X and AppleWorks. Similar utilities are UnicodeChecker, and Unicode Font Info. Some specialized fonts, for example those for music symbols, will not display properly in Character Palette (or Keyboard Viewer). The best way to input from these is to use a program like PopChar or Font Explorer.

The behavior of fonts used for non-Roman scripts and languages like Vietnamese can sometimes be adjusted to suit particular needs. Open the Font panel, select the font, hit the "gear wheel" at lower left, and select "Typography" to see any options which may be available.

Other OS X Features

TextEdit can save plain text in 100 different encodings. To see them all, open the encoding menu in the Save dialogue and check "Customize Encoding Menu." Cyclone and Codepage Converter are alternatives for this function. Details on OS X Unicode reading and input capabilities, including CJK Extension B in Plane 2 and scripts in Plane 1, is contained in the section below on Unicode.

OS X currently has only English text-to-speech. The program Speechissimo offers French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Cepstral has UK English, Canadian French, German, and Americas Spanish. Proloquo does British, German, Dutch, Flemish, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Brazilian Portuguese. VisioVoice has French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Finnish. A Chinese text-to-speech program can be found here. DTalker can do Japanese.

The dictation program iListen can handle English, Spanish, Italian, and German.

OS X includes the Darwin OS, based on the FreeBSD variety of Unix, which offers command-line access via the Terminal program in Applications/Utilities. Terminal has the choice of 3 shells (csh, bash, zsh) and can use any of the encodings available to TextEdit. Some instructions for making bash work with UTF-8 are here. To see file names in their proper script, try ls -v.

The Unix X Window (X11) GUI is included with OS X as an optional install. In principle this can be internationalized by modifying various parameter files. Open Office is a suite of programs designed to run in X Window which has some useful multilingual capabilities, including the ability to use Windows fonts for complex scripts like Devanagari and Tibetan . For info on Japanese input in X11, see here."

Using the program Virtual PC for Mac, OS X allows you to run Windows XP Home Edition (and other Windows OS's), which have extensive language capabilities of their own. Apple's new Intel-based Macs offer more options for running Windows, such as Apple's dual-boot software, Boot Camp, and the third-party applications Parallels Workstation and FusionVM. Some info on Windows Vista language capabilities can be found here.



The Mail program included with OS X is fully Unicode-savvy and automatically searches for glyphs in installed fonts for whatever encoding is indicated on the incoming text. The user can change the encoding for received messages from the Message/Text Encodings menu, and these can also be selected for outgoing messages. The range of encodings you have to choose from in Mail depends on the languages you have on the list in System Preferences/International/Languages, which you can change using the Edit button. One shortcoming is that Mail cannot set the default encoding for incoming messages, which is tedious if you get a lot of mail with the wrong charset specified. The default encoding for outgoing messages in Mail is sensitive to the order of languages in System Preferences/International/Languages, especially for Russian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Before sending email in these you should test it with a message to yourself to see whether the default encoding is what your recipients will expect, and set it manually or adjust the preferences if necessary.

A Unicode-savvy mail client similar to Mail is GyazMail. To activate the outgoing encoding choices, you must go to View/Customize Toolbar when in "new message" mode and add the Encoding selector to the toolbar. GyazMail reportedly works better than Mail communicating with cellphones in Japan.GNUMail.app has similar capabilities. Another alternative is to use the Mail programs included in Mozilla or Netscape 7 for OS X. The Entourage mail program that comes with MS Office is also Uncode-savvy.


When doing Webmail, you are at the mercy of the behavior of the particular browser and web site being used when it comes to faithful transmission of non-English mail text. It is best to explore the settings for the site to see if anything special exists for unusual scripts, and set the encoding of the browser as best you can before composing or reading. Trial and error may be required to get it right, and sending yourself a test message is a good idea. .Mac webmail can operate in all languages as long as you check the UTF-8 box in its preferences. Otherwise it is limited to Japanese and languages that use Latin-1 encoding. For the best multilingual email experience, use one of the standard mail programs rather than webmail.

iTunes and iPod

The Language Display Capabilities of iTunes should be the same as those of OS X or WinXP/2000, that is to say just about any language for which you can find a font. But the iPod is more limited and its capabilities can differ by model. For the most recent iPods (as of 10/2005), the technical specs say that Menu Languages are Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional Chinese and Turkish. Additional language support for display of song, album and artist information includes Bulgarian, Croatian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian and Ukrainian.

iPod Games are localized only in these languages: English, French, Danish, German, Spanish, Finnish, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and Japanese.

Out of the box the iPod cannot display song names in Hebrew, Arabic, Thai, Hindi, or other languages not on the lists above, and some earlier iPods may not even do all of those. There are no downloads to fix this, and it is not known when Apple will add support for these and other missing languages. A non-Apple hack for Hebrew may be available here.

Correct display of the language in song titles in both iTunes and on the iPod depends on the language being properly encoded and identified in the ID3 tags of the song. If it isn't working right, you can try to fix the tags. These docs give some info on doing this:

Article 25293
Article 88186

Programs that may be useful for fixing certain tags are Unicode Rewriter and ID3Mod. For Windows problems with Chinese/Japanese, look for the program ConvertZ.

If fixing the tags doesn't do the trick, the only alternative is to type titles in manually. If iTunes crashes when you edit ID3 tags, try removing any Visual plug-ins.

WinXP/2000, unlike OS X, does not have all languages enabled by default. Instructions for enabling Asian languages in Windows can be found here and here. In Win Vista, all languages and scripts are enabled out of the box.

If iTunes for Mac suddenly starts looking like it is in Hebrew instead of English, get rid of any copies of Lucida Grande.ttf (not the .dfont) located in Library/Fonts or Home/Library/Fonts.

If an iPod has its menus in the wrong language, you can change them to another one by going to Main Menu > Settings > Language or by doing a Reset. Doing a Restore may also work, but it will erase the contents of the iPod.

iTunes localizations are currently (version 7) available in Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish. Here is info on changing the display language for iTunes (and the iTunes store).

You cannot buy music from the iTunes store in another country. Because of licensing agreements you can only buy music from the store which services the billing address for your credit card. As of 11/06, iTunes stores are only available for the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Japan. If you use a multilingual store (like Canada or Belgium) and are getting it in the wrong language, you may need to do the following: While your system is set to your preferred language, use the button at the bottom of the main store page to change to a store in another country, then change back to your own country.

Correct display of languages in iPode Notes depends on the encoding. For Western European you can use Latin-1. For others use UTF-16 or UTF-8, with a special header or a BOM on the notes files for UTF-8. For detailed info see the Encoding section of the Notes Reader Guide. To break up long texts into the 4KB segments needed for Notes, use Book2Pod or ebookhood.com. Correct display of vCards may require UTF-8 or UTF-16 encoding.

For a language translation program for the iPod, check iLingo.

Apple TV

The Apple TV uses a customized version of OS X which has somewhat different language capabilities than the full one. Localizations for the menus and dialogues (chosen at initial setup or afterwards via the Settings > Language menu) are English, Danish, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Finnish, French, Dutch, Russian, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish. This adds Russian but subtracts Portuguese from the 10.4 list. Regarding display (for example song titles from iTunes), this note gives a list of languages not supported, but there are no doubt others, including probably Vietnamese, Tamil, Hindi and other languages written with Indic scripts.

Non-English input (for example in Search dialogues) is apparently not yet supported.


Apple's iPhone was released in the US on June 29, 2007, and in Europe during November 2007. It is scheduled for Asia during 2008. The user interface and input in the first version are English only. Browser display works for Latin, Greek, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, but fails for Vietnamese, Arabic, Hebrew, Thai, Hindi, Tamil, and Tibetan. Presumably other apps have the same capabilities.

Firmware update 1.1.1 of Sept. 27, 2007 adds the capability to make accented Latin characters to the iPhone keyboard.

Firmware update 1.1.2 of Nov. 9, 2007 adds a user interface in French, German, and Italian, plus keyboards and predictive typing for UK, French, German, and Italian. Firmware update 1.1.3 of January 15, 2008 does not appear to add any new language inputs.

Online virtual keyboards are available which will let you send emails in Greek, Russian, Japanese, and Korean.

A test webpage for browser functionality can be found here.

iPod Touch

Apple's iPod Touch was released wordwide on Sept. 28, 2007, and is a kind of iPhone without the phone. According to the tech specs, the user interface is localized in English, French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Russian, and Polish. Keyboard input (only English in the iPhone) adds French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, and Portuguese. Dictionaries for predictive typing are available for English, UK English, French, and German. Whether additional languages are supported for web browsing and song info display is not known yet.

A test webpage for browser functionality can be found here.


Traditionally computer systems could deal with only a limited number of distinct characters at once. Handling diverse languages meant remapping the same 256 codes to different characters for each one, using a font specifically designed for it. Successful communication over the internet sometimes required synchronizing the fonts at each end and translating among a couple dozen mutually incompatible character set standards, a list of which you can find in the "character encoding menu" of any browser or email program.

The development of Unicode, which is the agreed international standard for the unique encoding of all the characters used in different languages, changes this situation radically for the better. By creating a single character set that covers all scripts, Unicode allows the reading and writing of texts in any language, or the simultaneous display of many languages, without changing encodings and fonts. It should eventually become the common basis for text processing across all platforms and programs.

The basic principle of Unicode is to assign a unique number (usually expressed in hexadecimal form) to every character. 1.1 million "codepoints" have been allocated for this purpose, divided among 17 "planes" with about 65,000 characters each. All characters in common use have been assigned to Plane 0, also known as the Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP), and some others have been placed into Planes 1, 2, and 14, as part of an ongoing process. Under the current version, Unicode 5.0, just over 99,000 characters have been allocated (plus 136,000 codepoints reserved for private use), and another 90 or so scripts are in the pipeline under consideration by various committees. For further information see the Roadmap to Unicode and Michael Everson's Paper Leaks in the Unicode Pipeline.

In practice Unicode data is represented by one of several possible "transformation formats," or UTF's. There are two common ones, UTF-16 and UTF-8. However, only UTF-8 is normally used over the internet. Unfortunately some Mac programs use the word Unicode in their encoding menus to mean UTF-16, so users need to watch out for this and specifically select UTF-8 when dealing with Unicode web pages and email. (Email also often has an additional "content transfer encoding," either "base64" or "printed-quotable," which is not related to language or character set issues.) Here is a summary of some UTF details.

Mac OS X has full Unicode support. Starting with 10.1, with appropriate fonts intalled, TextEdit can read characters in Unicode Planes 1 through 16, in addition to the usual Plane 0. The Unicode Hex Input system can also type characters from Planes 1 and above if you know the pair of 4-digit Hex "surrogates" which represent them (just input the two sequences in succession.) The same range of characters can be copy/pasted from the Character Palette. Custom keyboards, based on XML text files, can be created to access and input any desired set of Unicode characters.

OmniWeb 4.2 and higher, Opera 6, Safari, and Mozilla can display characters beyond the BMP in UTF-8. Safari, OmniWeb and Opera 6 can read such characters (assuming the font for them is installed) if a web page is encoded in UTF-16. An example is at Tex Texin's Unicode Examples Page.

One way to find the surrogate pairs for a given character code (or the character represented by a pair of surrogates) is to use Michael Kaplan's UTF-32 to 16 Translator.

A beta test font for Plane 1 and some other areas (planes 0 and 15) is Code2001, which contains characters for Old Persian Cuneiform, Deseret, Tengwar, Cirth, Old Italic, Gothic, Aegean Numbers, Cypriot Syllabary, Pollard Script, and Ugaritic.

The Hiragino Japanese font in OS X includes a small number of characters in Unicode Plane 2, (including about 300 from JIS X 0213) which can be accessed via the JLK character palette or the Unicode Hex Input keyboard (and some are in the phonetic input dictionary as well). A much more complete font for Plane 2 is Simsun (Founder Extended), which comes with MS Office XP and includes 37,000 Chinese Mainland, HKSAR, and Taiwan characters (in addition to another 28,000 Chinese and many western language characters from Plane 0). Info on its contents can be found here. The font HannomH also has wide coverage.

To see what Unicode characters are available on your system, a good utility is UnicodeChecker. It covers all 17 Unicode planes, can be searched by character block or name, and characters can be copy/pasted into TextEdit. This program also provides various useful items in the Services menu, including conversion between Unicode and HTML entities. To convert between various encodings, a good program is Cyclone.

The sort order of filenames in OS X is based on a Unicode system. The full list can be found here, and the Apple modifications are here and here. Numbers come before Latin and Greek comes after.

In OS X, Symbol and Zapf Dingbat characters are also produced using Unicode fonts, so that special keyboards (10.1) or the Character Palette (10.2) need to be activated in order to type them (you cannot just select the font as was possible in OS 9). This is explained in TIL 106731. If you need Wingdings-like symbols, use the Webdings font and look in the Unicode Private Use range in the Character Palette.

For codepoints in the Unicode Private Use Area (PUA) used by Apple, see this page.

For info on Unicode and AppleScript, see here.

The ability of applications to use OS X's excellent Unicode support varies widely. Cocoa programs like TextEdit are normally "Unicode-savvy": They can accept Unicode input via keyboard or copy/paste, and save and open Unicode text. Carbon programs are usually only "Unicode-aware" and lack key features. For example, Word X does not accept direct Unicode input, but it can save text as UTF-16 and HTML as UTF-8 (although it can only open the latter). Some Carbon programs, including AppleWorks, and almost all Classic programs, are "Unicode-deaf" and can neither input, save, nor open Unicode text.

Trouble-Shooting Language Problems

1. OS X - Can't Type Language X in Word or InDesign: MS and Adobe apps cannot handle some languages which other OS X apps can, such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Hindi. There is a special version of Adobe stuff for Arabic/Hebrew, however.

2. OS X - Can't Read Language X in My iPod, Apple TV, or iPhone: These products do not cover as many languages as OS X does. Check their tech specs or here for information.

3. OS X - I put Language X at the Top of the List, but the OS and App Y Didn't Change: There are over 100 languages on the list in System Preferences/International/Language, but OS X only comes in 15 localizations and some apps have fewer or none. See the OS X tech specs.

4. OS X - I Switched to the Font for Language X, but Can Only Type English: In a Unicode system like OS X, you switch keyboard layouts rather than fonts. Go to system preferences/international/input menu and check the box for the language you want, plus the box for "show input menu in Finder," then select the language in the "flag" menu at the top right of the Finder, and type. The font will take care of itself.

5. OS X - Can't Read Language X in iTunes Song Titles, etc: The ID3 tags need to be correctly encoded (Unicode) for proper display. Also you need a font for the language installed. See here.

6. OS X - Can't Find KeyCaps Utility: This is now the Keyboard Viewer Palette and is activated in the System Prefs/International/Input Menu pane and then selected from the "Flag" menu. If you obtain KeyCaps from an older version of OS X it should also function.

7. OS X - Can't See How to Make Letters With Accents: See this note for a chart of the keyboard combos for doing this.

8. OS X - I Get an Accented E When I Type ?: Somehow the Canadian French CSA keyboard has been activated. Go to System Prefs/International/Input Menu and change the selection to U.S.

9. OS X - Arabic Disconnected in Safari or Other Apps: You need to disable Windows Arabic fonts. See the Browser Issues section of this note.

10. OS X - Recipients Can't Read Your Japanese: To make sure Mail uses ISO-2022-JP for its encoding of Japanese email, important so it can be read correctly on cellphones, open Terminal and type: defaults write com.apple.mail NSPreferredMailCharset "ISO-2022-JP" Or set manually in Message > Text Encoding before sending each message.

11. OS X - Missing Encodings in Mail (Message > Text Encoding): Add language to list in system prefs/international/languages using the Edit button.

12. OS X - Recipients see Chinese in my mail: See this note.

13. OS X - Foreign Language Posts in Forums Become Question Marks: Use FireFox instead of Safari.

14. OS X - iTunes Suddenly All in Hebrew: Get rid of the font Lucida Grande.ttf (NOT Lucida Grande.dfont).

15. OS X - Can't Type Accented Characters Like I Always Did in Windows: Mac's use the Option key to access various accent dead keys. For a simple keyboard that works like the Windows US International, try this one.

16. OS X - Display Is Gibberish, Looks Like Chinese, Greek, or Russian, Especially in Safari and Mail: Search your system for the font Helvetica Fractions or Times Phonetic, or either with CYR in their name, and try removing them.

17. OS X - Don't Know How To Install a New Keyboard Layout: Put the .keylayout file in Home/Library/Keyboard Layouts, logout/login, check its box in system preferences/international/input menu (plus the box for "show input menu in Finder"), then select the layout in the "flag" menu at the top right of the finder.

18. OS X - Can't Find Pencil Menus For Asian Language Input Kits: These are now in the "Flag" menu.

19. OS X - Cherokee and Inuktitut Keyboards Don't Seem To Work: You have to activate Caps Lock for these keyboards to generate the expected non-Roman characters.

20. OS X - Tamil Keyboards Don't Show Up In Keyboard Viewer: For some info see this note.

21. OS X - Unicode Keyboards Grayed Out in Adobe CS Apps: Try repairing permissions.

22. OS X - Unicode Keyboards Don't Function in Unicode Apps: Try unchecking all boxes in system prefs/international/input menu, restarting, and rechecking the boxes you need.

23. OS X - Can't Input Japanese with Dvorak, AZERTY, etc: Select the keyboard you want to use in the Kotoeri Preferences (at bottom of "flag" menu), first tab, last item.

24. OS X - Japanese Keyboard Behaves like US, or US Keyboard Behaves like Japanese JIS: Try Resetting the PMU.

25. OS X - Kotoeri Preferences Won't Appear: Install the Japanese system language files.

26. OS X - Chinese TCIM Pinyin Doesn't Show All Characters: Use Hanin instead. See this article.

27. OS X - Japanese Input Doesn't Work Right in Java Aplets: Try using Tab instead of Return to end a word.

28. OSX - Japanese IM won't work unless you have OS set to Japanese: See this note.

29. OS X - Can't Type S-Comma with Romanian Keyboard: The S-Comma only works with ISO hardware keyboards sold in Europe. Download an alternative Romanian keyboard here.

30. OS X - Macedonian Keyboard Has Wrong Character: Download an alternative Macedonianz keyboard here.

31. OS X - System Language is set to Y, but Folder Names Are Still In English: Try going to Finder Preferences/Advanced and unchecking the box "Show All File Extensions." If not enough folders change to what you want, try opening Terminal, make sure you are in the directory containing the folder in question, and for any non-localized folder type "touch Nameoffolder/.localized".

32. OS X - Finder Broken After Changing System Language: Open Terminal and type command "defaults write -g AppleLanguages -array en"

33. OS X - Can't Change Localization of App Without Changing System Language: Try opening Terminal and typing "defaults write filename AppleLanguages -array ja," where "filename" is the .plist file for the app and "ja" is the code for the language desired (ja = Japanese).

34. OS X - Character Palette Keeps Popping Up When I Don't Want It: See this article. (Trash the com.apple.HIToolbox .plist in Users/username/Library/Preferences/ByHost/)

35. OS X - Keyboard Keeps Switching Every Time I Change Apps: Try going to Input Menu pane in System Prefs/International and checking "Use One Input Source in All Documents."

36. OS X - I Use ATOK For Japanese But Kotoeri Won't Go Away: See this article.

37. OS X - Kana/Kanji Conversion Has Stopped Working in Japanese IM: See this article.

38. OS X - Keyboard Choice in Preferences Won't Stick: Try disabling automatic login, then logging in as Root and resetting your keyboard there. Also try cleaning your System and User caches with Cocktail or OnyX or Tiger CacheCleaner. Also try trashing com.apple.HIToolbox.plist in both system and user preferences.

39. OS X - OS 9 Asian-Script File Names Are Mangled: A possible fix for this is Apple's File Name Encoding Repair Utility. Ignore the message which says it has not installed and find it in Applications/Utilities.

40. OS X - Character, Kana, Keyboard Viewer, or Input Mode Palette Misbehaving: Try trashing the file Users/username/Library/Preferences/com.apple.X.plist belonging to the application causing trouble.

41. OS X - Can't Type Correct Romanian in Word: See this note.

42. OS X - Missing Letters on Vietnamese Web Pages: See this note.

43. OS X - Can't Type Foreign Characters in Terminal: See this note.

44. OS X - Can't Do Japanese in Lotus Notes: See this note.

45. OS X - Mozilla/Netscape/FireFox Can't Read Thai: Probably a Mozilla bug. Easiest fix is to remove the Thonburi and Krungthep fonts.

46. OS X - Can't Copy/Paste Language X from Browser Y Into Program Z: Try using Firefox instead of browser Y. Try using TextEdit instead of Program Z. Try pasting into TextEdit, changing to Rich Text, and then copy/pasting into Program Z.

47. OS X - My Username Is In Asian Characters Instead of What It Should Be: Try adding a new user so that you have an odd number of them, or change the names of all your users so they begin with different letters.

50. General - My Foreign Language Web Page is Fine Locally But Garbage on the Server: Make sure the FTP or other program you use to upload the page is set to the same encoding as your page. Make sure the server is not set to force browsers to use an encoding different than that of your page.

Other Resources by Topic and Language

By Topic

Fonts (Commercial)

Linguist's Software
XenoType Technologies

Fonts (Non-Commercial)

Everson Mono Unicode
Galilee Unicode
New Athena Unicode
Behnam's Fonts
Doulos SIL
Charis SIL
Titus Cyberbit
Everson's Worldscript Utilities
Dejavu Fonts
Yamada Font Archive

Font Tools

Apple Font Tools
AAT Instructions


Vadim"s Multilingual Mac Forums
A. Prilop's Multilingual Macintosh Resources Pages

Language Learning

Audio Forum: The Language Source
Schoenhof's Foreign Books
Cheng and Tsui Books



Newspapers Online

Yahoo Newspaper List

Reference Books

Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems (Coulmas)
World's Major Languages (Comrie)
World's Writing Systems (Daniels and Bright)


Translation Service
Translation Experts


Tom's Apple Forums User Tips
The X Lab
Apple.com Discussions

Unicode Ancient Texts

Cantilled Hebrew Bible
Sacred Texts: Koran
Sacred Texts: Greek
Perseus Digital Library: Greek

By Language

African Languages



Wazema System

Aramaic, Syriac, Assyrian

Aramaic Keyboards
Aramaic Site List


The Arabic Mac
Arabic Genie

Baltic Languages



The Chinese Mac FAQ


Coptic Culture Website

Cuneiform Scripts

Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative
Digital Hammurabi
Akkadian Language Page
Sumerian Language Page
Akkadian Sign List
Sumerian Script Example
Cuneiform Script Examples
Old Persian Test Page

Cyrillic Scripts

Мой Macintosh
Deep Apple
Cyrillic WordProcessing Solutions
Mac Cyrillic Fonts and Keyboards
Help Me Learn Church Slavonic


Manuel de Codage
Demotic Egyptian Transliteration


Georgian on the Mac

Greek (Modern)

NeuroSoft GreekTools
Hellenic Resources Network
Rainbow Computing

Greek (Ancient)

Stoa Consortium
Free Greek Tools


Israeli Macintosh Community
Hebrew on the Internet


Apple Iceland
Iceland MUG
Icelandic Resources

IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

IPA Unicode Keyboard
SIL Encore Fonts (non-Unicode)
SIL Unicode Font
IPA Palette IM


Irish Fonts Page


Apple Support Forums in Japanese
Japanese for Your Mac
ErgoSoft (EGBridge, EGWord)
Justsystem (ATOK)
Goo Dictionary Widget


Nick's Kannada Font and Keyboard


Khmer Unicode FAQ


Patchman's Patches (Hangul for various programs)


JGLao Font
Saysettha Unicode Font


Tom's Manchu Test Page
Andrew's Mongolian Test Page
Andrew's Manchu Test Page
Lingua Mongolia

Myanmar (Burmese)

Myanmar Unicode & NLP Research Center
Myanmar Fonts


Navajo on the Web

Norse (Old)

Old Norse Language
Old Norse for Beginners
Arild Hauge's Runes


Iranian Mac User Group


Romanian Academic Keyboard


Sanskrit Test/Info Page


Jason Cox's Taiwanese Page


Nick's Telugu Font

Tengwar, Cirth, and other Tolkien Languages

UTF-8 Tengwar Test Page
UTF-8 Cirth Test Page


Thai Mac Club
Apple Thailand


OS 9 Tibetan Language Kit
Nitartha Tibetan Software
Tibetan Test Page
XenoType Tibetan Language Kit
D. McCreedy's Tibetan Fonts Page
uTibetan Font


Turkish Fonts and Computing
Bilkom (Apple Turkey)
Ottoman Text Projects


Nom Preservation Foundation
Mojikyo (Chu Nom Script)


Mac OS 10 Yiddish Computing
Copyright 2000,2007 by Thomas H. Gewecke