Stubborn Foreign Languages

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 8, 2014)

Fred describes a problem where he works with documents that he receives from users in other countries. Fred does all his work using English (US) as his document language. When he receives documents from others, he copies pieces and parts of those documents into his own documents. What he ends up with is a document in which some paragraphs are set to English (US), some to Dutch (Netherlands), and some to German. It seems that when Fred tries to select those parts of the document (or even the entire document) and set them to English (US), it doesn't work—Word still sticks with the original, source languages.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that your system is really set to use English (US) as your default language. Assuming you are using Word 2000 or a later version, you need to disable the Office capability that allows Word to try to figure out which language you are using in a paragraph. Get out of Word and start the Office Language Settings utility. (See Figure 1.) (Click Start, choose Programs, select Microsoft Office Tools, and then run Microsoft Office Language Settings.)

Figure 1. The Language Settings utility.

The utility differs a bit based on the version of Office installed on your system, but in essence you want to make sure that there are no languages selected except English (US). There should be a list of available languages shown, along with a list of languages that are enabled. Make sure that English (US) is the only one enabled, and then exit the utility. The reason you do this—set only English (US)—is because it stops Word from trying to read your mind (well, your document text) and setting the language of the paragraph based on what it thinks it should be.

Next you will want to set, within Word, English (US) as your default language. Start Word; you should have a blank document on the screen. Choose Tools | Language | Set Language to display the Language dialog box. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Language dialog box.

Make sure that English (US) is selected in the language list (it should be selected automatically) and make sure the Automatically Select Language check box is cleared. Click the Default button, then close the dialog box. If you regularly use different templates on your system, you will need to go through this same process for each template you use. (The Default button affects only the template on which the open document is based.)

Finally, if you have any existing documents that have different languages set within them, you will need to make changes to those documents. One way to do so is to use Find and Replace to change the language assigned to each paragraph:

  1. Load the document you want to modify.
  2. Press Ctrl+H. Word displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  3. Click the More button if it is available. (See Figure 3.)
  4. Figure 3. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  5. Make sure both the Find What and Replace With boxes are empty.
  6. With the insertion point in the Find What box, click No Formatting if it is available.
  7. With the insertion point in the Replace With box, click Format | Language. Word displays the Replace Language dialog box. (See Figure 4.)
  8. Figure 4. The Replace Language dialog box.

  9. Select English (US) in the dialog box.
  10. Click OK to close the Replace Language dialog box.
  11. Click Replace All.

Word should replace the language used for all instances of paragraphs in the document. If you have a lot of documents you need to change, or if you need to make the changes often, then a macro is a better approach. The following macro will step through all paragraph styles in a document and modify the language setting for each paragraph to English (US).

Sub StyleUS_English()
    Dim oStyle As Style
    Dim MyStyle As Variant

    For Each oStyle In ActiveDocument.Styles
        If oStyle.InUse = True Then
            On Error Resume Next
            With ActiveDocument.Content.Find
                .Style = oStyle.NameLocal
            End With
            MyStyle = oStyle
            'Do not modify any character styles
            If InStr(MyStyle, " Char") = 0 Then
                oStyle.LanguageID = wdEnglishUS
            End If
            On Error GoTo 0
        End If
    Next oStyle
End Sub

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (285) applies to Microsoft Word 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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