Get control of language formatting in Word

Sometimes, you know there are spelling errors in a document, and the spell check doesn't catch them. Or you get a message that spell check can't find the DLL that it needs to check a particular language, and you realize that isn't the language the document should be written in. In both cases, the text has not been formatted with the expected language. The language formatting in a document always reflects the settings of the user profile under which it was created. This means you need to change existing language formatting manually. And, if this is a document you typed on your system, then you need to check your system's language formatting. The information below describes how to work with language formatting in Word.

Set the desired default language in Windows

Since Word now takes its default language from Windows, you first have to make sure the Windows language is correctly set:

Win95, Win98, WINNT, Win2000, WinXPHome(?)

  1. START/Settings/Control panel/Keyboard/Language (or Input Locales)
  2. Choose the language you prefer and set it as the default.

If you use a different keyboard layout than the language default, click the Properties button and select your keyboard layout.


  1.  START/Settings/Control panel/Regional and Language/Languages/Details
  2. Select your default language from the list at the top.
  3. If you need a different keyboard layout, select the language in the list at the bottom, then click ADD. In the following dialog box choose a keyboard layout/IME.

Note for all versions: remove any languages and keyboard layouts that you do not intend to use.

Enable only the languages you want to use

Go to START/Programs/Microsoft Office/Microsoft Office Tools/Microsoft Office [version] Language Settings. In here, enable only the languages you intend to spell check. Enabling other languages will enable Word to switch to these languages - something you want to avoid.

Note: not available for Office 97

Set the default language in Word

Open Word; a new document should be displayed, and no text should be selected.

  1. Tools/Language/Set language
  2. Choose your language and click "Default"
    (Note: this changes the Language formatting of the Normal style in the template)
  3. If on exiting Word you are prompted to save changes to the template, say "Yes", otherwise the default setting will not "stick".

It is of the utmost importance that the Windows and Word language settings match exactly. Only then will language formatting in Word be controllable, reliable and half-way predictable.

Turn off the Auto-options

To stop Word 2000 and later versions from changing languages on you in mid-stream:

If you've used and really like these options, then leave them on. But if you start getting unpredictable language changes while editing, try turning them off.

Sometimes, the keyboard and the language will change on you, anyway, if you've more than one  keyboard layout used for one or more languages in the Control Panel. Windows allows you to assign keyboard shortcuts to language/keyboard combinations (Regional and Language Options/Languages/Details/Key Settings); probably, you've pressed such a key combination. If you don't want to use these, turn them off.

Predictable language formatting

Once you have the language formatting between Word and Windows synchronized, all new documents you create should start in your chosen language. In order to use other languages, you have a number of choices:

Note that the above points can only work if a file (whether document or template) was created on a machine with synchronized Windows and Word styles.

Language formatting in existing documents

Documents created on non-synchronized machines will always tend to revert to the Windows default of the machine on which they were created. Formatting using styles will not work, because "direct formatting" takes precedence over paragraph style formatting. And when Word applies the Windows default language to a new document when creating it, the language formatting is "direct" (at the character level).

If you receive such a document (and there are a lot of them, out there!), the stop-gap measure is to press Ctrl+A, then go to Tools/Language/Set language and choose the correct language. Note, however, that this will not affect headers, footers and some other areas that are not included in a Ctrl+A selection. These will have to be selected and formatted separately.

You'll also still have problems with the document reverting back to the "bad" language while editing. There is no way to get rid of this problem in an existing file, short of recreating the file.

  1. Make certain your machine is synchronized, as described in the first half of this article.
  2. Create a new document.
  3. Copy all but the last paragraph mark of the original document and paste it into the new document (or use Insert/File)

Another possibility is to save in RTF or HTML-Format, then go into the source code and change/remove the language formatting. At this point, the automatic language change while editing should cease. But this will not remove the manually applied language formatting already present in the document.