Mind your language – setting your Word default to UK English

This entry was posted on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 7:41 PM

Making sure the language default in Word, or Pages if you’re a Mac user, is set for UK English isn’t about being patriotic.  It’s about writing for your audience. If I were writing for an American audience, I would expect to use American spellings.  So if you want to know how to eliminate those ‘z’s and other peculiar spellings.

Keith Gravell of Cambridge Web Projects knows Microsoft products inside out. And unlike me, he doesn’t see Microsoft as the ‘Evil Empire’.  So I emailed him for advice.

Straight away, he told me something I didn’t know (not difficult!). Apparently, the language is set separately for each document.

That means you can set your computer, and Word, to UK English, but if you get a document from someone who hasn’t done this, their US default will override your UK setting.

It doesn’t make any sense to me. I would expect my computer’s settings to dominate, but that’s Microsoft for you I guess. (Stop it Elaine. They’re not evil dictators. Really they’re not).

Because there are now so many versions of Microsoft Office in use, the best thing to do is go to the Help menu in your version of Word. Or click here to find out more about managing languages.

Detect language automatically feature

Word does have its good points (ouch that did hurt). Keith told me that, Word 2007 has a detect language automatically feature. So if you start typing in any language you’ve set before, within a few words, it will switch automatically to that language.

He told me, “I’ve set Word to UK English, but if I type five or six words in French (which I also use), Word will switch to that language automatically.

“It doesn’t work immediately for pasted-in text – you have to start typing in a language to trigger the change.”

Here’s a Microsoft article on how to set the detect language automatically feature in Word 2007.

And here’s how to do it in Word 2003

Setting the language in style templates

And there’s more.  You can also set the language in each of Word’s built-in styles. The steps below apply to Word 2003, and certainly to Word 2007 for Mac. The standard document template in this version is Normal.doc or Normal.

To change the language for this template:

Click this and the choices will be displayed.

As Keith says, “It may be a pain having to set language choice at both machine and style sheet level within Word. However it does mean you can easily switch between languages or dialects when writing for two markets  – particularly useful if you have a US market.”

It’s all a lot more complex than I think it ought to be but I hope this helps a little.

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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. And speaking of useful - scroll down and take a look at the Oxford Dictionaries tool.

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