Computers and Languages

28 Mar 2011

So, I’m trying to learn French. What better way to pick up certain keywords and phrases than a trial-by-fire? That is, setting my computer’s settings (something I use pretty much all the time) to French and then trying to get through my normal, everyday life forced to practice French.

I’m gonna break this post down into two sections; webpages and programs, and it will hopefully provide some insight into how well, and how commonly used software handles a change in language.

Web Pages


Possibly one of the easiest sites to change language on, it’s a simple option in your user preferences page, and while there’s nothing really special with the way Twitter handles this change, most of the key words on a page appear in French proving an opportunity to learn some new words. Specific Twitter terms, for example, “Retweet” are still in English, but is there even a French word for that? Again, nothing flashy, but it gets the job done.


Although Facebook has come under fire for many of it’s user experience and design choices over the past few years, one area in which I think they completely nailed it is languages. Translation on Facebook is done by the users, this means that nearly everything is crowd sourced and fully translated to a great deal of accuracy, even down to the phrases, such as, “Afficher mon sexe sur mon profil” (Show gender on my profile). Quotes on walls are done correctly as well, and whilst adding your interests, search is done in French.

Overall, Facebook has really pulled out all the stops, and it makes sense. As a social networking site, language plays a big part.

Applications/Operating Systems


Changing language on OSX can’t really get much simpler, you just move French to a higher priority than English, restart and you’re done. As well as the standard keyword and phrase translations for the OS , default applications (iLife, Finder, Preview, etc) are fully translated, so are folder names in your home directory. After that, it really comes down to each application. Chrome will automatically change to French and so will other programs, such as Adium, Spotify and Gimp. Some of the programs that I found either didn’t support French or didn’t automatically switch are; Office 2011 and Twitter for Mac.

One area that OSX seems to be lacking, for some reason, is day and month names. Both iCal and the top bar use English names for days and names.

Windows 7

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to test using French on Windows. It comes down to not being able to change the language unless you have Ultimate (I have professional). I do, however, hope to get a copy of Windows 7 in French in order to see what it’s like and how it does.


Possibly one of the best programs for the polyglot gamer. Altering your language on Steam not only changes the applications language, but checks if any of your games support French. If so, it automatically downloads the correct language pack with zero hassle at all. I haven’t had much chance to test the games that do support French, but I do know that Left 4 Dead 2 does (very well in fact) and so does Mass Effect 1 and 2.

I still have a number of programs and sites to change language on, but so far my experience has been pretty good. Sometimes I get lost and have to look something up (which leads to me actually learning something!) and sometimes I am driven by almost a muscle reflex, showing how much of an applications UI we actually read once we are familiar with it.

I still want to try out Windows 7 in French, and when I have access to my Linux machine again, I am definitely going to try that one out and I will also be switching the language on my phone soon too. Until then, I continue learning French, one word at a time.