How to configure a Chromebook for Spanish and English


These settings, extensions, and apps let you work with multiple languages on a Chromebook.

Photo: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

When you set up a Chromebook, the system prompts you to choose a language. This helps ensure that you understand the sign-in and setup prompts, since they’ll be displayed in the language you select.

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After the initial Chromebook setup, you can configure your device to support additional languages, which may be helpful for people who are either bilingual or who are learning a language. Potential changes include adjustments to your Chromebook’s language and keyboard settings, modifications to your Google account language settings, as well as the installation of Google Translate tools.

The following steps show how to add Spanish as an additional language to your Chromebook and Google account. However, the setting also may be used to add any of several supported languages and keyboards to a Chromebook.

SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download) 

How to add a language to your Chromebook

  1. Open a new browser window or tab in Chrome OS, and go to chrome://os-settings/osLanguages.
  2. Select Languages And Input.
  3. Select Add Languages. (Figure A)

Figure A

Screenshot of Chrome OS "Languages and input" settings page, with language and keyboard options displayed.

On a Chromebook, the Languages And Input settings let you add languages and input methods as well as adjust the language in which system text displays.

4. Either enter the name of a language you wish to add in the search box or scroll through the list of languages displayed. Select the checkbox to the left of each language you want to add to your Chromebook.

Some languages offer several versions. For example, if you search for Spanish, the system lets you choose to add Spanish as it is used in different countries, including Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Honduras, Latin America, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, the US, and Venezuela. You may add one or more of these options.

5. Select the Add button and the system will add support for the language to your Chromebook.
6. OPTIONAL: Select the three-dot menu to the right of any language installed on your Chromebook. That menu offers two options you may select separately:

  • Show System Text In This Language
  • Offer To Translate Pages In This Language

How to enable an international keyboard on your Chromebook

  1. Open a new browser window or tab in Chrome OS, and go to chrome://os-settings/osLanguages.
  2. Select Languages And Input.
  3. Move the slider next to Show Input Options In The Shelf to the right. (Figure A)
  4. Choose Manage Input Methods.
  5. Select the checkbox to the left of any keyboard options you wish to make available. For example, to add a keyboard that supports Spanish language input, select the checkbox to the left of US International Keyboard. 

With two keyboards enabled, you may select the input method button on the shelf, then select a keyboard option (Figure B). For example, to type in English, select the US keyboard, or, to type in Spanish, select the US international keyboard. 

Figure B

Screenshot, zoomed in to show US keyboard and US international keyboard options (with the latter selected) from the Chrome OS shelf.

With Show Input Options In The Shelf enabled, you may switch keyboards on Chrome OS with a click or tap on the input options circle, then click or tap to select the keyboard you want to use.

With the international keyboard selected, the Alt key to the right of the space bar becomes important: Hold it and select e, i, n, for example, to type é, í, or ñ (Figure C). The Alt key to the left of the space bar continues to function as a standard alt key.

Figure C

Photo with fingers on ALT key to the right of the space bar and another key about to press the e key.

With the US International keyboard enabled on a Chromebook, hold the Alt key to the right of the space bar and press e to enter an accented é. Similar controls work with í and ñ, as well. Note: The Alt key to the left of the space bar retains standard Alt functions.

For additional input options, such as for languages not easy to type with a conventional Chromebook keyboard, install the Google Input tools extension. Once added, select the extension from the extensions menu, then choose Extension Options. Select a language from the left-side Add Input Tools list, then click on the arrow to add the language as an input option in Chrome.

How to add a language to your Google account

  1. Open a new browser window or tab, and go to https://myaccount.google.com/language
  2. Select + Add Another Language (Figure D).

Figure D

Screenshot shows My Google account settings, with English as default language, and Español added as an additional language.

You may add languages you understand or modify the default language used with your Google account at myaccount.google.com/language.

3. Either enter the name of a language in the search box, then select the magnifying glass icon to search, or scroll through the list to select a language. If you search for Español, for example, you may then select a country. Press the Select button to add the language.
4. Optionally, you may select or tap the up arrow to the right of any added language to make that language the default for your Google account.

How to install the Google Translate extension

The Google Translate extension lets you select and translate specific words, sentences, or paragraphs between two languages. You need an internet connection to use the extension.

  1. In the Chrome web store, search for Google Translate. Or, use this link to the Google Translate extension.
  2. Select Add To Chrome (Figure E).

Figure E

Screenshot of Google Translate in Chrome web store, with circles around "Add to Chrome" (to install in browser), and "Get it" (to install Android app).

On many Chromebooks, you may install both the Google Translate extension and the Google Translate Android app. The Android app includes the ability to download languages to enable offline translation.

3. After the confirmation prompt displays, select Add Extension.
4. Once installed, you may select a word or sentences on a web page, then select the Google Translate icon that displays.

How to install the Google Translate Android app

For offline translation capabilities, install the Google Translate Android app on your Chromebook. You also need to download languages before you attempt offline translation. 

Note: Some older Chromebooks may not support the installation of Android apps. Similarly, an administrator may prevent the installation of apps. If you use a Google account for school or work, contact your administrator if you are unable to install Google Translate.

  1. In the Google Play Store on your Chromebook, search for Google Translate or, use this link to the Google Translate Android app, directly. Alternatively, you also may follow the Get It link, as shown in Figure E, to the Android app.
  2. Select Install.
  3. On your Chromebook, select the App Launcher button in the lower-left corner.
  4. Enter Translate in the search box, then select the Google Translate app that displays.
  5. If you have configured your Chromebook for Spanish, when you first start the Google Translate Android app, it will automatically display a prompt to download the necessary language files for offline translation. To add languages for offline use, select the three-horizontal line menu in the upper-left area of the app, then choose Offline Translation. Select the downward-pointing arrow to the right of each language you wish to translate offline.

Additionally, you also might note that Google Docs supports multiple language use. Assistive writing, initially only available for English, also now works for Spanish. The feature offers suggested words, as well as spelling and grammar correction in both English and Spanish. You may type in either language within a document, since assistive writing automatically detects the language you use. Voice typing (in a Google Doc: Tools | Voice Typing | select the drop down to choose your spoken language), which transcribes spoken words into a Google Doc, and document translation (in a Google Doc: Tools | Translate Document), which converts your entire document into another language, also aid multilingual communication.

What’s your experience?

Have you configured your Chromebook to support multiple languages? What settings, extensions, and apps do you find most helpful to enable writing, dictation, reading, and translation on your device? Add comments below or let me know on Twitter (@awolber) what additional settings or apps you find useful when working with more than one language on a Chromebook.

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