How to stop Microsoft Word changing your spellcheck language

Simon Jones reveals how to stop Microsoft Word's spellchecker from slipping into a foreign language

Simon Jones
15 Jan 2013

My occasional correspondent Grace, who lives in South Africa, got in touch with me recently to ask about a problem with getting Microsoft Word to spellcheck her documents: "Quite by accident I’ve discovered that a couple of my templates have the spellchecker switched off, but not everywhere. Even on my 'Minutes' template, where I have the same 'Heading 1' style in various table rows, some lines have spellchecking switched on and some off.

"I thought I had to just press Control-A to switch on the spellchecker, but this doesn’t work. Now I feel my only option is to go into every style and every line on the templates and check the spellchecker. I don’t understand how this has happened because at no time did I even go near the spellchecker. I admit that I brought across boilerplate text from old templates, but I’ve never come across this problem before. I now feel that I must check all 13 templates – some have five sections before the document starts. Have you any suggestions how to fix this before I undertake this task?"

Word takes its default language from the PC’s locale settings in Control Panel

I suggested Grace check the language settings for her documents. Some words or paragraphs might have slipped into another language for which she doesn’t have a dictionary installed, which would disable spellchecking in those areas.

It might also be an idea to try selecting the whole document and changing the language to, say, Italian and then back to English and then unselecting the "Do not check spelling or grammar" checkbox at the same time. Remember that the checkbox has three states: unticked (will check spelling); ticked (won’t check); and solid (mixed setting – some areas will be checked and others won’t).

Another thought that occurred to me was that "Do not check spelling" can be applied to a style (a character, paragraph or linked style), which Grace might have done by accident. It’s easily done if you manually apply this setting to some text and then later use the "Update Style to Match Selection" command. Unsetting "Do not check spelling" across the whole document should override any settings in the styles, but if those styles are complex – particularly in the way they’re linked together (one style based on another, which is based on yet another) – this might not work properly. I suggested Grace check all her styles to see whether any had the “Do not check spelling” property set.

She replied that she’d checked them all and some did have the "Do not check spelling" property set, which she has removed. Correcting those styles and changing the language and spellcheck settings twice seemed to have cured this problem.

However, she had also found that some parts of her documents were in English (South Africa) and some parts in English (UK), and while she could change the language of any text in the document, she’d tried to choose English (UK) as the default language but couldn’t get Word to start in that language. She was wondering whether this was the right decision.

Word takes its default language from the PC’s locale settings in Control Panel, and there are details on this available in the online help for Word. I don’t know what all the differences are between the en-ZA, "English (South Africa)", and en-GB, "English (UK)" locales or the Office dictionaries to know whether Grace ought to switch, but I did point out that if she switched her PC to en-GB then she’d definitely get the wrong currency symbol for a start, and would then have to manually alter that setting. I recommended that she stick with en-ZA for everything, which is how Windows and Office are designed to work.

I’d be very tempted to remove any other language and keyboard settings from Windows, so that it was using only en-ZA, unless I really needed to use another language. These suggestions apply to anyone who has multiple languages installed on their computer, even if they’re just variants of the same language such as English (US) and English (UK). If you don’t actually use the other language, remove it from your PC using Control Panel – it might make life so much easier.

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