Simultaneously use two languages in one document

Hi all,
I’ve decided to try LibreOffice for the first time tonight. I use Word to type documents containing 2 languages - Irish and English.

I’d like to be able to have spellcheck auto check the whole document without having to manually decide between which language to use. I don’t have defined paragraphs in the languages… as a teacher I have both languages dispersed throughout the documents and manually switching isnt an option.

I have added a dictionary extension as per the instructions (Gaelspell) but there is no option for me to combine this with English UK from what I can see. I only have the English US option to tick under English UK.

The desired outcome (as I have with word) is to write the document and have the software checking the words in realtime and only underlining them if they don’t appear in either the English or Irish dictionaries. Can someone guide me towards achieving that?

Im using a Mac with


For that outcome, your text must be tagged with a language property. This is done through “styling”.

For whole paragraphs in one language, define their own Text Body paragraph style. You can keep the original one for the preponderant language. In the Font tab of the style definition (displayed after F11, then right-click Modify...), set the assigned language to English (UK). Then define a derived style with right-click New.... Give it name Text Body (Irish) in the Organizer tab; set language to Irish (if it is available) in the Font tab.

You can now give the appropriate style to the paragraphs.

For words in the alternate language in paragraphs, you must define character styles. In the Styles and Formatting floating window (F11), click on the second left small icon (the one with an a) to display the list of character styles. Right click on Default Style New.... Name it English or Irish in the Organizer tab. Set language in the Font tab.

When needed, set the character style to the alternate language to type the word or sequences of words, then reset the character style to Default Style to revert to the original language.

If you are editing, double-click (or select) a word, give it the desired character style.

Note about English (UK):

The UK-English language pack is not part of the default instalation. See question Q60659 or Q59898. You must manually load it.

Note about Irish dictionary:

In case the language does not show up (I have never tried to add a custom dictionary), you can selectively disable spellchecking by selecting language None in the Font tab.

If this helps then please tick the answer (:heavy_check_mark:)
…and/or show you like it with an uptick (∧)

In both OpenOffice and LibreOffice, the problem of spellchecking multiple languages within the same document has been there since day one (StarOffice) and I cannot understand why it’s not been fixed (it’s an infuriating irritation and has annoyed many of us users for years).

The problem is so bad that my pragmatic solution is to cut the text out of LibO and paste it into Microsoft Word where it’s checked and corrected, then when finished I paste it back into LibO.

If you think about it, this is an absolutely ridiculous situation. LibO’s developers have known about this problem from old [others and I raised the matter years ago] but they’ve chosen to do nothing about it. One can only assume that they take precious little notice of complaints from within these posts and or they consider fixing such a basic and prosaic LibO design limitation as too demeaning or unimportant for them to bother with.

In essence, the whole spelling/dictionary matter is a mess. Leaving aside the separate but related problems of grossly outdated dictionaries, dictionary engines with horrible and inadequate pattern recognition and the lack of any half-reasonable grammar checker, the installation and management of dictionaries per se is so bad that I know of organizations that have ditched LibO completely and returned to MSO just on that matter alone!

Even in the new version 6, many issues need addressing but here I’ll keep the focus narrowly on just one aspect of the spellchecking subsystem. It’s best to illustrate with an example (the one that brought me here looking for a quick fix, which I’ve failed so far to find).

First, the environment: the new LibreOffice 6.0 running on Windows 7 (but it’s immaterial, as all past versions have been the same—same with Linux versions too).

A shortened version of the problem:

I often write documents that contain more than one language within them, and as I’m not a fully proficient speller in my second languages, I require LibreOffice to recognize spelling errors and correct them within these ‘foreign’ text sections.

Here are the LibO 6 setup conditions for my problem:

Default UI: en_US; Default Locale: en_AU; Default Docs: en_AU; 2nd language: de_DE (German).

Installed dictionaries: en (English, all - US, AU, GB, etc.—latest Marco Pinto); de_DE (German); Fr and Es also installed but not used here.

  1. Start by writing in English.

  2. Then change to writing in German, then set (flag) that section as ‘German’ by highlighting it, then selecting the German language in Styles (why Language is hidden in Styles is of itself a $64,000 question.)

  3. Then proceed to see if the second language speller (de_DE) is actually working by deliberately misspelling common words in the 2nd language (from long experience, one must always do this with LibO, it’s too risky to just assume it works—invariably it doesn’t).

  4. The test failed (you’d think by version 6 it’d be fixed, wouldn’t you!). Here, the misspelt test word ‘Strassenbahnn’—a misspelling of Straßenbahn meaning ‘tram’ in English—is not detected as an error. Moreover, LibO makes no corrections or suggestions whatsoever. Actually, it says the ‘Spelling Check is Complete’ (meaning the spelling is correct when it is not).

No matter what the excuse, this is diabolically bad programming to say the least. Errors such as this should never occur in any program—irrespective of any installation mistake by the user. If there is actual text within the selection to be checked then it should pull up an actual dictionary even if it is an incorrect one. Here, we know that LibreOffice cannot have actually selected any dictionary—not even the default English one—because it failed to detect a word that is misspelt in every language! Bottom line: there was NO error message when something was clearly, blatantly, wrong!

Moving on….

  1. Ensuring the German text is highlighted, I go to ‘Tools’|Spelling’ then select ‘German’ from the list of languages (all this additional mucking about ought to be unnecessary).

  2. LibreOffice then finally tries to correct the incorrect German spelling but gets it wildly wrong. ‘Strassenbahnn’ is not corrected to Straßenbahn, instead the correction LibO finds is word ‘Vennbahntrassen’ (a compound word that’s not even close and which not even Google can Translate (I vaguely know the meaning but that’s another matter).

Note: This illustrates my earlier point about the pattern recognition algorithms within the LibreOffice speller being of very poor quality.

In summary, to put it bluntly, alone—just in this small section of the spelling subsystem in LibreOffice—there are two problematic matters that should have been fixed ages ago. First, is the horribly confusing ergonomics associated with the spelling subsystem, and second, the diabolical bug that says the text spelling is correct when the speller doesn’t even check it. I’m almost lost for words over such a huge bug!

From a user’s perspective there’s seems to have been precious little ergonomic design gone into LibreOffice—for example there’s no proper context-sensitive help. These matters ought to addressed ASAP. Perhaps specialists in ergonomics rather than programmers ought to head the design process. (This is not to say that LibO is alone or that MS is much better, that horrible Ribbon in MS Office ensures that many users grudgingly still persist with LibO.)

The Document Foundation ought to take these periphery issues seriously. When we’ve such important opensource software that’s been flaky for years and still remains unfixed, then it’s little wonder that cities like Munich are prepared to cut their losses and flee from opensource back to Microsoft. Everyone, in the opensource movement ought consider this a tragedy.

the problem of spellchecking multiple languages

And what is that problem? I see none really, see my answer to the original question.

set (flag) that section as ‘German’ by highlighting it, then selecting the German language

Tip: first, try the language selector in the status bar

misspelt test word ‘Strassenbahnn’ … is not detected as an error.

  1. Created a blank text document.
  2. Pasted Strassenbahnn.
  3. Defined German (Germany) as the language for the above word.
  4. The word is detected as misspelled, four correction options are suggested (however, Straßenbahn is not among the suggestions).

Using LO on MS Windows 7, DE-Frami German spellcheck extension.

misspelt test word ‘Strassenbahnn’ … is not detected as an error.

  1. Created a blank text document.
  2. Pasted Strassenbahnn.
  3. Defined German (Germany) as the language for the above word.
  4. The word is detected as misspelled, four correction options are suggested (however, Straßenbahn is not among the suggestions).

Using LO on MS Windows 7, DE-Frami German spellcheck extension.

@gabix: in “modern” German spelling, ß is dropped in favor of ss. This may be the reason for not finding Straßenbahn.

The respective Wikipedia article is Straßenbahn. As I understand, that ß-less spelling is not fully adopted neither in Germany, nor in Austria.

Nonetheless, what I wanted to say is that spellcheck generally works perfect in LibreOffice (when you use direct language formatting or styles, both solutions are fine). Particular dictionaries may, yes, have flaws. And I still don’t, really don’t understand what’s the problem.

Since the dictionaries are free and available, it should be reasonably easy to fork them into one with and without ß?

Perhaps the community could be used to improve the dictionaries, by adding a ‘upload word’ button to the spell correction box? Or (opt-in) prompt users once a month to review their custom words if they want to upload some of them.
Then on the backend, they could be counted and forwarded to the different dictionary communities.
And a plugin/sign-in to send advanced corrections?

I routinely create and edit documents in two and even more languages (English, Russian, German, Belarusian, Spanish, French, Esperanto, Portuguese and more in various combinations). I don’t see any problem because LibreOffice automatically switches the text language when I switch the keyboard layout. This works fine with openSUSE Linux and Microsoft Windows. So, perhaps the problem is specific to Mac? Then just use a good operating system! Or, maybe, Irish? I have never had a need to use this language.

So do I, no problem. My workflow is diferent from yours: I don’t switch keyboard layout, just select the adequate paragraph/character (custom) styles to avoid as much as possible direct formatting. Works like a charm.

As far as I know, you have to switch the layouts when you need both English and Irish, as Irish uses extra characters as compared to English.

The need for extra characters is the only reason to switch layouts. I chose to customise keyboard disposition (which is relatively easy under Linux) because I was not satisfied with built-ins, notably because most 2nd or 3rd modifier alternatives are based on US-English visual similarities not corrected for effective locale keyboard. I also extended the set of available characters to cover all of Latin-base, Latin-supplement and most of Latin-extension A in a single layout.

I use Linux mint and Ubuntu. The spellcheking language does not change automatically, when I change keyboard layouts.

I have to use a combined English and Greek dictionary and Mark everything as Greek to get combined spellcheking (of course this only works for these two languages.

I often write English words withing Greek text (IT terminology mostly) and it is virtually impossible to mark the language of every word manually). We have said this time and again, but nothing happens. Amazingly enough WPS Office supports such a feature!