Page Content


Foreign language support is still relatively incomplete for screen readers, but here are some things that can be done. Screen readers programmed in a non-English language may be able to switch to English easier than a screen
reader designed for a U.S. audience can switch to non-English.

  1. Use language tagging to mark content as English or non-English. This ensures both accurate pronunciation in screen readers and enables foreign language spell checking.
  2. Save documents with Unicode encoding whenever possible. This will ensure that text is transferrable between systems including mobile platforms.
  3. Users on a screen reader may need to purchase foreign language extensions or install additional files.

Unicode Support for Foreign Language

Whenever possible, non-English text (including special characters such as ©, †) should be inserted as is into a document encoded in Unicode.

What is Unicode?

Unicode is an encoding standard which assigns a numeric code to all characters across multiple scripts including Greek, Cyrillic, Asian scripts, Middle Eastern scripts, ancient scripts and technical symbols.

This standard allows computers around the world to exchange data across multiple languages consistently and without need for custom fonts.

Screen Reader Support

Western European Languages

The comments below date from Aug 15, 2014.

Many screen readers including JAWS, NVDA and Apple VoiceOver include pronunciation engines for common Western European languages such as Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, the Scandinavian languages.

VoiceOver currently includes voice options for 22 languages including major Asian and Middle Eastern languages.

JAWS Beyond Western Europe

In addition to Western European language support which comes with the U.S. English version of JAWS, various international distributors have programmed non-English versions of JAWS for languages such as Russian.

JAWS Symbol File

If JAWS is unable to recognize a particular symbol in a document, you can append a Symbol File (.sbl) file which assigns plain text values to a Unicode character.

VoiceOver Adjust or Add Symbol Pronunciation

VoiceOver supports pronunciations for a wide range of technical symbols. However, you can add a symbol or adjust its pronunciation in the VoiceOver Utility in the Accessbility section of the System Preferences.

  1. Open the System Preferences. Click the Accessibility icon, then VoiceOver in the left menu.
  2. Click the Open VoiceOver Utility button, then the Pronunciation tab. This will open a set of adjusted pronunciations for symbols and phrases.
  3. Click the plus button to add a new row. Fill in the symbol in the Text column and its pronunciation in the Substitution file. Adjust other columns as needed.
  4. Enable and test in VoiceOver as needed.


NVDA appears to support switching pronunciation with LANG tag. However, its technical symbol repertoire is limited and it is not clear that there is a mechanism to expand it significantly.

Screen Readers and Non-English Voice Files

A user can download synthesized voices for languages besides English in VoiceOver, recent versions of JAWS and NVDA. Some links to download voices are listed below:

Language Tagging

See either the Language Tagging or Language Tagging in HTML to learn about tagging documents for different languages.

Top of Page