How to revert a language change in OS X

If the OS X system language changes to one you don't understand, you may have to navigate to the system preferences and revert the changes by using visual landmarks.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
2 min read

OS X is localized to a number of languages, and with a few settings changes, you can set the OS interface -- as well as many programs -- to display in a different language. This is handy for multilingual types, but if you have inadvertently changed it to a language you do not understand, you might find it quite difficult to revert.

Fortunately, while the languages change, the layout still stays essentially the same. To switch back to your preferred language, you will need to follow these steps:

First go to the system preferences by opening the Apple menu and selecting the fourth menu item (it should be immediately under the first separator bar).

System preferences location in the Apple menu
The system preferences are the fourth item down from the top in recent versions of OS X. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

Next, select the Language & Text system preferences, which looks like a blue United Nations flag and should be in the top row and fifth from the left in Mountain Lion (its positioning may be slightly different in other versions of OS X).

Language and Text system preferences
The language settings in OS X are in this system preferences pane. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

In the Language & Text system preferences, select the first tab, where you will see a lists of languages. Locate your preferred language and move it to the top of the list.

Next locate the Region tab, which may be called "Formats." In Mountain Lion this is the third tab in from the left, but again this may be different in other versions of OS X. An alternative way to find this is to click through the tabs sequentially until you see the one with date and time formatting options. When found, choose your preferred country from the top-most menu.

Language priority list in OS X
Drag the language of choice to the top of the list. Then go to the Region tab (pointed to here), and change the region settings to those of your selected language. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

When finished, log out and back in (or restart your computer); the system should now be in the appropriate language. You can then navigate back to the system preferences to make finer adjustments for keyboard layouts, specific date-and-time formatting, and other details regarding different language preferences.

If you are having difficulty navigating, another option is to use the OS X Terminal to clear these settings. This can be done by opening the Spotlight menu and typing "Terminal" to locate and open it, or by opening the Applications folder from the Go menu in the Finder (you can also press Shift-Command-A to do this) and then opening the Utilities menu from there. You can then locate Terminal by its icon.

OS X Terminal utility location
The OS X Terminal's icon looks like a black box with a cursor in the upper left. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

In Terminal, run the following command to delete the hidden global preferences file that holds your language settings, and then log out and log back into your user account:

defaults delete -g

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