The multilingual-unfriendly iBooks Author

Now that the First Cycle of my Minigrooves project is over, the next step is producing an ebook with the first 42 short stories and making it available on the most popular ebook outlets. Since it’d be nice to have it on the iBookstore as well, I thought I’d give iBooks Author a try. I was looking forward to it, actually. When this application was first released last January, I was intrigued and immediately started exploring it to see if it was a viable solution for editing and publishing my writings. My authoring needs are rather simple, since I only have text and the occasional picture to handle — nothing spectacularly intricate. After a general overview of iBooks Author’s features and interface, and after playing with default templates and creating some sample material, I decided it was a good-enough solution, and certainly felt less-overkill than Adobe InDesign CS3.

Yesterday I finally got to work on the Minigrooves ebook, so I launched iBooks Author and chose a simple template to begin with. As soon as I imported the text of the first two short stories, though, I noticed that almost every word was underlined in red. It’s what happens when the option of ‘checking spelling as you type’ is active and, in this case, when the text is in a language that’s not recognised by the Spelling and Grammar dictionary. “Oh well,” I thought, “I guess that, since I have Italian as my system-wide preferred language, iBooks Author is defaulting to Italian as its Spelling and Grammar preference. Let me go to Edit > Spelling > Spelling… and change the setting to use the Multilingual option (aka ‘Automatic by Language’)”.

But there isn’t one:

iBooks Author spelling panel

Strange, because TextEdit, the humble word processor integrated in Mac OS X, offers that option:

Textedit spelling panel

In the drop-down menu at the bottom of the panel, you can choose a single language or have the handy ‘Automatic by Language’ option handle your multilingual needs:

Textedit languages menu

Which means that whatever language you’re typing in (and in my case it may be Italian, English, Spanish and a bit of French every now and then), the Spelling and Grammar engine will recognise it and offer its services accordingly. Also: if you select ‘Open Text Preferences…’ from that drop-down menu, you’ll be taken to the Text section of the Language & Text preference pane in System Preferences, and you’ll see that you can set the ‘Automatic by Language’ Spelling option to work system-wide from here.

But iBooks Author works differently. At first I thought the application was so dumb that I had to change the language preference for the whole OS X to have iBooks Author recognise the language of the text I was working on. After a bit of research, however, I discovered that fortunately I could switch languages from inside the application, so that the Spelling and Grammar engine is aware that the book I’m trying to assemble is not in Italian. There’s a bit of digging involved, though. You have to open the Inspector, go to the Document tab, click the Document subsection, and set the book language from the Language drop-down menu:

iBooks Author language menu

I still find this solution a poor implementation, though, for two reasons:

  1. First, I don’t understand why iBooks Author has to behave differently from other OS X applications in this regard. There would be much more consistency if iBooks Author employed the same Spelling and Grammar panel as TextEdit and other text-handling OS X applications (MarsEdit, BBEdit and TextWrangler, to name the first three off the top of my head). Instead, iBooks Author works like the other exception, Pages. But even Pages lets you choose a Multilingual option. (In Pages’ Inspector, go to Text > More, and in the Language drop-down menu select ‘All’)
  2. It’s a poor implementation also because, despite letting you switch languages, it doesn’t offer a true Multilingual option. As I mentioned above, even Pages, which ignores the system-wide ‘Automatic by Language’ Spelling option, at least offers its own variant with the method described above. iBooks Author forces you to a single language. I know many people won’t see this as a huge issue, but as a translator and multilingual person, it seems to me that an application for creating (e)books should be more flexible in this department. It’s not unusual to have (e)books written in many languages (just imagine having to create a multilingual User’s Guide or Instruction Manual) and in instances like these having a versatile spelling engine is really a timesaver. I hope this will be addressed in future updates.
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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!