Is there a standard approach to localizing (internationalize) keyboard mnemonics?

For example, in Windows Notepad in English, if the user types Alt+E then P, the Edit menu opens and then the Paste operation is selected. Note that the E in Edit is underlined, as well as the P in Paste, which indicates to the user what the corresponding key is. This is different from the keyboard shortcut for Paste, Ctrl+V.

One approach is to change the mnemonic letters depending on the translated words, but what about non-romanized languages - that don't use ascii/qwerty characters - like Chinese or Arabic? I've seen some programs put the mnemonic after the label in parenthesis, but it doesn't seem ideal.

  • 1
    Non related to question, but please let the users select the shortcut keyword localization regardless of the general interface language choice. As a user, in Microsoft Office, I'm used to english keyboard shorcuts, but I would like to have the interface in my language (Catalan). There's no way, as I know, to do this.
    – PaRaP
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


Mnemonics don't translate well and retaining their mnemonic nature. However, that isn't a critical issue.

For example, the common ctrl(or command) + X, C, V, A, W, Q are the standard shortcut in many languages even when they have no associated mnemonic. Even in English many common shortcuts have no mnemonic link.

Consistency is significantly more important than having mnemonics for key combinations. Changing key combinations between languages to suit the best mnemonics is likely to confuse users that work in more than one language, and possibly break with already established norms.

I would typically choose English as the base language for choosing shortcuts and mnemonics, as most existing norms are based on English. Additionally, I would stick to existing norms whenever possible, as this will lower the learning curve for users, and make your app feel more intuitive. However, if your application is going to predominate in China, and you are performing actions for which there are no common combinations already, I would do what works best in Chinese.

Edit: to clarify some confusion here, I am not saying that shortcuts are mnemonics, however mnemonics are related to shortcuts. For example, if the action were 'Copy' and the shortcut where ctrl + c, then the mnemonic would be emphasising (usually underlining) the C in copy. But these are only mnemonics if there is a link between them. If the action for 'next article' is y (as it is in Gmail), there really isn't any simple mnemonic linking 'y' and 'next article', and so there is no real mental relation between the action and the shortcut other than memorising it.

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    I believe there is a difference between shortcut and mnemonics. Shortcuts (CTRL+X, +C, +V, etc.) don't translate well indeed. But mnemonics are the little underlined characters for menus and popup menus and they are called via ALT+F, +O, etc. These need to be translated because they really depend on the localized text they refer to. I guess the way to present it depends on the GUI framework being used (underlined character for roman-alphabet languages, in parenthesis mnemonic after label, etc.).
    – Padrig
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 6:35
  • @Padrig Shortcuts and mnemonics are related. I went into more detail to answer your comment in the edit to my answer.
    – JohnGB
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 10:01
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    I say the problem is we just need to fix English orthography. I'm going to start spelling vpaste with a silent v. Commented May 3, 2013 at 13:14
  • 1
    @3nafish that genuinely made me laugh. Thanks for improving my day :)
    – JohnGB
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 13:18
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    @Padrig, you are confusing terms. A mnemonic is "any learning technique that aids information retention. Mnemonics aim to translate information into a form that the human brain can retain better than its original form". In the case of 'Paste', a mnemonic would be imagining that the 'V' resembles an arrow pointing downward "into" the document.
    – JohnGB
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 13:49

I ran into similar problem. I googled a bit to see how Microsoft solved such problem, here are some screenshots of Microsoft Notepad in different Languages.

Russian Russian, mnemonics are translated into Russian, some keys are the same as in English version, some are different.

Japanese Japanese, English mnemonics are appended to the end of Japanese word. I suspect that using Japanese characters for mnemonics is not practical as they require multiple keyboard keys.

Arab Arab, I'm not sure if there are any mnemonics here.

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