Language Switching

We recommend that DBT users who work with foreign languages should read this topic in full, including the Technical section. For those who are not experienced foreign language users, or just curious, we recommend that you peruse the first half to get a feel for the issues involved.

It is important to appreciate that there are often different ways of transcribing foreign language text into braille within the same document depending on the context and intended reader.

Method 1: The Default - Braille translation according to the rules of the selected document template.

Method 2: Using Styles - Many users will be familiar with applying DBT styles to foreign language text passages within an English language document. Using a style to direct the transcription applies the braille translation rules as laid down by the braille authority for the main document language for handling a foreign language.

Method 3: Using Table Switching - Apply the native braille translation rules as laid down by the braille authority of the language you wish produced, regardless of the template in use.

Note: The method numbers above correspond to the UKAAF numbering scheme for methods of handling foreign language text. If you speak "BANA" instead, this same material is presented in the topic English (UEB) - Foreign Language Material, where the BANA and UKAAF schemes are presented separately to avoid confusion.


In the following simple example, the word "Café" is translated three different ways. First, it is translated as an isolated French word in the midst of (American style) English text, i.e., as a French term that has been borrowed into English. Second, it is translated by applying DBT's "French" style to the word (from an American English template), and third, by switching to the French Unified braille rules, as it would appear in a native French document.

Image shows exampole of the word "Cafe" using English, French Style and Frech Language braille tables.

In the first instance, dot 6 indicates an upper case letter c, while the e with acute accent is shown by the UEB accent sign (dots 45, 34), followed by the letter e (dots 15).

In the second, the e acute is represented all in a single cell (dots 123456).

In the third, instead of the UEB upper case sign (dot 6), the French upper case sign is used (dots 46), while the e acute is again translated as one cell, all six dots.

Which should I use?

The choice depends on what your local rules are and who the document is for. Clearly, if you were writing in French braille to someone in France or Canada who reads fluent French Unified braille, they would appreciate proper French.

The Technical Part: Table Switching

The template you selected to create your document determines the base (default) translation table. You can see which table is active by opening the Document menu, clicking Translation Tables, and viewing which table is checked. (You may have to select your region first to see the list of translation tables.)

The code [lnb~X] switches the base translation table from the current active table to the one corresponding to the designator X.

When an [lnb~X] code is encountered within a file, the effect is to change to a new table that controls translation until another [lnb~X] or plain [lnb] code is encountered. If there is no such code, that table continues until the end of the file.

A plain [lnb] code causes a switch back to the translation table that was in effect just prior to the most recent [lnb~X] that has not already been terminated by a balancing [lnb]. In other words, the pair [lnb~X] ... [lnb] can be used to enclose text that is to be processed using table X within a larger body of text that is otherwise processed by some other table, and such pairs can be "nested".

As an example, suppose we have a file that was created using the Spanish template and that the file contains the following sequence of text and codes:

... text a ... [lnb~eng-xueb] ... text b ... [lnb~qip] ... text c ... lnb] ... text d ... [lnb] ... text e

In this file we would expect text segments a and e to be processed using the Spanish table, segments b and d to be processed using the English (UEB) table, and segment c to be processed using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) table.

When any table switch occurs, whether by [lnb~X] or [lnb], the effects of any persistent translation codes, such as grade switches or technical notation declarations, are terminated. The default states for the table that takes control after the [lnb~X] or [lnb] are put into effect, even if those states were altered when that same table was in control for some earlier segment in the document.

Note that some of the default states for the base translation table may have been altered by the "initial" style, and that the "initial" style is implicitly invoked only at the very beginning of the file. For this and other reasons, it is usually advisable to use [lnb~X] ... [lnb] within suitably constructed styles rather than as direct codes.

Finally, it is important not to confuse [lnb~...] with [lng~...]. The latter is for switching to "secondary languages" that are supported within the same base translation table. A base translation table typically employs the translation rules defined by a particular national or regional authority. For example, the English BANA tables employ the rules defined by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). BANA has its own rules for putting French text into braille that make sense for English-speaking American students of French, but those rules are different from the braille rules that are customary in France itself. If you have French text that you want processed according to BANA, then you want one of the English (BANA) tables to be in control and would use [lng~fra] to select French as a "secondary" language. If, on the other hand, you have French text that you want put into braille according to French rules, then you want the French table to be in control.

You can find the table designator codes, alphabetically by language name, by following the link below. Note that the first three letters of the table designator correspond to the ISO 639-3 language code, where appropriate. In some cases, a hyphen and additional letter(s) serve to distinguish tables for different codes serving the same language, or historical codes that remain temporarily available for compatibility purposes.

Click here for the full list of languages in alphabetical order, complete with table designators.