Kindle spoken here

Amazon has continually made the point that selling the Kindle outside the US is intended to help their English-reading customers.

However, the question comes up frequently: what about other languages?

It’s clear that there would be a substantial market for Kindle books in languages other than English, both inside and outside the USA.  That’s certainly true for paperbooks (p-books).   The highest rated book in Spanish at Amazon is ranked #693…that’s out of 26,236,888 (not Kindle books…books).

There are a couple of issues involved in getting non-English books into the Kindle store (and using them on your Kindle).

Character sets

Not all languages use the same letters…it’s not as simple as ABC. ;)   When you are looking at text on a Kindle (or on a computer), the text is treated differently than an image is.  For example, you can find a particular word…but not if it’s in a picture of a wall with graffiti on it (usually). 

Your laptop and your Kindle both have “character sets” they can reproduce.  The character set for the Kindle is pretty limited, and you can’t add to it yourself (within the system…more on that a bit later).  It’s basically the Latin characters, which will let you do English, Spanish, French…that sort of thing.   They also have the Greek characters.

So, if you are a time-traveling ancient European, you are probably okay.  ;)  Just kidding…

Awhile back, I got the actual lists from Amazon Customer Service.  This was after the one update we’ve gotten so far:

Here’s the list:

Basic Latin (U+0020-U+007F)
Latin-1 Supplement (U+00A0-U+00FF)
Latin Extended-A (U+0100-U+017F)
Latin Extended-B (first half, U+0180 – U+01FF)
Latin Extended-B (second half U+0200 – U+024F)
IPA Extensions (U+2050 – U+20AF)
Spacing Modifier Letters (U-02BO - U+02FF)
Greek and Coptic (U+0370 – U+03FF)
Latin Extended-Additional (U+1E00 - U+1EFF)
Greek Extended (U+1F00 - U+1FF)
General Punctuation (U+2000 – U+206F)
Superscripts and Subscripts (U+2070 – U+209F)
Currency Symbols (U+20A0 - U+20CF)
Letterlike Symbols (U+2100 – U+214F)
Number Forms (U+2150 – U+218F)
Arrows (U+2190 – U+21FF)
Mathematical Operators (U+2200 – U+22FF)
Miscellaneous Technical (U+2300 – U+23FF)
Enclosed Alphanumeric (U+2460 – U+24FF)
Geometric Shapes (U+25A0 - U+26FF)
Miscellaneous Symbols (U+2600 – U+26FF)
Dingbats (U+2700 – U+27BF)
Private Use (U+E000 - U+F8FF)
Alphabetic Presentation Forms (U-FB00 - U+FB3F)

You can actually check these out yourself by going to and putting in the numbers.

However, these character sets don’t cover Asian characters…or, what is probably the most common request I’ve seen, Cyrillic (for Russian).  It might seem odd to some people that Russian is that big a request, but of course, it has classic world literature and a lot of science that people may want to read in the original language. 

There are a couple of approaches to dealing with this limitation.

One is to use images instead of text.  This will work, but the resulting file is relatively huge and unsearchable.  Essentially, it’s as if you photocopy every single page in the book, and reproduce that.  That is what happens with pdfs on the Kindle DX (and now on the K2s). 

Second, there is a “font hack” out there.  It makes is possible to change the font and to install new fonts.  However, it also violates your Terms of Service with Amazon, as I explained in this previous post.  I do not recommend it.

I think it is inevitable that Amazon gives us some way to read these files, especially as Kindle books begin to sell in other parts of the world…although again, I think there is a market for books in Russian, Chinese, Tagalog, and so on, in the US. 

I think the least likely scenario is that they just let people install whatever they want.  That’s likely to lead to all sorts of Customer Service calls, which are expensive, and other possible problems.

They may just give us a wider set.  Of course, wider sets  do take up more memory, reducing the amount of memory you have for books and such.  I don’t think it would be a huge use, but that’s one issue.

Another thing would be for them to sell us character sets.  Maybe you pay five dollars, and you get the ability for your Kindle to display Hiragana.  They’d send you a file which might self-install, or it could be done in a manner similar to how you can do a software update without the wireless, which is described here.

Oh, one other solution is to use Topaz files, which I think might work (they allow publishers to embed fonts…a font is not the same as a character set, by the way, but that might work).  However, Topaz files have a lot of reported problems…see this earlier post.  That’s the Amazon side of things


Generally, Amazon doesn’t put the books into the Kindle store.  That’s up to the rightsholders…and really, since this is distribution to the public, to the publisher (if an author self-publishes, that author is the publisher). 

The motivation for publishers to put non-English books into the Kindle store has greatly increased with the arrival of international wireless, and Amazon’s decision to sell Kindle content outside the US.   That should mean that we’ll see a lot more books in non-English languages in the next couple of years.

Oh, and this is a bit tricky.  If a book is in the public domain in the US, and someone produces a new translation, that can be copyrighted (as a “derivative work”).  That complicates things a tad…if you translate Mark Twain in Mandinka, that gives you a new copyright.  Someone would have to negotiate with you for that, just like with a newly-written book.

Current state

There actually are quite a few books in non-English languages in the Kindle store right now.    Most of them are public domain (generally, older) books, but that is, I think, starting to change.

How do you find them?

Put in the name of the language followed by “edition” in the search box.  For example, put

Spanish edition

in the search box, and you’ll get them. 

 I just got 3,475 results.  There may be some “false positives” in there (like grammar books), but that’s probably pretty close.  Here’s that search:

Spanish edition Kindle store books

That’s most things like Cervantes, but there are current books as well.  For example, this is one of the most popular: Limites.  It’s Christian non-fiction.

Here are links for some other languages, and the count I’m getting right now:

Those are just a few.  I checked some others, and couldn’t get very convincing results. 

Oh, and there were a suprising number of Esperanto books.  :)  They were mostly on learning Esperanto (a created language that was supposed to be universal), or about the language, rather than books in Esperanto.  Here’s a freebie: The Esperanto Teacher: A Simple Course for non-Grammarians. Yes, I have watched William Shatner in the Esperanto horror classic,  Incubus. :)

You can also get Marc Okrand’s Klingon Dictionary, but I didn’t see any books in Klingon. 


I’ve seen the question asked about using the text-to-speech to read something in a language other than English.  The two voices we have now are accented like American English, so they’ll really mangle other languages…not that you couldn’t possibly understand them.  Nuance, the company that makes RealSpeak (the voice of the K2s and KDX) does have a number of other accents available, but we don’t currently have them for our Kindles.

Other sources

It’s also worth noting that there are sources other than the Kindle store to get books for your Kindle, and those may have more.  However, you can’t just download a file with a different character set and read it.  There are places to get more books in French, Spanish, and so on.

“After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?”
–Russell Hoban

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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One Response to “Kindle spoken here”

  1. Non-English books in the USA Kindle store | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Kindle spoken here […]

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