September 11, 2009

Diacritical Marks and Windows

For years I've been using Windows and thinking you couldn't type diacriticals with an English keyboard.

When I needed a word with an accented character, I would copy and paste it from a web page. For instance, if I was writing about chouriço, I would just copy the word from the Wikipedia page. People told me there were alt-code sequences that would generate the characters, but who is going to memorize all those character codes?

Previous searches for a better way failed me. It remained one of the few things I still missed about the MacOS from back when I was a Mac-only user.

Turns out there is a much better way! Windows (XP, Vista and 7) support an international English keyboard that allows you to simply type the characters you want with easy-to remember combinations similar to the way the MacOS has always done it.

This page will tell you how to install the United States-International keyboard.

This page explains the key combinations for the diacriticals.

If you don't like keeping the international keyboard active all the time, it's one click to switch back and forth at will. Awesome!

Here's an excerpt on how to install this keyboard driver in Windows XP:

  1. Click Start, type intl.cpl in the Run box, and then press ENTER.
  2. On the Languages tab, click Details.
  3. Under Installed services, click Add.
  4. In the Input language list, click the language that you want. For example, English (United States).
  5. In the Keyboard layout/IME list, click United States-International, and then click OK.
  6. In the Select one of the installed input languages to use when you start your computer list, click Language name - United States-International (where Language name is the language that you selected in step 6), and then click OK.
  7. In the Regional and Language Options dialog box, click OK.

    Notice that the Language bar appears on the taskbar. When you position the mouse pointer over it, a ToolTip appears that describes the active keyboard layout. For example, United States-International appears.
  8. Click the Language bar, and then click United States-International on the shortcut menu that appears.

    The United States-International keyboard layout is selected.

Once you've got the international keyboard activated, hit ' for an accent, followed by the desired letter to get your accented letter. For example ' + a = á. ` + a = à.

The c cedilla is a little more complicated. Ctrl-Alt , = ç

All the combinations are listed here.

This is the best thing I've learned all day.

Posted by James at September 11, 2009 1:23 PM
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I've been using this at home for a few years. I love it.

It took a while to get used to not using the right Alt key for keyboarding menu sequences (which I do a lot of; I don't like to go reaching for the mouse while I'm in the middle of typing), but once I got used to it, it was far more convenient than having to switch keyboards () when I wanted a special character.

Other minor annoyances that I've gotten used to include having to hit the spacebar after a double quote to let Windows know that I don't want an umlaut over the next letter if it's a vowel. That one still trips me up once in a while...

For a short while after I started using the international keyboard, I was also using Linux. The linux version of the English/International keyboard (whatever it is called) is just different enough from the Windows version to really screw you up!

Posted by: Julie at September 11, 2009 6:17 PM

I should have complained about this on the blog years ago, then!

Posted by: James at September 11, 2009 6:21 PM

You should have. I found out about the international keyboard serendipitously when I started doing the telenovela recaps. I was just googling for a good list to cut and paste from, and found something much better!

Weird how my second parenthetical remark in that first comment seems to be missing. I was just saying that switching keyboards required another mouse-click, and that's why I didn't like it.

Or maybe I just thought that and ended up not typing it. (Long, long day.)

Posted by: Julie at September 11, 2009 10:12 PM

Wow. You didn't know this? I knew it like... five years ago.

You mean I was ahead of the technological curve on something?! Holey carp! That NEVER happens! :D

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at September 12, 2009 7:11 AM

if anyone else posts that they knew about this, I'm going to start to get angry that nobody told me.


Posted by: James at September 12, 2009 8:05 AM

I was angry with myself for not looking at the keyboard choices in the control panel - I had spent plenty of time with international options in Windows for software testing at work and knew that there were different keyboard layouts for people in other lands, but somehow didn't put that together with the fact that I actually needed one myself...

Posted by: Julie at September 12, 2009 8:40 AM

i knew about other keyboards, but back when I first spayed with them in Win98 you couldn't install them after the fact very easily. You had to choose when you first installed the OS, like with languages.

Posted by: James at September 12, 2009 8:57 AM

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