Need to type an e-acute as part of your French homework? Or are you looking to put a rupee symbol in an invoice for a client out in India? Eventually you’ll need to use a foreign characters in Windows — and it can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Thankfully, your computer can spell foreign characters in several ways. The best solution depends on your use of these special characters, especially how frequently you’ll need access to them. Once you’ve got your desired method set up, it’s very simple to routinely use foreign characters in your everyday typing.
Using ASCII Or Unicode Codes
ASCII Codes are the simplest way to start using foreign characters, although it’s hardly an elegant solution. All you need to do is hold down your ALT key and type in the numerical code that corresponds with your desired character or symbol into the numpad on the right hand side of your keyboard. For instance, holding down ALT and keying in 130 (ASCII) or 0233 (unicode) will give you an é. Of course you could just hit the ´ key and your regular e directly after to produce an é. This workaround has its limits though.
The downside to ASCII or Unicode is that you need the right code to get the right character. There are resources readily available on the Internet that list these codes, for example this page dedicated to Alt ASCII Codes. If you’re going to use several of them regularly, they can be quite easy to get mixed up.
However, if it’s only one or two characters that you’re going to use regularly, you should be able to memorize them. Or, if you’ll only use them for one particular document, you can use Find & Replace to make things easy on yourself.
To do this, sub out the character itself as you write the piece you’re working on. It would make sense to make it something related to what you’re doing, for instance e-acute, but what’s really important is that it’s not a word you’re going to use anywhere else in the document — a nonsense word or combination of letters also works well.
As you can see above, I’ve elected to use zzz as my sub-in for the desired é, and as such a word like étaient on the first line has become zzztaient. When I’ve finished writing up my document, all I need to do is access the Find menu and choose Replace, then ask it to find zzz and replace it with é by entering the ASCII code. I only have to enter in this code once, so it saves me looking up the code each time I need to use it in the document.
Inserting Symbols In Microsoft Word
If you occasionally need a special character or symbol, or you’re looking for easy access to ASCII codes, then you just need to access the Insert Symbol tool in Microsoft Word. To do so, simply navigate to the Insert ribbon, click Symbol, then choose More Symbols from the dropdown menu.
You’ll be presented with a window that looks like the one above, with the Subset dropdown being the place to go if you’re looking to choose a character from a different alphabet. As well as directly inserting characters, you’ll notice that click on any symbol will bring up both its character code and a shortcut, if one has been set.
If you want to set your own shortcut for a symbol you use regularly, click on Shortcut Key — but this shortcut will only work inside Microsoft Word. If you’re looking for a system-wide solution, you’ll have to get some outside help.
Using a third-party application alongside the Windows Character Map allows you to create your own hotkey, meaning that you’ll have access to any symbol or character readily available, no matter what program you happen to be using. It’s more complex to set up than the solution within Microsoft Word, but if you’ll use foreign characters frequently, it will end up saving you a lot of time.
Change Your Language Options
If you find yourself using certain characters a great deal, or you want to use a language like Chinese that requires an entirely different character set, it’s best to simply change your system language and keyboard layout. Should you need to use more than one different alphabet regularly, you can use the language toolbar to make it easy to switch back and forth at will.
To do so, you’ll need to open the Control Panel and search for language, then select Change input methods from your search results. Here, you’re looking to Add a language then choose from the many available. Depending on which language you’re looking for, you might have to access the options for your particular choice and install a language pack if the Available for download message is displayed, as it is for Chinese in the screenshot below.
From here on out things are very simple; you just need to use the language toolbar located in the bottom right hand corner of your screen to switch between the languages on your list.
The toolbar allows you to switch between input methods for different languages; as you can see, Chinese requires the use of Microsoft Pinyin. Pinyin is the phonetic system for transcribing Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. If you have a dedicated keyboard or other separate accessory, that will work, too.
Do you have your own neat trick for using special characters in Windows? Share it with us in the comments section below.
Image Credits: Windows Alt Codes via Penn State University
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