6 Ways to Type Chinese Symbols and Other Foreign Characters in Windows
Most people who type in English don’t need many characters beyond those on a standard keyboard. But occasionally, you’ll need to type Chinese characters, international currency symbols, or other foreign characters on your Windows PC.
Depending on how often you need foreign symbols and other non-English characters, you have several methods for inserting them. We’ll show you the best ways to type foreign characters, ranging from quickest to most involved.
1. Grab the Character From Google
We start with an ad-hoc method that doesn’t require any setup or special knowledge. If you only use foreign symbols on your computer once in a while, an easy way to access them is through a simple Google search.
For example, say you’re writing a paper and make a reference to a price in Japanese yen. Head to Google and enter “yen symbol”; you’ll see many results containing the symbol you need. From there, copy the symbol from one of them and paste it into your document.
This is too clunky for people who need to type non-standard characters all the time, but for casual use, it gets the job done. Keep in mind that depending on where you copy from, you may need to strip the formatting when you paste .
2. Visit a Dedicated Character Website
Can’t remember the name of the character you want to insert, or need a variety of characters and don’t want to search for them all? You can use a dedicated character website to make it easier on yourself.
Cool Symbol is a great service for this. The page contains hundreds of symbols ranging from currency to musical notes, units, arrows, math, and much more. Simply click a symbol to copy it to your clipboard and paste it elsewhere.
Even better, there’s a bar at the top of the page that keeps track of the symbols you’ve copied. This makes it easy to grab them all at once, or re-copy something you used earlier.
See the best sites for looking up symbol meanings for more resources like this.
3. Use ALT Codes to Insert Characters
Did you know that the numerical keypad on your keyboard has a hidden function? Using the ALT key in combination with numbers, you can insert a variety of characters without copying anything. For example, use Alt + 234 to type the omega symbol.
Consult a dedicated website, such as alt-codes.net, for a full list of these codes. Unfortunately, you’ll have to remember the ALT code for each symbol you want to type, and most of them take several digits.
This method is also a problem if you have a laptop without a dedicated number pad. Many laptops instead have a makeshift Numpad on regular keys, which you can toggle with the Fn key and Num Lock. Once that’s enabled, you can hold ALT to use these codes like normal, but that’s certainly not graceful.
These limitations make this useful for a couple of characters you use regularly, but not great if you use more than a few. And while these codes can insert letters with acute accents, they don’t support Chinese symbol codes or characters from other languages.
4. Insert Symbols in Microsoft Word
If you primarily work with foreign symbols in Microsoft Word, you can access a dedicated menu in that app to insert symbols.
In Word, switch to the Insert tab on the top Ribbon. To the far right of this tab, you’ll see a Symbols section. Click Symbol to access a panel with several common characters. If you need more, choose More Symbols to see the full list.
What follows is an extensive list of symbols with more options than the above methods. In addition to the usual currency, math, and accented vowel symbols, you’ll find characters from other languages like Russian, Greek, and Arabic. Use the dropdown box in the top-right to jump to a certain section quickly.
When you select a symbol, you’ll see its corresponding ALT code (if applicable) at the bottom of the window by Shortcut Key. If you click that button, you can assign your own shortcut key to symbols you regularly use. Select AutoCorrect to set up certain strings that will correct to a symbol. For instance, by default, Word changes (c) to a copyright symbol.
Note that these shortcuts and auto-correct replacements will only apply in Microsoft Word.
5. Use the Windows Character Map
If you like the above option and wish you could use it elsewhere in Windows, you’re in luck. Windows includes a tool called the Character Map that lets you insert symbols anywhere—not just in Word.
To access it, type “character map” in the Start menu to launch the program. Here you’ll see a similar window to the Insert Symbol tool in Word. Click a symbol to see a description of it at the bottom of the page, along with its ALT code (if any).
Double-click the symbol or click the Select button at the bottom to add it into the Characters to copy box. You can add as many as you like to this. Choose Copy to put everything on the clipboard for pasting later. Speaking of which, you might want to start using a clipboard manager for easier pasting of foreign symbols in the future.
The Character Map contains more characters than you’d think at first glance. Check the Advanced view box to enable more options at the bottom. Select the Group by dropdown and you’ll find Chinese characters by Pinyin, Japanese Kanji by Hiragana, Korean characters, and more.
This makes it a great way to enter CJK characters occasionally if you don’t need a full Chinese character keyboard.
6. Add a Second Keyboard Layout
If you frequently type in other languages, the best solution is adding a secondary keyboard layout. Windows 10 makes it easy to add and switch between layouts for multiple languages.
To do this, open Settings and head to Time & Language. Switch to the Language tab on the left and you’ll see your default Windows display language at the top. To add a new keyboard, select your current language from the Preferred languages section and hit Options.
On the resulting list, click Add a keyboard under Keyboards and you’ll see a list of layouts in various languages. If you see the language you’re looking for, select it to add it to your system. Some include regional dialects, so make sure you select the right option.
If you don’t see the language you want, jump back to the Language tab and select Add a preferred language instead. Here you can add support for an entire language to your computer , instead of just adding a new keyboard layout. Doing so is required if you want to add a Chinese keyboard to Windows 10, for example.
This allows you to select a specific regional dialect, such as Spanish from Colombia, Chile, Mexico, or other countries. Once added in this way, you can switch between keyboard layouts using the same method as below.
The International Keyboard
Of particular note is the United States-International layout option. This makes it easy to type non-English characters, such as accented letters, without switching to a dedicated keyboard layout. It’s great if you primarily type in languages that use the Latin alphabet (French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc.).
To use it, press the accent character you want to type, followed by the letter you want to apply it on. For example, to enter á, press the apostrophe key, then a. This layout also allows you to type special symbols by holding the right ALT key. For instance, hold right Alt and hit 5 to enter a euro sign (€).
See TechLanguage’s page on the international keyboard for more info on this.
Switching Between Keyboard Layouts
After you have a secondary layout installed, you’ll see your current input method in the bottom-right corner of the taskbar, You can switch inputs at any time using the Win + Space shortcut. When you do this, you’ll see a small window appear on-screen. If you have more than two languages installed, hit Space again to cycle through them.
Changing your Windows keyboard layout like this will affect what Windows enters when you type. For example, the Spanish keyboard layout has the ñ character where the semicolon is on a US keyboard.
Obviously, this doesn’t change your actual keyboard. You’ll either need to memorize the alternative layout, swap out your physical keycaps, or buy an overlay so you can see both layouts on one keyboard. It can be confusing at first, but it’s seamless once you get used to it.
Typing Foreign Symbols Made Easy on Windows 10
Now you know all the available methods for typing foreign characters in Windows. Whether you need a full Chinese character keyboard or just need to paste in a few symbols occasionally, you aren’t limited to the characters on your current keyboard.
If this inspired you to expand your language horizons, check out the best language learning apps that really work .
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