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Web/Tech, Writing

Typing foreign accents — the easy way

Accents. Don’t you love them? Computers are clever things and can write in all kinds languages. Unfortunately mere human beings can’t. If you want to type a foreign accent — and if they’re needed you should — then things can get decidedly sticky.

On the Mac accents are relatively straightforward and quite logical when it comes to grave and acute. Anything more complicated though usually involves an unmemorable key combination.

On Windows foreign accents are a mess. Key combinations that work in Word won’t work in other apps. All too often you end up reaching for obscure alt and number combinations to get what you want. Yeuch. Can’t help there. But if you regularly type foreign accents in Word or Scrivener there is a much easier way to get them than trying to remember those key combinations.

Here’s how.  Let’s imagine we want to write the name Asbjørn. In Windows the standard way to get that accented o on a British (and US?) keyboard in any app is by holding down the Alt key then typing 0248. In Word you can also use the key combination Ctr-/ o. On the Mac I’m told it’s the rather easier o with option (though I haven’t tried).

Either way this is unnecessary wasted brain power if you’re producing fiction. I write in English and use accents in common words, character names and locations. I don’t throw sentences in foreign languages into the text (because people shouldn’t have to reach for a dictionary to understand a novel in my view).

So there’s a much simpler route to solving this problem. Use computer power instead of brain power, specifically the ability of any decent writing app to autocorrect words you specify.

In Scrivener it works like this. Go to the Substitutions option in Corrections (I’m on Windows here, you may find it labelled slightly differently on the Mac). Set it this correction routine.

newscriv

On Word you do something similar in Autocorrect (this is Office 2013).

Word foreignYou only have to find that awkward foreign accent once, to put it into the correction form here. After that every time I want to insert ‘Asbjørn’ I simply type ‘Asjborn’. Word or Scrivener automatically corrects the spelling. Oh, and in Office 2013 if you set up these correction shortcuts they work across the board, in Word, Outlook and OneNote (and perhaps Excel, not that I ever go there).

This is my idea of automation. You don’t have to remember any keyboard shortcuts. You don’t have to worry about your lousy typing. If your book includes complex words or names like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch it might be an idea to set up a correction shortcut for those too. Though I hope you won’t use it too often.

5 thoughts on “Typing foreign accents — the easy way

  1. Norman Rhodeswingsforpixels

    David,
    Have you tried Textexpander [http://www.smilesoftware.com/help/TextExpander/index.html] or its Windows equivalent?
    I have just started using it and am seriously impressed with it. A simple (Mac) top bar drop-down menu provides access to all your Snippets. There is a complete set of accented words and characters covering this little challenge. Again, Windows has equivalent software.

    McSparky (David Sparks) has plenty of useful advice on this.
    http://macsparky.com/blog/2011/3/16/text-expander-snippet-repository-yes-please.html

    • I did used to use that. But really the number of times it’s needed it seemed an unnecessary complexity. This does it for me. Also I’m really trying to reduce the number of apps I use to the absolute minimum (essentially Office 2013). It’s easy to pick up lots along the way and that just adds to the work sometimes.

  2. There is an even easier way, for Windows. add an International Keyboard. Then you have shortcuts to typing foreign characters.

    For example for French:

    * To type accent grave (à, è, etc), type ` (to the left of 1) then the vowel.
    * Accent aigu (é), type ‘ (single quote) then e.
    * Cédille (ç), type ‘ then c.
    * Circonflexe (ê), type ^ (shift + 6) then e.
    * Tréma (ö), type ” (shift + ‘) then o.
    * To type French quotation marks « » use ctrl + alt + [ and ], respectively.

    What if you want to type one of the characters above without creating an accent, for example you really want `a not à ? Just press spacebar after typing the special character to “turn off” its special-ness.

    If you leave the default “US” keyboard then you can switch back to it whenever you are done typing in French — using the Language Bar.

    Here is how to add the US-International keyboard, for other countries substitute appropriately:

    Windows Vista

    1. Open your Control Panel
    2. If in Classic View, click Control Panel Home in upper-left corner
    3. Under Clock, Language, and Region, click Change keyboards or other input methods
    4. Click Change keyboards
    5. Click Add
    6. Under “English (United States)” click on + to expand
    7. Click on “United States-International” (don’t remove the default “US”)
    8. Click OK in each dialog window.

    Windows XP

    1. Open your Control Panel (via Start menu or My Computer)
    2. Double-click Regional and Language Options
    3. Click Languages
    4. Click Details
    5. Click Add
    6. Under “English (United States)” click on + to expand
    7. Click on “United States-International” (don’t remove the default “US”)
    8. Click OK in each dialog window.

    Windows 7

    1. Open your Control Panel (via Start menu or My Computer)
    2. Double-click Regional and Language Options
    3. Click Keyboards and Languages
    4. Click Change Keyboards
    5. Click Add
    6. Under “English (United States)” click on + to expand
    7. Click on “United States-International” (don’t remove the default “US”)
    8. Click OK in each dialog window.

    You should now have a Language bar at the bottom of your screen (in the taskbar area). When you click on it, you see a list of all your keyboard layouts — for example, US and United States-International. So if you are typing French, use the International. If not, use the US.

    If you don’t see the Language Bar, try right-clicking on your taskbar, selecting Toolbars, and make sure Language Bar is selected. This is also how you can hide it, if you don’t want to see it.

    • I can see that would be easier if you were regularly typing general text in a foreign language. As I said in the post I don’t do that – I use repetitive foreign words for place and character names for example. I think I’d get a bit baffled if I had to keep switching keyboards for those. But for someone writing whole sentences in other languages, certainly.

  3. This is really helpful, David. I was beginning to wish I had Octopus arms in order to press all the keys necessary to add accents. Now I can remain human. Thanks.

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