Typing accents ALT codes Choosing a keyboard
Typing accents using a different keyboard
If you need to type French or a language with accents on a regular basis, then the most efficient option is almost certainly to use a non-English keyboard. This much is probably obvious. What's less obvious, is that:
A French keyboard isn't necessarily the best option for typing French!
We'll look below at the process of actually installing a new keyboard. But first, let's look at some of the choices.
Choosing a keyboard
Firstly, let's deal with what might at first seem the obvious choice: a French keyboard. The advantage of getting used to a French keyboard is that if you have to work on-site at other places that use a French keyboard, you won't struggle to get your fingers round it. The disadvantage of the French keyboard layout is that it's basically unlike any other keyboard layout in the entire universe. It has at least the following somewhat quirky features:
Unless you type only in English and French, and compatibility with other people using French keyboards is an advantage to you, then I suggest steering well clear of the French keyboard layout. As we'll see below, keyboards designed for other languages actually handle French well and don't suffer the above quirks.
If you work in Spanish as well as French, then this layout is suitable for both languages:
A slight disadvantage is that the Spanish layout does not contain the French quotation marks (though nor does the French!). Some word processors can be configured to convert a sequence of two greater-than or less-than signs into the appropriate French quote. But in any case, English-style quotation marks appear to be increasingly used in French in many contexts.
The Portuguese layout, similar to the Spanish, is also a good contender.
US International layout
This is not a keyboard as such, but a way of configuring an existing US keyboard (see below). In this configuration, the punctuation keys that resemble accents actually function as accents when followed by a vowel key. To type the corresponding punctuation, you follow the punctuation key with the space bar. This layout has the advantage that several other characters, including the French quotation marks, are also available using the right-hand ALT key.
You can buy US International keyboard stickers to place over an existing US keyboard.
Configuring the keyboard
You generally have to tell Windows what keyboard layout you are using. On the next page we discuss how to configure the keyboard layout in Windows.
Note that you generally don't have to install the software that comes with the keyboard if you just want to use it as a "basic" keyboard. The extra software is usually for "special" features of the keyboard such as programmable keys, media functions etc. Whether you want to install 50MB of software just so you can play Beethoven's fifth at the touch of a button is a matter of personal preference...
Click here to go to the next page: configuring the keyboard layout in Windows.