Tips for Typing in a Foreign Language

Keyboard Conundrum by Steve Petrucelli
If you’re living in an English-speaking country, the computer you use probably has a QWERTY keyboard that doesn’t show any accented characters on it. So what to do you when you are working on your Spanish and you want to start a question, or working on your Russian and want to type anything? One of the most frequent questions on our Language Forums is how to type in a language that uses non-Latin characters or letters with accents, so we thought we’d pull together the tips our tutors have shared on this topic in one place. Here you go!


Here is a discussion on typing in Russian in which you can find lots of great tips from our e-Tutor Natasha as well as other learners. In it, she recommends an online keyboard and another user recommends changing the settings on your computer (see below for more details on that for many languages.)


In this discussion, one user suggests using ALT Key codes to type the accented characters in German while our tutor Peter recommends changing the keyboard in the control panel.


Typing in Arabic (and any other right-to-left language) presents its own unique challenges. Check out this discussion which includes a link to a virtual keyboard for beginners and a discussion of how to change to an Arabic keyboard in Windows.

You also might find it interesting to read our blog post on Arabish, a means of typing Arabic with numbers and the Roman alphabet, developed primarily for texting and typing on devices before Arabic keyboards were commonly available.


Our e-Tutor, Sakura, provides a link to a tutorial on how to set up a Japanese keyboard on Mac or Windows as well as some important rules of thumb for typing in Japanese in this forum post.



For a long list of languages, the easiest thing to do is to add a keyboard using the Control Panel on a PC.  You’ll want to add the keyboard for the language you want by going to the Start button, click on Control Panel, then click on Region and Language. Then select Change keyboards or input methods. If you’re typing in a language like Spanish or French that uses the Latin alphabet with accented characters, you can choose the US International Keyboard and then follow these directions for using this keyboard to type accents:

If you’re typing in a different writing system (e.g. Chinese characters, Hebrew alphabet or Arabic script), you will find a keyboard for those languages in the same list.

If you are not familiar with the layout of the keyboard in your foreign language, you can use the on-screen-keyboard (or print out stickies to put on your physical keyboard, of course). Here is a tutorial on using the on-screen-keyboard:


Typing accented Latin characters is fairly simple on a Mac. You just hold the base letter (e.g. a) down and a pop-up will appear above showing you several accented variations of the letter. Here is a tutorial from Apple:

Typing in other languages

You can also add a keyboard on Macs by going to the Apple menu, System Preferences and then Keyboard and Input Sources.  Here’s a tutorial:


Image credit: Keyboard Conundrum by Steve Petrucelli via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0