Not sure how to type foreign language characters on your computer?  Here are some ways you can type accented characters.

Typing foreign language characters on a Mac

Apple created easy ways to type non-English characters in all programs. This webpage describes most of the relevant ones for Spanish and German speakers.

For accents and umlauts, you will use a multi-key combination to tell the computer which symbol you want to add, and then type the letter you want it added to. So to create a ü on a Mac, first you would press Option + u to indicate you want the umlaut as the special character, then press u again to tell it to put the umlaut on the letter u (or Shift + u for a capital Ü).

How to enable a foreign keyboard layout on a Windows computer

Keyboards sold in different parts of the world are laid out differently from the standard US keyboard to accommodate different alphabets. Although the physical markings on your keyboard cannot change, you are able to change the symbols your keys are tied to, in effect turning your US keyboard into a Spanish or German keyboard. You will need to learn the different positions of letters on those keyboards, but it makes for easy typing and prepares you for studying abroad. As you get to know the new keyboard layout, you may find a Google image search of use, or you can utilize an on-screen keyboard that visually shows what each key does. Read on to learn how to change your keyboard layout and how to enable an on-screen keyboard.

Add a new keyboard layout in Windows 10:

1. Right click on your Start button (Windows icon) and choose Settings. Then click Time & Language.

2. In the left sidebar, choose Region & Language. Click the large plus symbol to Add a Language. From the list that appears, choose the language that applies to your needs. You may see multiple variants such as Español (Mexican), Español (Chile), etc. Our default recommendations are Español (Mexican) for Spanish and Deutsch (Germany) for German. Many Latin American countries use the same keyboard layout, though Spain has a slightly different one. Ask your instructor if they recommend something else. If this is the first time you apply a language pack, your computer may need to download the pack. Be sure you are connected to the internet and let the process complete.

4. Now look back to your Windows taskbar. You are now able to select the keyboard layout you want to use by clicking on the three-letter symbol (ENG, ESP, DEU). This will affect all programs on your computer. To change back, select English from the taskbar menu.


With a foreign language keyboard implemented, your key-mapping will change to the standard layout of a German or Spanish keyboard. To know what that layout is, you can reference a Google image search, or you can enable an on-screen visual keyboard. To do this:

1. Click the Start button.

2. In the list of applications, scroll down to “Windows Ease of Access” and click it to show more options.

3.  You will see the option “Onscreen Keyboard.” Click this to enable the visual keyboard.

4. If you expect to use the onscreen keyboard frequently, you can instead right click this option. Select “More” and pin it to your taskbar so that it is easily accessed in future use.

How to enable a foreign language keyboard on a Mac

Although you can create non-English characters on a Mac without changing your keyboard layout, some may still prefer to enable a foreign keyboard layout instead. This may be faster than using the keystrokes for non-English characters, and it can help prepare you for foreign keyboards if you are going to study abroad. Here’s how to do this:

1. Select System Preferences from the Apple menu in the Finder.

2. Select the icon for Keyboard, as show below.

3. When the Keyboard section loads, select “Input Sources” and then click the ‘ + ” in the lower left corner.

4. When the language selection box pops up, find the language you would like to use from the list, click on it, then click “Add”.

That’s it! You can now easily switch between English and German or Spanish keyboard inputs by selecting the preferred language on the menu bar (look for the flags!). Note that Mac OS X switches the language for all applications. Just select U.S. to switch back to English input.

Enable foreign language character keystrokes on my Windows computer using 3rd party program

AX Character Cycling is a free program that helps you create foreign-language characters in any program on your computer without having to enable a foreign keyboard layout. To install:

1. Visit

2. Click on the Download Now button.

3. Follow your Internet browser’s instructions to save the file. Once it has finished downloading, double click on the AX icon and follow the instructions to install the program.

4. Once AX Character Cycling is installed, click on its icon on the desktop or Start Menu to run it. A screen will appear listing the default settings. Click OK to proceed to the main menu. To enable foreign language characters, click the dropdown menu under Main Cycle and select German or Spanish. If you frequently use characters from multiple European languages and don’t want to have to switch every time you type in a different language, choose EuropeanCombo.

The Function Key dropdown menu lets you choose which key you must press to cycle through characters. The default is F8, but you can choose any F# character. The Automatic Start dropdown menu lets you choose whether the program starts whenever you turn your computer on or if you must manually click on the icon to turn it on.

5. To type a non-English character, simply type the “base” character and then hit F8. For example, to make an ä, type a plain a and then press F8. If you selected German as your Main Cycle, this should immediately become an ä. If you selected EuropeanCombo you will have to press F8 multiple times to cycle through the other “a symbols” in between: a > à > á > â > ä. If you pass up the character you want, you can just keep pressing F8. You will eventually return to the base character and then start over.

Once AX is running, it can be used in any program including Microsoft Word, Internet browsers, and chat applications. If the response seems choppy or the screen flashes but characters do not change after hitting F8, try hitting F8 twice in quick succession to cycle through characters.