French is a lovely language, but oh, those accents! As a French learner, I frequently found myself forgetting accents or putting accent aigu where accent grave should be. Much of this was simply the mistake of a new learner, but it’s time for true confessions: sometimes, it was sheer laziness, especially when it came to typing in French.
While I’m not an extremely fast typist in English, typing in French felt très lentement (very slow.) If I were using an online learning program and found that the system would disregard my lack of accents, I’d just skip them, though I knew that ultimately I was doing it a disservice.
This blatant ignoring of accents is pure laziness as typing French characters on a keyboard is not difficult! When I had an iPad, it was very easy: press and hold for a pop-up menu of accents. However, I’m a PC user and, while I have a Bluetooth keyboard with a numeric keypad, my laptop does not have one. And using ALT and having to memorize a numeric code for special characters or, worse yet, using the character map to find individual letters with accents was headache-inducing.
The easiest way I’ve found to type characters not found on my US keyboard is to use the United States International Keyboard.
Adding the United States International Keyboard on Windows 10
Time needed: 5 minutes.
Here’s how to add the International Keyboard in Windows 10:
- Go to Settings
Either click the windows icon on your taskbar (if your taskbar is at the bottom, it’s on the left) and then click the gear icon OR type Settings in the search box on your taskbar and then click on “Settings.” Either of these things will bring up the Settings menu.
- Click on Time and Language
When you are in the settings menu, click on “Time and Language.”
- Click on Language
As of the time I’m writing this, this should be on the left side of the menu.
- Click your language under “Preferred Languages.”
To add a keyboard, click on a language. The United States International Keyboard is available from both English (United States) and English (United Kingdom). I have NOT checked other English options.
- Click “Options”
- Click “Add a Keyboard”
Then click on “Add a Keyboard.” Doing so will open up a long list of keyboards for you to browse. Oh, la, la…look at all of them! You can add the French keyboard if you want, but for me, it was easier to stick with the familiar QWERTY and use the United States -International Keyboard. In the photo, you’ll see I already have it installed here.
In the Preferred Languages area, you can also add other languages. Here’s a neat trick: if you do that, and then go to Spelling, Typing and Keyboard settings from the language menu (it’s on the right there), you can toggle a switch. Toggling this switch will make predictive language or autocorrect suggestions based on the other languages that you’ve specified. Most of the time, I prefer that to be off, though, but it can come in handy — and be a cheat — when you’re typing in your language of study.
- Accessing the International Keyboard.
Now that you have the keyboard installed, to switch to it, look at your taskbar. Find where it denoted your keyboard. Mine says ENG US.
Click on that and it will open up all of the keyboards you have installed.
- Use the United States International Keyboard for Windows 10
Now that you have the international keyboard, you’ll choose characters that do not naturally live in the wild on your physical keyboard generally by pressing a puncutation mark and the key of the letter that you want to accent. So if you want a cedilla, you press the ‘ and then the c to get ç.
The caveat for this, of course, is that if I then want to actually type an apostrophe, I need to tell the keyboard that. So to get an apostrophe, I’ll type ‘ and then the space bar.
How to Type Accents on Windows 10 United States International Keyboard
Knowing that I only needed to memorize several keys to type accents on the International Keyboard made using it much less intimidating. If I can remember five simple quotation marks, you definitely can!
Here’s what you need to know to type those special characters:
|THIS KEY||PLUS THIS KEY||GETS YOU THIS||NAME|
|‘ (Apostrophe, located right below the quote!)||c,y,a,e,i,o,u||ç,ý,á,é,í,ó,ú||Acute Accent (Aigu)|
|” (Quotation Mark)||y,a,e,i,o,u||ÿ,ä,ë,ï,ö,ü||Umlaut or tréma|
|`(Accent grave – upper left of keyboard)||a,e,i,o,u||à,è,ì,ò,ù||Accent Grave|
|~ (Tilde – upper left of keyboard)||o,n,a||õ,ñ,ã||ñ – eñe in Spanish|
|^ (Caret — found on the #6 key)||a,e,i,o,u||â,ê,î,ô,û||circumflex|
Let’s Talk About Those French Accents Now…
French has five accents. As I included a cheat sheet about typing French accents on the keyboard and sometimes forget to use them correctly myself, let’s review them. It will be a useful review for me, too!
Where they make a difference in sound, I’ve been able to use that to remind myself. In cases where they don’t make a difference in the sound…well, I’ll consider that a good memory exercise.
|Accent (Example)||What it’s Called||What it does|
|é||Accent Aigu||This differentiates the vowel sound from either the unaccented vowel or the vowel associated with the accent grave.|
I like to think of the word le café (and the actual drink, as well.) It’s a word that you likely know how to pronounce correctly. But what would happen if it didn’t have the accent? Normalament the final vowel is dropped in French. The acute accent here is telling you to pronounce that final e and how.
You might note that I only put E in this example. For other vowels, the sound is the same, but it differentiates words which would otherwise have the same spelling. The word ou (or) and où (or) comes to mind.
|è||Accent Grave||I like to think of the sound in the name Michèlè here. The è sound, to my American ears, is only slightly different than é, but still, I can hear it.|
|ç||La Cedille||I like the cedilla for some reason. And it’s easy to remember what it does. Think of the word garçon. That little tail gives the word it’s soft c. Without it, the c would have a hard sound. I think your French waiter would be even less pleased to be called a “garkon” than a “garçon.”|
|This changes the sound of a, e, and o, but also appears on i and u. It often appears on letters that used to be followed by an s in days gone by. So now you go to a hôpital and hike in the fôret.|
|ë||l’accent tréma||I haven’t needed to use this as much in French, but I have an easy way to remember how this works. I have a daughter named Zoe, who insisted that I “spelled her name wrong on the birth certificate,” and likes to spell her name Zoë. And she very well could be right! The function here is that the tréma tells you to pronounce the vowels separately — like “Zo-ey” rather than “ZO.”|
Hopefully, this was helpful. It was a good review for me, anyway! Writing things out is a great mnemonic tool.
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