When you learn a foreign language you will encounter a variety of different letters, symbols, or characters. At some point you will be expected to write those characters, or even type them on your English keyboard. This guide will provide you with a variety of methods for writing in any of these languages. Selecting a method requires you to understand your options so start reading.


Many users choose to compose a chunk of text in a program such as Microsoft Word where they can easily insert diacritics or certain characters. Then, they copy the text (Edit → Copy) and paste (Edit → Paste) it into another program. Word has its own method of entering diacritics that you can learn.

The advantage of this method is that you can choose the program in which you are most comfortable typing for your composition process. The disadvantage is that this is not the most efficient process due to the time wasted. Additionally, you have a lack of editing capabilities once you paste the text into the target program. Occasionally, the two programs that you use will be incompatible and the text that you are wishing to paste into a new program will appear incorrectly.

Visual Selection (Word)

Some programs provide you with a method to insert a character by clicking on a list of characters. Word is an example of this. To access the text box select Insert, click Symbols, and select Advanced Symbols. Try clicking on a symbol, for example ©. A character box will open up and then you can then insert the character. For an in-depth explanation of this method for Microsoft Word, click here.There are many other programs and websites that have this option.

IMEs (Input Method Editors) / Foreign Language Keyboards

Keyboards in foreign countries can enter all of the characters needed for that country's language. IMEs (Input Method Editors) use that technology and allow you to type the characters on your keyboard here in the US. Using this method you will have a quick way to enter simple diacritics (á, ü) or complicated Chinese characters. This is a powerful method, but requires some preparation.

Before you proceed to our IME guide take note of some of the activities that this allows.

  • If you are using a Mac, you already have a pre-installed default IME, which can handle diacritics and most Western European languages. The method for typing those characters is simple on the Mac.
  • In Windows you can use Word for a similar simple method of typing diacritics. Windows also has a more difficult method which will allow you to enter any character.
  • Both Macs and Windows have the ability, through their International Control Panel, to enable additional IMEs for all languages. The IMEs page describes the steps to install the IMEs and tricks on how to be most productive with them.

Writing Methods Pages