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3 Ways To Input Foreign Language Characters In Microsoft Word

Updated on January 30, 2013

A student's report cover for Spanish class

Disclaimer: The student's name is completely fictionalized.  The report cover, however, is from my personal teaching files; it was created as an end of year project by one of my students. The story was really original! No help from translate programs
Disclaimer: The student's name is completely fictionalized. The report cover, however, is from my personal teaching files; it was created as an end of year project by one of my students. The story was really original! No help from translate programs | Source

When I taught high school foreign languages (Spanish and Italian, to be precise) I would assign student projects at several points throughout the year. Whether I required them to be typed (er, excuse me, I’m showing my age…word-processed) or not, invariably I would receive many that were. Unfortunately, not every student has had the benefit of a typing/keyboarding/word-processing class, and, so, most do not know how to type the foreign characters.

However, in Spanish, for example, the letters n and ñ are not equivalent. An ñ is NOT an “n with a squiggle.” The ñ has a sound of its own and is used quite differently from the English (or even the Spanish) n. (This extra letter allows for an expanded word building function in the language.) Writing the word “ano” to mean “año” creates a terrifically different – and a bit disturbing - message. Let’s look at a quick (Spanish 1) example.

Is That Really What You Mean?

“Tengo 15 años.”

This is the Spanish for saying: “I am 15 years old.”


“Tengo 15 anos."

This is translated into English as “I have 15 anuses (anii).” This is most likely NOT the message you are trying to communicate to your audience.

Here is how to type what you actually mean to communicate in Spanish (or any Latin alphabet language), using any Microsoft (MS) Word program!

Where To Find the "Insert" Menu On-Screen


Where To Find the "Symbol" Menu On-Screen


Method 1: Use the “Insert” Drop-down Menu

The easiest way to input the exact letter or character you need is to use the “Insert” drop-down menu. In MS Word 2000, this drop-down menu is found at the top of a new or blank document. It is the fourth drop-down menu to the right.

1. Click on the Insert drop-down menu.

2. Click on Symbol.

a. “Symbol” has two menus: “Symbols” and “Special Characters.”

b. Make sure you are in the Symbols menu.

c. Look at the Font. Select “(normal text).” This will give you the Latin (alphabet) character set. (A character set is all the available characters from a specific alphabet or script. This includes punctuation marks, numbers, parentheses, brackets, currency symbols, the copyright © and registered trademark ® symbols, etc.)

d.Search for the character you need. For our example, we need the ñ:


e. Click insert. Your “ñ” will be inserted in your document!

f. Close the dialog box by clicking the x in the upper right hand corner or by clicking Cancel.

g. Look at your document and make sure your character is where you need it to be! (E.g., "año," not "ñao"!)

Method 2: Use MS Word’s Built-In ANSI Capability

The MS Word program uses ANSI (American National Standards Institute) codes for you to be able to print the characters in any given document. To input the Spanish character codes, you will use a combination of the Alternate (ALT), Control (CTRL), and Shift (SHFT) keys at the same time as (+) the preset shortcut keys for the character you would like to type, as in the chart below:

MS Word Shortcut Keys for Spanish Character Set

CTRL + ‘ + a = á CTRL + ‘ + o = ó

CTRL + ‘ + e = é CTRL + ‘ + u = ú

CTRL + ‘ + i = í CTRL + SHFT + ~ + n = ñ

CTRL + SHFT + ~ + SHFT + n = Ñ

ALT + CTRL + SHFT + 1= ¡

ALT + CTRL + SHFT + / = ¿

Note: The ~ key is found in the upper left corner of the keyboard, below the Esc key and immediately to the left of the number 1 key.

Extended ASCII Codes for Typing In Spanish


Method 3: Use ASCII Keys

Method 1 above can be a little time consuming, especially if you use the mouse to select from the drop-down menus and dialog boxes. If you are a proficient typist who prefers to use keyboard key combinations, the fastest method for inserting foreign language characters is to use ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange, pronounced /ASS-key/) keys. This is accomplished by using a combination of the Control, Alternate, Number (and sometimes Shift) keys. Until you memorize the codes you use most often, you also need an Extended ASCII Code Chart for the language you are typing.

Note: You must use the Number keypad (usually to the right of the keyboard) in order to input ASCII codes. In order to do this, you must make sure to have the Number Lock (Num Lk) on (a little light will usually turn on when this is enabled).

To input Extended ASCII Codes, follow these steps:

  1. Enable the Number Lock (Num Lk) on your number keypad, usually found to the right of the keyboard.
  2. While holding down the ALT key, press the ASCII Code numbers for the character you wish to input. (For example, to input a lowercase ñ, you would press ALT+164.)
  3. Keep typing your report, using the ALT+[ASCII code] method for the Spanish characters not found on the QWERTY keyboard.

You're On Your Way To Typing Bilingual Documents!

Now you are well-armed for typing documents in any one, or even in multiple, language(s)!

© 2012 Everymom/Language Development Company


Submit a Comment

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    Johnd983 3 years ago

    I do agree with all the ideas you have introduced for your post. They are really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for newbies. May you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post. kbkkeaddefbf

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    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thank you so much! I'm glad it was useful!

  • livelifeworryfree profile image

    Princess Clark 4 years ago from The DMV

    Really valuable piece of information. I usually go to translation sites and pull the characters that I need, but now that I know better thanks to you I will do better. Voted up!