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How to Write with Spanish Characters in Linux

Updated on February 8, 2012

Swith keyboard layouts with a single click

This hub will teach you how to switch to a Spanish keyboard in Linux with a single click.

This is very convenient if you write regularly in Spanish.

If you are currently using a character map to insert Spanish characters, Stop!

Follow the directions in this hub instead. You will be glad you did.

Please, don't ever use a character map to select Spanish characters again! I beg of you!
Please, don't ever use a character map to select Spanish characters again! I beg of you!

Spanish Characters

The following characters and punctuation marks are necessary to write Spanish, but are not included on U.S. keyboard layouts: Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú, Ñ, á, é, í, ó, ú, ñ, ¡, ¿

The accent marks over the vowels are called tildes.

In order to be able to type these characters, you need to change your keyboard layout to a Spanish keyboard layout, which looks like this:

Licensed under GNU, edited by Wikipedia user Laogeodritt
Licensed under GNU, edited by Wikipedia user Laogeodritt | Source

Once you are in the Spanish keyboard layout, the ¡, ¿, ñ, and Ñ characters are easy. Just type the corresponding keys on the keyboard.

Tildes are a little different. To produce tildes, first type the accent mark (the key to the right of the Ñ key), then type the vowel to be accented.

For example, to type á, first type ' , then a. The two key presses combine together to produce á.

Once you get used to this system, you will be able to type in Spanish as fast as you can type in English.

Now the question is, how do you switch your keyboard layout to Spanish and back again?

Read on.

Switching from the command line

This is probably the best way to switch keyboard maps if you only write in Spanish once in a while.

Open up a console from your desktop.

Type "setxkbmap es" at the command prompt and hit enter.

That's it. You're typing in Spanish now, in every application on your desktop.

To switch back to English, type "setxkbmap us" at the command prompt and hit enter.

Yes, that was easy, but let's face it. Sometimes we are too lazy to even open up a console.

You can set up a custom application launcher to switch keyboard layouts with a single click.

Setting up a custom application launcher

I'm going to explain how to do this for the gnome desktop. You can adapt the instructions for KDE, or to create a launcher icon on your desktop that is not on the panel, etc.

If you get confused, refer to the picture below. It will make everything clear.

1. Right click on a blank area in the panel at the top of your gnome desktop, choose "Add to panel..."

2. Choose "Custom Application Launcher".

3. Fill in whatever you want under "Name", type "setxkbmap es" (without quotes) under "Command".

4. Click on the icon in the upper left corner if you want to choose another image from your computer to use as an icon. I created an image with the letters ES for my icon.

5. Choose "OK".

That's it. Now make a similar launcher to switch back to the US keyboard layout.

What I like about having the launchers on the panel is that they are always visible, so I don't have to leave whatever application I'm working in and rummage around on the desktop to change keyboard layouts. Also, I can execute the launchers with a single click, not the double click that I would need if they were on the desktop.

I hope this hub was useful to you!


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    • spectacled-bear profile image

      Bob Barber 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona


      Sorry, I don't have a Chromebook to test this with.

      I see from the web, however, that setxkbmap should work under Chrome OS.

    • profile image

      enthusiast 5 years ago

      On a Chromebook WITH the switched-to-Spanish, the operation suggested does not work.