Standard American keyboards (qwerty) do not come equipped to type standard French characters which contain accents. There are a few ways to work around this limitation for students of French, or other Francophones.
Windows – Alt codes
This method utilizes a combination of keystrokes to insert the accented character. Windows uses a combination of the “alt” key while typing in a numeric code on the keypad of the keyboard. This information is available from a wide variety of places on the Internet, however I have used the French Accent Codes page from Penn State for reference. Merci à Penn State!
Vowel Alt Codes
|Vwl||ALT Code||Vwl||ALT Code|
|«||ALT+0171 (Left Angle Quote)|
|»||ALT+0187 (Right Angle Quote)|
Apple/Mac – Option +
Apple/Mac products use a combination of the “option” key plus an additional letter to indicate the accent, and then the subsequent vowel to receive the accent. So, press the option key and the additional letter TOGETHER, and then push the subsequent vowel separately after.
Mac Option Codes for Vowels
|Acute||á Á||Option+E, V|
|Circumflex||â Â||Option+I, V|
|Grave||à À||Option+`, V|
|Umlaut||ë Ë||Option+U, V|
Mac Codes for Consonant, Punctuation
|Sym||Mac Option Code|
|€||Shift+Option+2 (not on older fonts)|
Linux – key sequences
I am learning that entering “special” French characters using Linux may be the easiest way yet. It is done through a process called “Compose Key Sequences.” First a special key stroke is assigned to indicate when a special character is about to be entered. Then a sequence of keystrokes indicating the character to be entered.
I am running Ubuntu 12.04 on a VirtualBox VM. To set the key which triggers the sequence, go to System Settings > Options (button) > Compose key position and then indicate the key you wish to use to create the special character. I have chosen both the right and left Windows key. To actually enter the special character, first, hit the key you have chosen to trigger the sequence. THEN, enter the other characters one at a time. Do NOT enter the characters together – as that won’t work. So, for ç, hit “Win key” then “,” (comma key) then “c”. The list of key sequences can be found at Wiki (EN) Common_compose_combinations. (I have included some useful additional codes in addition to the French ones.) Note that the key combinations are almost identical for all vowels – the compose sequence key, an “accent” key such as ” ‘ ” and then a vowel.
Common Compose Key Combinations
|Vowels support most of the above|
Google Virtual Keyboard extension for Chrome provides a virtual keyboard to be used when browsing the web, or creating things such as blog posts.