Unlike, the English language, the French language has a very distinct way of typing letters. The annotations that make each vowel – and sometimes consonant – sound different are very important to make the subtle differences between contexts and other meanings.
Take the word façade for instance. This word has already been absorbed into the English language, but the "c" sound is still often spelled with a "little tail" or a cedille. That is something that has not seen much use in the American vocabulary. It’s fairly difficult to type in these characters, given the nature of most standard English-character keyboards.
Here’s how you can type in the special characters.
1. If you can get the hang of it, using an international keyboard setting that comes with the Windows Operating System could be a good option. To make the special characters, you just have to type the symbol before the letter, and it will automatically transform as you continue typing.
- For instance, you can type "`" (the character right next to the number "1" key) then the succeeding character (it could be a, e or any other vowel) to make an accent grave.
- A cedilla (ç) can be typed by typing a single quote (‘) then the letter c.
- The same rule is followed for the accent aigu (single quote then e), circonflexe – (ê) (shift +6 for the caret sign then e), trema – (ö) (shift + single quote plus "o").
2. If the use of the international keyboard is not ideal, you can always use the character map, where you could click and insert whatever special character you need on your document. It would definitely help if you can devise a hot keying system for your purposes.
3. If you’ll be typing more than your share of French articles, you might be better off getting a French keyboard. This type of keyboard has a lot of differences from a QWERTY keyboard. For one, the top six letters on the left corner would be "AZERTY". The keys for "Q" and "A" have been switched as well as the keys for "W" and "Z". The letter "M" has also been transplanted to where the ";" (semi-colon) sign is normally located. The numbers on top require the use of the shift key, because the special characters with the annotations are main characters on the upper row of keys just below the function keys.
4. Then there are the alt keys. These are special characters that you can make without having to buy a special keyboard or familiarize yourself with other conventions. These ALT keys are activated by holding the ALT key while you type in the combination on the numeric keypad. As soon as you release the ALT key, the resulting character appears. Here are some of the ALT keys that you can use.
a with a grave accent
- lower case ALT + 133
- upppercase ALT + 0192
a with circumflex
- lower case ALT + 131
- uppercase ALT + 0194
a with trema
- lower case ALT + 132
- uppercase ALT + 142
a with ligature
- lower case ALT + 145
- uppercase ALT + 146
c with cedilla
- lower case ALT + 135
- uppercase higher case ALT + 128
e with acute accent
- lower case ALT + 130
- uppercase ALT + 144
e with grave accent
- lower case ALT + 138
- uppercase ALT + 0200
e with circumflex
- lower case ALT + 136 upper
- case ALT + 0202
Another way would be to use the character map utility. This can be accessed by hitting Start, then Run, then typing in CHARMAP.exe. You can select and copy which special characters you want to insert into your document, and then paste these in the proper place. It might be tedious to have to jump between a word processor window and the character map, though. So the best way would still be to use the keyboard.
It can be quite overwhelming, but with enough practice and everyday usage, you would definitely be able to remember which codes correspond to which characters.