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Creating accented characters with the Windows US International keyboard layout

Warning: this Insight is for Duolinguists who are confident about modifying their Windows Control Panel settings. I can’t accept responsibility if you mess up your PC! Also, this is only directly applicable if you have a US keyboard layout. I will go on to explain how non-US keyboard users can create a custom International layout.

Are you fed up with trying to remember and create accented characters using [Alt] numeric keypad codes, e.g. [Alt]+0224 = à ? And if you are using a laptop, this is a particular pain, as there is no separate numeric keypad. So it involves about nine keystrokes, by the time you’ve turned [NumLock] on and remembered to turn it off again, 6therw5se y64 start t6 ty*e 352e th5s !!!

In that case you might like to investigate using the United States – International keyboard layout. This converts your keyboard layout, so that certain symbols become “dead keys”, like a proper French typewriter. So, for instance, typing the [`] (accent grave key) does nothing, until you type [a], and then you get à. If you just want the dead key character, you need to follow it with a character that does not take the accent, like a consonant or [Space].

There’s a Microsoft article KB306560 and a Microsoft Fix It 50558 that will do the setup for you. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306560

What happens if you don’t have a US keyboard on your PC? You can still install the United States – International layout and use it, but some of your keys will no longer map correctly. In fact, you can install pretty well any keyboard layout.

You might assume that a French keyboard layout would be a good idea if you are learning French. But the French keyboard layout is radically different from most Western keyboards, because the first few letter keys spell “AZERTY” rather than “QWERTY”. Accented characters would now have dedicated keys (if you can remember where they are), but your spelling could tqke q turn for the zorse!

The solution (and this is particularly cool if you are studying several Duolingo languages) is to create your own keyboard layout(s). I have just created myself a custom UK keyboard layout with French dead key accents, which incorporates just the accented characters I need for French – i.e. no tildes and just ç and é resulting from the dead key apostrophe key [‘].

To create a custom keyboard layout, you need to download the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator program from the MSDN website. Start by loading the existing US – International layout to see how dead keys are created. Then load your standard country layout and start applying the changes and characters you need for your chosen language(s).

You can have several languages and keyboard layouts available and toggle between them, so it is easy to have say French language with UK + French accent keyboard, and then switch to Spanish language with a UK + Spanish accent keyboard.

Again, don’t try this if you are not confident about customising your PC.

September 16, 2012



I find dead keys annoying (As unlike most Internet users, I bother to use the apostrophe). Luckily, on Linux, you can simply toggle a checkbox that will set up a compose key, so when you hit the Super(Windows) Key + diacritical standin + letter, you get an accented character


Super + 'a gets you á.

It also works in reverse, so Super + a' will also get you an acute á.

The compose is also very comprehensive, making inputting æ œ ç ß ° ü è ā ¿ ¡ ñ õ ø € ń ‰ Ⓡ þ etc. incredibly easy.

It makes sense too, you can even guess some combinations without knowing the full list. For example, Super + ss = ß, Super + O/ = Ø, Super + C = = €


I use a Mac with a US International keyboard, which works well for me in my browser, and in all applications. In DuoLingo, alas, the the dead accent keys (acute and grave accents) stop working... as they just did in this input box, so I haven t demonstrated them. The fault is intermittent: I can remedy it by signing out and signing back in; it appears without warning or cause that s obvious to me; I m losing a lot of hearts over it.

Can anyone help?

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