If you’re an English speaker, then you may be puzzled sometimes by how to input special or accented characters in non-English words. There’s a way to do this on pretty much every operating system and device, but today we want to focus on OS X.

One truly great thing about touchscreen keyboards is that they have revolutionized how we enter text. From auto-suggestions for easy inputting to swipe style designs that let you draw the words out on the keyboard, we’re so used to our phones and tablets that we often don’t think much about traditional (albeit faster and more efficient) full-sized keyboards

Touchscreen keyboards have another thing going for them when it comes to special characters too. Both Android and iOS devices support long presses, which bring up a selection of available special characters that you can then tap to choose.

Hold the key, and you can select secondary special characters from the resulting menu.

If you’re using Windows, this process is still unnecessarily complicated using a traditional keyboard, which requires the “Num Lock” key to be on, then to press “Alt” and the corresponding code, which can be found on the character map. Windows 8.1’s on-screen keyboard is a little better about this, allowing for a long-presses or long-clicks to access special characters.

OS X integrates the long-press function right into normal typing, however, which means that while you have to tap to repeat characters, the ability to actually spell “touché” or “cómo estás” correctly will be more important to anyone looking to create accurate documents, quickly, with more ease.

In this case, we’ve pressed the “a” key and held it until the character menu appears above it. We press “2” to select our accented “á” and it is inserted into the word.

Thus, whenever you’re typing a document, if you’re in the middle of a particular phrase or string of text that requires accents, tildes, and other special characters, simply long-press the key and type the symbol’s corresponding number from the resulting menu.

Going Further with the OS X Characters Application

This method only works with Latin-based characters. If you want to insert another type of special character such as a math symbol or even emoji, then you need to open the Characters application by either using “Control + Command + Space” or selecting “Emoji & Symbols” from the “Edit” menu.

For example, if you wanted to insert the symbol for yen (or Euro or cent, etc.), then you’d click the “Currency Symbols”, and double-click the yen symbol, which will then be inserted into your text.

There are a number of other characters you can insert as well, such a copyright symbols, arrows, and much more.

The most important takeaway here, however, is the ease through which you can insert foreign language characters using only two keystrokes. Hopefully, this will give more naïve users the power to at last correctly spell Mötley Crüe and señor while projecting a learnéd flair in all their writing. Then again, when at a loss for words, there’s always emoji.

If you have an questions or comments you would like to contribute, please leave them in our discussion forum.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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