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An Introduction to Keyboard Layouts in Windows

Keyboard layouts in Windows allow you to type in a different language or dialect. By far the most common keyboard layout in the world is the standard QWERTY keyboard. Other countries, however, tend to have slightly different layouts while countries with languages written in different scripts have completely different keyboards entirely. However, regardless of the physical keyboard you have, you can install and use any keyboard layout that's supported by Windows. You can even design your own custom keyboard layouts using the free Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator application.

Why Use Different Keyboard Layouts?

The vast majority of languages other than English have a number of special characters. For example, Spanish uses accented vowels such as 'á' and 'ó' and many Slavic languages use consonants like 'š' and 'č' instead of English digraphs like 'sh' and 'ch' respectively. In order to enter these characters, you will need to either change your keyboard layout or go through the long-winded process of copying and pasting them from the Character Map application or any other source.

Your installed keyboard layout might not match the symbols of your actual keyboard, but this should not be a problem if there are only a few extra to remember, since most keyboards designed for Windows have the same number of keys. If you wish to type in a language that uses a different writing system, however, you will either need to purchase keyboard stickers or a new keyboard to go with your chosen keyboard layout. For some languages using different scripts, however, there are also phonetic keyboard layouts which you can use with a Latin keyboard.

Which Keyboard Layouts Are Available for Windows

Windows provides hundreds of different keyboard layouts for many different languages and regions. Windows 8 adds even more keyboard layouts to those of its predecessor, including some very obscure ones. For the English language, you'll find that there are slightly different keyboard layouts for different English-speaking regions in the world. With a UK English keyboard layout, for example, if you press 'Shift+3,' you will get the £ sign whereas, on a US keyboard layout, you'll get the # sign. In addition, you'll find a multitude of keyboard layouts available for every language from Afrikaans to Yoruba.

Installing New Keyboard Layouts

In Windows 8, you can access the language options by going to the desktop mode and clicking the language button (characterized by a three-letter language code) in the right-hand side of the taskbar and clicking "Language Preferences."

To install a new language, simply click on "Add a language" followed by the thumbnail representing the language you want to add. If there are different regional versions available, choose your preferred on from the next page and the keyboard layout will be installed. That's all there is to it. Note that, for many languages, you can also download a complete translation pack allowing you to use Windows in a language other than the default one.

To cycle between installed keyboard layouts, either press the Windows key and 'Space' or 'Alt' and 'Shift.'


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