When working on a document, sometimes you need to type in special characters. They can be either foreign language letters that are different from U.S. English or symbols such as £, ¢, ¶, ˚, or ©. Sure, you can hold down different combinations of keys and play hunt-n-peck until you find what you are looking for. But will you remember the key combination? What if there is no key combination? What about if you have to repeatedly type in many different characters? You can either struggle or use some of OS X’s special character features.
OS X’s Character Palette:
OS X supports a wide variety of multilingual characters and symbols. If you need to type in a few special characters but not a large amount of them, you can take advantage of the Character Palette.
- Open Text Edit.
- Choose the “Edit” Menu Bar item and select “Special Characters”.
- Look for the desired symbol / character. They are organized by category.
Note: If you need Asian, Middle Eastern or Non-Roman characters, change the “View:” preference in the upper left corner from Roman to All Characters.
- Select the symbol / character and click insert.
- This will insert your character into the active application.
Note: The active application can be Text Edit, Microsoft Word, Pages, etc. You are not limited to used Text Edit.
If you are using Microsoft Word, you can take advantage of it’s own special characters feature:
- Select Insert from the Menu Bar.
- Choose Symbol.
Using the OS X Character Palette is much easier than the included Symbols Insert menu in Microsoft Word. It also contains many more characters. The advantage of Microsoft’s menu is the keyboard shortcuts are displayed, making it easy to learn for frequently used characters. However, OS X includes another key feature to make learning keyboard shortcuts extremely easy.
Working with many special characters:
Now, let’s say you need to type in a just a few characters but often. Perhaps you are working on a document with heavy mathematical equations or foreign currencies.
- Go back to the Character Palette.
- Find your chosen symbol.
- Click on the little gear in the lower right.
- Choose “Add to Favorites”.
- Click on the Favorites tab toward the top.
- Your chosen favorite characters will await you.
The Character Palette will stay in the foreground whenever you need it. I’d recommend tucking it into the Dock when you don’t.
Heavy use of Special Characters:
It’s possible to use the Character Palette for foreign languages, or heavy use of symbols. However its more efficient to take advantage of OS X’s foreign keyboard maps and use the Keyboard Viewer to learn their locations.
- Go to the System Preferences.
- Choose International.
- Select the Input Menu tab.
- Select the checkbox next to Keyboard Viewer.
- For foreign languages, check the checkbox next to the desired country/language.
- Check the checkbox next to “Show input menu in menu bar” if unchecked.
- In the Menu Bar, you will see a little flag near the clock.
- Click on that flag to open up the Keyboard Viewer.
As you type you will see the keys respond in the keyboard viewer. It’s kind of redundant for US English if you have a US English keyboard, but hold down the Option key or Shift and Option together. You will see available symbols appear. Using the Keyboard Viewer as a guide is a great way to avoid wasting time looking for the desired symbol and learning the appropriate location. With practice, you won’t even need to use the Keyboard Viewer at all.
Working exclusively in Foreign languages that do not use Roman lettering:
- Click on the flag in the Menu Bar near the clock.
- Choose a Non-Roman language (if entered in the last step).
- Note the Keyboard Viewer has changed to the new keyboard layout.
- Now you may freely type in the chosen foreign language.
Note: This is a huge advantage if you are a native speaker and are used to the foreign keyboard of your home country.
- If you need to switch back, just choose the U.S. Keyboard map.