How to Type Spanish Characters on a PC with an English Keyboard

A male Northern elephant seal rests in the sand at Año Nuevo State Beach (January 2011).
A male Northern elephant seal rests in the sand at Año Nuevo State Beach (January 2011).

If you are a PC user who speaks English as a first language, but frequently needs to type Spanish because it’s your second language, you’re taking a class, or because you live near somewhere like Año Nuevo (the ñ versus n is especially important here) or La Cañada you’ve experienced the frustration of trying to type Spanish characters on an English keyboard. If you’re a Mac user you get to feel superior knowing this is actually quite easy to do on your preferred brand.

The first solution often suggested to PC users is to use Microsoft’s notorious Alt codes, but these don’t always work (especially not on laptops) and are extremely non-intuitive to memorize. Holier-than-thou internationalists will then say that you should change the settings on your computer to switch the keyboard to either “International” (whatever that means) or Spanish. The problem with this strategy that all of a sudden keys will produce different characters than the ones they are marked with on the keyboard and this can be confusing and frustrating, something that any gringo who has struggled in vain to type an @ on a Spanish keyboard already knows.

The solution I have found that works best for me is to use the program autohotkey, which lets you create a script that instructs your computer to automatically insert specific words or characters when specific combinations of keys are pressed. I’m not particularly good at programming, but even I was able to figure out how to create a script that I will now be able to use to type Spanish characters whenever I need to inform people that “Yo no sé mañana” is one of my favorite salsa songs. I know, however, that some of my readers probably have no programming experience so for you I am providing cookbook instructions. I must first clarify though that  the instructions have no warranty.

Cookbook for Spanish Typing on PCs

1) Download and install autohotkey

2) Right click on your Desktop and a Menu will appear. Scroll to new and then click AutoHotkey Script.

3) Paste the following text into your script
RAlt & n::
Send, ñ
Return

RAlt & a::
Send, á
Return

RAlt & e::
Send, é
Return

RAlt & i::
Send, í
Return

RAlt & o::
Send, ó
Return

RAlt & u::
Send, ú
Return

^+a::
Send, Á
Return

^+e::
Send, É
Return

^+i::
Send, Í
Return

^+n::
Send, Ñ
Return

^+o::
Send, Ó
Return

^+u::
Send, Ú
Return

^+/::
Send, ¿
Return

^+1::
Send, ¡
Return

4) Save the script to your desktop

5) When you want to type Spanish characters right click on the script and click run (you only need to do this one time per computer session).

6) The codes for the script are as follows

Right Alt Key (hereafter called RAlt) and a = á

RAlt and e = é

RAlt and i = í

RAlt and n = ñ

RAlt and o = ó

RAlt and u = ú

Control and Shift and / = ¿

Control and Shift and 1 = ¡

Control and Shift and A = Á

Control and Shift and E = É

Control and Shift and I = Í

Control and Shift and N = Ñ

Control and Shift and O = Ó

Control and Shift and U = Ú

¡Qué les vaya bien!

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