When we are in contact with students, other people, places, and texts from different cultures, we often encounter words and names that contain characters that don't exist in our own language. What do you do when you are using a U.S. keyboard and need to type a word with a Swedish å, a Portuguese ç, a Finnish ö, or a French ÿ?
Some simply ignore the special characters while others try to memorize keyboard shortcuts. Since I often write in my native Finnish, which uses the characters ä and ö, I have tried many methods. For many years, I simply ignored the special characters, especially in emails and other casual correspondence. This, however, resulted in many amusing words and even some not-so-amusing misunderstandings. Then I installed a Windows keyboard layout, but that also had its problems, often interfering with my ability to type normal letters.
A few years ago, when I bought a new computer, I decided to search for another option. Through an Internet search, I discovered a website created by Tomasz P. Szynalski, a Polish translator, teacher, and web designer. Based on an idea he got from a Russian keyboard on the Apronus.com site, Szynalski created useful text boxes, or editors, for French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. He even created a text box for IPA phonetics symbols, which types English pronunciations of English words as they appear in English dictionaries. This could be an excellent tool for many ESL and foreign exchange students!
Obviously, Szynalski's text boxes don't help everyone. Another option, which I haven't tried personally, involves the use of keyboard stickers, like those described on keyboardstickers.net. I'd also be curious to learn about other solutions, as I am committed to trying to type every student's name correctly, especially in online courses, where the written word is the primary form of communication.