One of the most important aspects of computer-aided work is being able to do with the computer, all the things one would be able to do without it, and this is so much more valid with regard to the writing, reading, and translation of documents from one language to another. Locale-specific character sets, language-specific characters, even the direction of the writing, in the case of some languages, plays a huge role in how average computer users and professionals alike will perceive the computer. Whether a teenager or a member of the the generation of baby-boomers, the generation of our grandparents, the ability to use the computer and its programs in the native language of the user, will determine whether that user will think of the computer and its programs as of a friend or as of an enemy.
Given that sometimes relatives and aquaintances call me to fix a problem with their computers, I have seen quite a large number of cases in which a user would not want to use the computer or a wordprocessor program, because they didn’t know how to write in a specific charset. Now I know this could sound a little bit far fetched, if we only take into consideration the English language, that is, there’s not much of punctuation OVER the letters that would change a letter’s pronounciation according to its context’s needs, but in some European languages, as it is the case with Romanian and Hungarian for instance, being able to write with specifically punctuated letters and characters makes ALL the difference.
Just a few interesting facts: in the Hungarian language, though the following two words are written in almost the same way, they mean 2 completely different things:
“verebek” – sparrows
“vérebek” – bloodhounds
And the same goes for Romanian, Polish, Czech, and a host of other languages, so much so, that in some countries, there are legislative and academic procedures currently undergoing to CHANGE THE LANGUAGE to make it fit the current era, and learn to write without some of the locale-specific characters. So for some of us, it’s imperative to find the right characters on the keyboard, even for writing a simple letter.
In most cases however, when you buy a computer, or a friend or anyone else comes and installs an operating system on your PC, make sure you either tell them to install or configure all the needed keyboard layouts, or you’ll have to do it by yourself, later.
Not to worry though, it’s really not that hard to configure a keyboard layout other then the default one, here’s a simple, straight-forward howto for installing Romanian and Hungarian, for instance, and the procedure is the same for all of the languages included in ubuntu’s, debian’s or linux mint’s list.
Presuming you use gnome as your desktop manager, and you have the right apps installed, you either click on “system”, in the menu, then go to “preferences”- “keyboard” or you press CTRL+F1 for bringing up the main gnome menu, and then go to system-preferences-keyboard.
Then in the window that appears, you click on “layouts” (image 2), and you click on “Add”. A list with a huge image of a keyboard appears on your screen. There are two tabs above the keyboard’s images, “By country”, and “By language”, and both of those tabs have 2 option menus. I recommend selecting first “By country” – and from the list that appears, scroll down to select the country for which you want a new keyboard layout to be made available. Then, based on whether your country’s language does or does not have several keyboard variants, you might have to select from the second options menu, the proper variant for your keyboard (image 3). After that, you click on Add in the same window, and you will be returned to the previous “Layouts” window, with the language you just added, being in the list. You can repeat the operation for adding all the necessary languages.
Now, for the easiest changing the keyboard layouts, I don’t personally recommend to leave the default key combination – pressing both alt keys together – unchanged, since I consider it a waste of time to be forced to press two different keys with two different hands for fast-switching keyboard layouts, instead, I recommend changing it to LeftCtrl+LeftShift, because these two you can press several times to rotate between the configured layouts as many times as you need.
Click on “Options” in the layouts window, and another window appears, click on “Keys to change layout” – it’s usually rigth in the middle of the window – and UNCHECK the “Both alt keys together”, then check the checkbox near “Left CTRL+Left Shift” row in the list of possible combinations. Then click “Close”, and “Close” again.
There you have it. You have all the necessary character/keyboard layouts available. You also have the possibility to make a selected layout “Stick” all over the open apps, but that’s not recommended, since, for instance, if you do translations, you’ll want to have in two different, simultaneously open programs, two different keyboard layouts.
Bare in mind, that this only gives you the ability to TYPE / WRITE with the proper characters and letters of the respective languages, and it has nothing to do with autocorrections, spelling, or grammar proofing tools, those can be configured from completely different menus.
If you run into any troubles related to these issues… leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.
UPDATE: check out THIS post which also has a video showing you how to do it the easiest way.