US Multilingo+ (QWERTY) keyboard layout

01 _ US QWERTY+_keyboardSTICKERS.png

US QWERTY+
International multilingual keyboard layout — a free software tool for professional writing

✽ What is the US QWERTY+ ?

It’s a free ⌨ custom keyboard layout for the Windows OS. This is not a physical keyboard you can buy. It’s a driver you can use with the keyboard you already have. It basically upgrades your keyboard to become better. 

I’ve created the layout using the built-in tool in Microsoft Windows called Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4 (MSKLC, available for free from Microsoft here).

 

With the US QWERTY+ the standard monolingual US QWERTY keyboard is transformed into a US international keyboard optimised for various common languages that use the Latin alphabet.

 

There’s no need to relearn new placements of keys, the US-International layout, or a new foreign layout that has WASD and Ctrl+Z all in different places. Because the keyboard layout driver is a software driver with Microsoft code it should work fine on all Windows PCs from Windows 2000 to Windows 10 with zero compatibility issues.

 

Best of all, you can still type in the same US QWERTY keyboard with almost zero changes.

✽ But I only need to type in English…?

Actually, there are non-English loanwords found all over in the English language that almost always appear with diacritical marks:
“bon appétit”, “café”, “crème brûlée”, “jalapeño”, “pièce de résistance”, “crème de la crème”.

These foreign loanwords often have their admittedly visually-appealing foreign accents dropped and they become:
“bon appetit”, “cafe”, “crème brulee”, “jalapeno”, “piece de resistance”, and “creme de la creme”

 

This is not always because they have officially become English words with new spellings with accented letters dropped; this is usually due to technical limitations and impracticality. The US keyboard on Windows is never designed to be multilingual-friendly, forcing you to use clumsy Alt codes that should be meant for very rarely used characters. Unlike onscreen keyboards on mobile touchscreen devices, a physical keyboard built into a laptop stays fixed. If you remove the technical limitations and make it practical, I think the “proper” spellings will become more common. Pronunciation might also become a bit easier.

With a multilingual keyboard layout software, there’s no need to change back and forth from Spanish and English hardware keyboards just to write that one Spanish email to your Spanish-speaking friends and relatives, for example. This should also be quite useful for bilinguals, language learners, translators, linguists, font designers, novelists, journalists, programmers, scientists, college students, expats… and polyglots.

Aside from languages, this keyboard layout also supports typing specialised Unicode symbols that may be useful. Some of these symbols are used quite frequently in science, maths, and business: ° µ ± ¥

✽ Uh I lost you there. What are diacritical marks and accented letters? What are accents?

They are those little marks on top of letters that are very common in many Latin-based European languages. For instance, the mark on top of “é” is called an acute accent ( ´ ). The mark on top of “ë” is the ( ¨ ), called a diaeresis, an umlaut, or a tréma.

✽ What is Unicode?

Unicode is a universal character-encoding standard that provides a unique number for every character, no matter which platform or language. For example, the Latin small letter e has a Unicode value of U+0065 while the Latin small letter e with acute (é) has a Unicode value of U+00E9

✽ What is the AltGr key?

The AltGr key, also known as the Right Alt key is a modifier key found on the bottom right corner of most European keyboards. On a US keyboard, it is a duplicate of the Left Alt key. When you switch to an European layout via software on a US keyboard, the AltGr key is automatically activated and becomes a “new” key.

AltGr is used similarly to the Shift key: it is held down while another key is pressed in order to obtain a character other than the one that the Shift key normally produces. AltGr and Shift can also sometimes be combined to obtain yet another character.

Where's the AltGr key

Source: wikiHow _ How to Type Foreign Language Characters with an American Keyboard

✽ What is a dead key?

A dead key is a special kind of character that acts like a modifier key. When you press a dead key character, it does not generate a (complete) version of itself — nothing appears until you press a another key. If a keyboard layout has (`) as a grave accent dead key, the French character à can be generated by first pressing ` and then a.

✽ I see a few custom keyboard software layouts following a Google search. How is this keyboard layout any different?

This keyboard layout offers support for so many languages it’s hard to count; but the main thing is that it’s very unobtrusive and optimised as much as possible for Spanish and French (considering the monolingual aspects of the original American keyboard layout the US QWERTY+ based on).

 

I choose to optimise Spanish because it is a common language spoken in the US. As for French, the English language tends to borrow French loanwords so it makes sense to optimise French on an English keyboard.

Plus, it’s designed to be useful even if you rarely or never type any foreign languages.

 

The layout is created with lots of linguistics and technical research and is implemented with a special new deadkey autocorrection algorithm called IDDKAS. 

✽ So I went into the language and keyboard settings in Windows and apparently there’s already an international US QWERTY software layout called US-International or United States-International. What’s the difference between that one and the US QWERTY+  ? I know a few European typists who use the default US-International on an American keyboard.

Part of the reason why I created a new custom layout for myself is because I was very dissatisfied with the US‑International. There are a few glaring problems:
 

• Radically changes the behaviour of your normal US QWERTY keyboard so much it’s quite hard to type a simple apostrophe (') and straight double quotation marks (")

• No option to manually type curly double quotation marks used in English (“”)

• Em dashes and en dashes (— –) used quite frequently in English are unavailable.

• The French language isn’t fully supported (œ, Œ, non-breaking spaces, and the middle dot are unavailable)

• The German language isn’t fully supported (capital letter ẞ, and German quotation marks „“ are unavailable)

• The Swiss French/Swiss German language isn’t fully supported (single angle guillemets ‹› are unavailable)

• The Italian language isn’t fully supported (masculine and feminine ordinal indicators º ª are unavailable)

• Badly optimised for programmers who use the circumflex ( ^ ) and backquote ( ` ) a lot

• Priority given to relatively rare languages like Icelandic instead of other Western and Eastern European languages that are completely unsupported in the layout. (sorry Icelandic)

US-International keyboard layout and how it can be improved

Source: Wikimedia Commons / Wikipedia _ British and American keyboards

The US-International keyboard layout driver, designed for the US QWERTY hardware keyboard. It’s been around in Windows for ages.

Note that the apostrophe (’) becomes an acute accent (´) dead key which makes “café” very easy to type but words with apostrophes like “it's” can become very annoying to type. You need to press SPACE after typing an apostrophe (').

The missing œ ligature required in French is a notorious problem that forces users to rely on autocorrection systems in word processors, or Alt codes such as Alt 0156 (œ) and Alt 0140 (Œ).

✓ cœur
✗ coeur

✽ Is it compatible with the third-party program WinCompose?

Yes but not entirely. US QWERTY+ nº3.2.7 (previously named US Multilingo+ nº3.2.7) and later versions are semi-compatible with WinCompose v0.9.3. The two programs work with each other quite well but there are some quirks if you set the wrong settings.

 

In WinCompose settings it is recommended to play around with the settings. You can ☑enable “Maintain original compose key behaviour” and/or set the Compose key set to be any other key than the AltGr key. You can use WinCompose if you prefer using the program to type emojis and rare symbols that are unavailable on the US QWERTY+.

For typing foreign languages like French or Spanish and certain common symbols it is much faster and more intuitive with a keyboard layout driver like the US QWERTY+ (or the new French AZERTY keyboard). US QWERTY+ is designed to replace the standard US keyboard. WinCompose is designed to be an addition to the keyboard.

✽ I’m not German. If I want to type German I must buy a German Bluetooth keyboard all the way from Germany and must learn a new keyboard layout called QWERTZ. This is the best way to type German, right?

Of course, especially if you type a lot of German. The US QWERTY+ keyboard solution is designed to be a universal solution for typing German and Swedish on the fly without the need for European Bluetooth keyboards. 

 

A proper German QWERTZ keyboard makes ü ö ä ß Ü Ä Ö ẞ even easier to type. However, the traditional German and Swiss German quotation marks („“ »«) are missing in a German QWERTZ keyboard. If you need to type them you might need the US QWERTY+. Another thing to note is that German and some European keyboards have the Y and Z in different places which might be more than annoying to get used to.

The same approach doesn’t work with French however. There’s is something strange with French keyboards. Learning a whole new French layout just to type some French words isn’t exactly practical. In fact it’s quite confusing; there are so many official French keyboards and they all differ from each other quite a lot. During my French studies I researched quite a fair bit on French orthography and how difficult it really is to type proper French — even on a standard French keyboard commonly available in France! Luckily, the Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR, en: French Standardization Association) has recently developed new keyboards (the nouvel AZERTY NF Z71-300 and BÉPO) which finally fixed that problem. 

 

Because it is unreasonable for every English-speaking person to learn a completely new layout just to type a few French words, I incorporated some of the ideas and principles from their new French keyboard layouts into the US QWERTY+, et voilà! You can now type Spanish, French, German and other languages on your US QWERTY keyboard. No need to learn this.↓

ZQSD WASD ESDF old French AZERTY keyboard layout to be replaced with new French AZERTY keyboard

Source: Wikimedia Commons. The image here has been edited to show the different positions of the letter keys compared to a US QWERTY keyboard layout.

This is the traditional French AZERTY keyboard layout used in France. ZQSD instead of WASD for gaming. The letter keys AZQWM are arranged to be more optimised for typing French compared to the QWERTY layout (easier to type “vous m'avez dit”).

 

However, this is another extra hurdle for Anglophones or expats trying the learn the French language. I believe that a unified keyboard solution can reduce the barriers between the two different languages. But for now, we’ll still have QWERTY and AZERTY.

Tip for French people and francophones:
If you want an even better typing experience for the French language, have a look at the  Nouvel AZERTY-NF ↗ 

✽ I am used to the German QWERTZ layout and I appreciate the easy input of the German ä ö ü ß so I type on a German keyboard on my PC. However, I prefer to switch to the US QWERTY layout occasionally for certain programs and games. For this reason I've applied bilingual stickers onto my keyboard so that I can visually see both keyboard layouts at the same and avoid the confusion between the Y and Z keys. How can the US Multilingo+ help me?

You can install the US QWERTY+ (which is basically an international version of the US keyboard) and use the German QWERTZ layout (or any other German layout) like normal. When you need to type a ¥ currency symbol or arrow keys (→⇒▶) simply switch to the US QWERTY+ keyboard layout.

You don't necessarily need keyboard stickers for the US QWERTY+. It would be nice to have a something like this though (Keyboard Layout Editor for keyboard stickers chart) ↗

There is a Spanish keyboard layout driver in Windows settings and it looks very similar to the US keyboard. Should I learn it and apply bilingual keyboard stickers or try the US QWERTY+ ?

Up to you. One of the downsides of bilingual keyboard stickers is that you might get confused from all those “doubled symbols”. The stickers also might not be ideal if you have a backlit keyboard.

The US QWERTY+ is optimised as much as possible for the Spanish language without compromising English.

✽ What is this flower symbol I keep seeing over here? It looks cute and elegant.

Ah so you’ve noticed. If you copy and paste this Unicode symbol on Google it is identified as HEAVY TEARDROP-SPOKED ASTERISK [U+273C]. It’s just one of the hundreds of symbols built into the keyboard layout. Fun fact: The first image above at the top of this page is actually just a screenshot from a Microsoft Word document consisting of the Netherlands Antillean guilder currency sign (ƒ), hair spaces ( ), the feminine ordinal indicator (ª) and an ordinary small letter q. All these special characters are available on the keyboard layout.

✽ How many languages does US QWERTY+ support?

The US QWERTY+ is able to support all languages except for those that do not use the Latin alphabet like Russian and Chinese. (But it supports Hanyu Pinyin.) As for Greek, this keyboard layout only offers partial support for it. A full list of supported languages is not going to be available here yet.

List of supported languages (most optimised ones first):

• English

• Spanish       | Español

• Italian         | Italiano

• Dutch          | Nederlands

• Irish Gaelic | Gaeilge

• Welsh          | Cymraeg/y Gymraeg

• French         | Français

• German       | Deutsch

• Swedish      | Svenska

• Danish         | Dansk

• Norwegian  | Norsk

• Finnish        | Suomi

• Portuguese | Português

• Icelandic     | Íslenska

• Polish          | Polski

• Turkish        | Türkçe

• Walloon       | Walon

• Esperanto    | Esperanto

• Czech           | Čeština

• Romanian    | Română

• Maltese        | Malti

etc.

✽ How can I try out this keyboard layout?

Go to the top menu and hover your mouse over “US QWERTY+ Multilingual” then “Download • Installation”.

✽ It’s only available for Windows?

Yes. At the moment, I have no plans or the means to port the software driver over to Linux, Mac, or Android.

✽ Why does Windows SmartScreen show up and say that the file might be a risk to my PC?

You need unblock the downloaded zip file before extracting it. See the Download and Installation Guide.

The setup file that I’ve provided here is not digitally signed. A digital signature is a very expensive professional licence (requires a yearly subscription) and above the budget of this free program. I assure you that it is safe to install this program; if you choose the “download via Google Drive” option, Google Drive automatically scans the file with its built-in security measures. You can also scan the downloaded folder using an antivirus program like Windows Defender before the installation. I plan to upload the keyboard layout to other websites as well where reviewers can evaluate it.

 

✽ I’m a programmer with some linguistic knowledge. Can I customise the US QWERTY+ keyboard layout myself and add more symbols from Unicode?

At the moment the source code is unavailable to be downloaded. I have put immense amounts of effort into this free program and I don’t want to make the source code readily available yet. And I am still working on IDDKAS 3.0 and the freeware licensing stuff.

That said, it is possible to edit the source code of the driver and you can do so for your own personal use.
 

✽ What is IDDKAS…? I’ve never heard of it.

IDDKAS stands for “Intelligent Diacritics and Dead Keys Autocorrection System”. I’ve developed this little algorithm to enable the input of hundreds of additional characters and the 22 dead key tables in the US QWERTY+ keyboard layout. It also ensures that a good typing experience is still maintained.

Brief technical explanation of IDDKAS

SHORT VERSION:

You can rollover type even with all those dead keys.

LONG VERSION:
For example, let’s say you want to type the “ô” in the word “hôtel”. To do this on the US QWERTY+ layout, hold down AltGr (RightAlt) and press ^(on the 6 key) and then press o, which will give you 
ô.

 

Hold down AltGr+^ → lift up AltGr → press o ⇥ ô

If the US QWERTY+ didn’t have IDDKAS however, sometimes there will be an “error”:

This happens if you forget to lift up the AltGr key in time.

Hold down AltGr+^ → still holding AltGr → press o ⇥ ^ó

The reason is because in a keyboard layout that doesn’t have IDDKAS, holding down AltGr and o already gives ó.

(AltGr + ^) + (AltGr + ó) ⇥ ^ó

 

I know that this is the default dead key error behaviour, but I find it annoying and inelegant. Now there are 2 useless characters to be erased.

With IDDKAS, the default dead key behavior is changed:

(AltGr + ^) + (AltGr + ó) ⇥ ô

Desired character to be typed.

With IDDKAS:

AltGr + ^ + r ⇥ ^

Because r with a circumflex accent doesn’t exist or is not defined in the keyboard layout. Instead of ^r there is only the ^ to be erased.

Without IDDKAS (default dead key behaviour):

(AltGr + ^) + (AltGr + ó) ⇥ 

Now there are 2 useless characters to be erased.

Without IDDKAS (default dead key behaviour):

AltGr + ^ + r ⇥ ^r

Now there are 2 useless characters to be erased.

✽ I installed it and just tried using it. Why does the backquote ( ` ) behave strangely? I can’t get used to it, even with the suggestions to double-tap it and using AltGr. I end up switching back and forth from my normal US layout and your layout even though I only want one single layout.

That’s because when you press the (`) on the US QWERTY+ Type A it generates the grave accent dead key (`) for typing letters like à è ù. It works the same way on the US-International QWERTY keyboard.

I’m guessing you are a programmer who types code way more than the grave accent A in “à la mode”… rhyme unintended. In this case you should download US QWERTY+ Type B, which is even more similar to the standard US layout you are already used to. In the US QWERTY+ Type B all additional characters are hidden under the AltGr and AltGr+Shift keys.

 

Note: If you don’t know what a curved apostrophe is ( ’ ) don’t use Type T at all.

✽ Why is there an extra ISO key which is supposed to be near the Left Shift key? My US ANSI layout is missing this key. How can I use this key?
 

This ISO key on the US QWERTY+ makes the non-breaking space (NBSP), the narrow non-breaking space (NNBSP), combining diacritics, and the ≤≥ much easier to type. It is very useful for typing proper typographic French punctuation. As these characters can also be typed without the ISO key, the ISO key is an optional duplicate.

If you have a standard US keyboard (ANSI) and you want to use this ISO key, you need to manually remap one of your keyboard's keys via the registry or an advanced program called AutoHotkey.

 

I use a very simple program called SharpKeys (available here↗) and I’ve remapped the useless Menu/Special Apps key on my keyboard to become the extra ISO key. If your keyboard doesn’t have that Menu key you can also remap the Right Control key.

Note: this method requires the Windows registry to be edited by the program.

This is my configuration in SharpKeys :

From:

Special: Application (E0_5D)

 

To:

Special: ISO extra key (00_56)

What is this “extra ABNT key” I see on the keyboard diagram?

If you are not an advanced user, simply ignore this.

On Brazilian Portuguese keyboards ↗, there are sometimes two extra keys:
ABNT_C1 and ABNT_C2
… and they are nowhere to be found in all the other keyboards of the world, except perhaps Japanese keyboards.

On the US QWERTY+ I’ve configured them to become optional extra keys for inserting non-breaking spaces.

You can use SharpKeys to remap keys around, if you want unlock the extra ABNT key feature, or if you happen to want to use the US QWERTY+ on your relatively rare Brazilian Portuguese keyboard.

✽ Why are some languages like Polish, Czech, and Vietnamese so hard to type on this keyboard layout; why are they even included in the first place? Why are some of the combining diacritics so weird to type?

There are some languages which are so unlikely to be typed on a standard US keyboard it doesn’t make sense for them to be optimised on the US QWERTY+, especially since there’s limited space. A lot of effort has been put into the keyboard layout to optimise the input of major European languages like Spanish, French, and German while still maintaining a reasonable “optimisation balance” between all of them.

 

As for Vietnamese, it is possible to type the full Vietnamese alphabet with combining diacritical marks on the US QWERTY+. However, the language requires such a huge number of diacritics it’s better to add a specially designed keyboard driver (not provided here) instead of spending time trying to type a lot of letters like ệ

In general I do not recommend using combining diacritics because they tend to create funny quirks in computers. Luckily, most major European languages do not have letters with two diacritics up and bottom like this weird letter ḉ that doesn’t exist in any language.

At least you can now type żurek on your American keyboard and learn Polish soup recipes.

Update: US QWERTY+ nº3.1.9 now makes the relatively common ż in Polish slightly easier to type. However, if you need to type a lot of Polish, it is still recommended to switch to the Polish programmer's keyboard layout ↗ (not provided here) which is designed for the US QWERTY layout.

✽ Will there be a UK version, as in a UK QWERTY+ or UK Multilingual QWERTY Plus ?

Maybe. Not sure. Check out my Ko-fi page for updates.

✽ Why create all of this?

I’m a language geek who happens to like learning le français (French). I think easy intuitive access to special characters when you need them can save a lot of time, and it’s about time we seriously upgrade the keyboard, an important tool of communication in the digital age.

 

After all, in the future, sci-fi physical-virtual keyboards will most definitely be multilingual by default, with built-in customizable autocorrection while allowing input of the full range of proper typographic symbols that never cause software quirks. I do not see voice typing completely replacing the good old traditional keyboard anytime soon.

France is getting a new keyboard. Why not the English-speaking world too?

 

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