The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Writing for LEP Readers

I am sure you already know the most important thing to do when you write for an LEP audience. So I will not remind you to write in the plainest most readable English that you can manage, before you translate into another language. Find plentiful, but not overwhelming, resources for writing readable materials in the Plain Language / Readability section of MassLegalServices.

Another important step is make sure:

  1. your accents and special characters are correct and 
  2. you do not spend more time than you absolutely have to getting ñ and ó and other *diacritical marks into your work.

Skip blog and cut to the chase - Use your keyboard to type diacritical marks.

Some people I know, just leave these special characters out. They expect and hope someone who really knows the language and cares about details will fix.

Some people find other documents or web pages that already contain these characters. Then they painstakingly copy and paste individual characters.

Others use the character map selecting specific characters, copying and then pasting.

Some of the techiest people I know already have the alt key + number combinations memorized. This technique enables you to type almost any character with 4 strokes on the keyboard - as long as the numlock on your keyboard works. This is the technique I used to use. I used to have a little chart with the key combinations for the characters I could not get on my keyboard.

Then I bought my latest greatest laptop. Alas there is no numlock on my keyboard. I Googled and read forum after forum searching for how to get the special numbered keys that combine with the alt key to produce special characters. No one had any answers, some people had ideas. Those ideas did not work for me. Finally, I emailed and then phoned the makers of my laptop, Lenovo Support. I persisted, in utter disbelief that Lenovo would deliberately produce a computer, in this day and age, that does not permit a user to type in international characters. "In a world where it is even more important than ever to  to communicate in other languages? What about all those mutinational international big business types?" I asked.

"Nope, can't be done."

"Don't work." Was the response. 

I did not pursue this goal relentlessly for months but I did spend hours on some weekends and evenings and days when I just couldn't focus on the intricacies of who had health insurance and who paid child support and whether they were male or female custodial or non-custodial parent for the Do It Yourself Child Support Court Forms interviews I have been working on for 2 1/2 years. All in all, adding up the hours, I spent far too much time looking, as you do. But it really bugs me!

We are just now getting ready to do another major test of our Spanish Do It Yourself Child Support Court Forms.  Today after spending two weeks copying and pasting Spanish text into interviews and very sensitive to the fact that our first round of tests revealed a deep dissatisfaction from our testers about the neglectful way we haphazardly sprinkle accents, tildes and other critical punctuation, or not around the place - as well as streams of English in all the wrong places, I got lucky!

I really do get fed up selecting, copying and pasting from the character map or some other document. I want to be able to simply type the character I want or need so I tried one more time:

Use your keyboard to type diacritical  marks

It only takes minutes to set up your computer to do this. Once you have  it set up, you just need to remember to switch to the correct keyboard and fairly intuitive combinations for the different characters

  1. Install the English US International Keyboard on your computer - depending on your operating system you do this differently, but it involves 
    1. Control Panel > Region and Language > Keyboards, you add the English-US International Keyboard to your keyboard choices
  2.  Once the keyboard is installed a little keyboard will appear at the bottom of your taskbar. You can click on the keyboard to go back and forth between the regular standard keyboard, or the International one. Or if you user your mouse as little as possible, you can assign keyboard shortcuts to switch between languages.
  3. Then use the chart below to type the character you need.
Press this key Then press this key Resulting character
'(APOSTROPHE) c, e, y, u, i, o, a ç, é, ý, ú, í, ó, á
"(QUOTATION MARK) e, y, u, i, o, a ë, ÿ, ü, ï, ö, ä
`(ACCENT GRAVE) e, u, i, o, a è, ù, ì, ò, à
~(TILDE) o, n, a õ, ñ, ã
^(CARET) e, u, i, o, a ê, û, î, ô, â
Alt + Ctrl(Alt key + Ctrl key)  1, /,  ¡as in!, ¿,

More details available from Microsoft Support How to use the United States-International keyboard layout in Windows 7, in Windows Vista, and in Windows X

*diacritical marks glossary word 2 points for you!
From  Wikipedia: A diacritic /d.əˈkrɪtɨk/ – also diacritical markdiacritical pointdiacritical sign from ancient Greek διά (dia, through) and κρίνω (krinein, to separate) – is aglyph added to a letter, or basic glyph. The term derives from the Greek διακριτικός (diakritikós, "distinguishing"). ... Some diacritical marks, such as the acute ( ´ ) and grave ( ` ) are often called accents. Diacritical marks may appear above or below a letter, or in some other position such as within the letter or between two letters.

Limit Offer