Once you really get into German, and many other European languages, you’ll need to learn how to type umlauts. Umlauts are the special extra letters in German and other European languages: ä, ö and ü. German also has another letter, the eszett: ß, which is also included in this tutorial.
In German speaking countries, the standard keyboard is a bit different to that in English speaking countries, and has the umlauts (ä ö ü) and eszett (ß) available as normal keys.
However for those of us with English Qwerty keyboards we need to learn how to type umlauts in order to be able to type in German.
After reading this post you will know:
- How to type umlauts on PC & Mac with & without a German keyboard
- How to type umlauts on iPhone & Android
- How to avoid typing umlauts when typing in German
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How to Type Umlauts on a PC
First of all you’ll need to download and install the German language pack, download it from the Microsoft website here.
Once you’ve done that, you can change which language your keyboard is set to by clicking on ENG or DEU to switch between. You can also switch quickly by pressing the Windows (start menu) key on the keyboard and the Space bar.
[Windows Key] + [Space]
Once the German keyboard is activated (indicated by DEU next to the clock) the layout of the keyboard changes to allow space for the umlauts and eszett. Of course you still have your physical English keyboard, so where are those umlauts hiding? Right here…
How to Type Umlauts on a Mac
Typing umlauts on a Mac is far more straightforward. Just hold down the Option key and press ‘u’. Then press whichever letter you want to add the umlaut to. This also works for the eszett (ß) by pressing ‘s’.
|ä||[Option] + [u] then [a]|
|ö||[Option] + [u] then [o]|
|ü||[Option] + [u] then [u]|
|ß||[Option] + [u] then [s]|
The German Keyboard Layout
Before we continue, I just want to explain how the German language keyboard layout is quite different to the English Qwerty keyboard layout.
When you change the input language from English to German, not only will you gain the umlauts as shown previously, you’ll also discover that a lot of characters get moved around. This is because the German keyboard layout needs to change in order to accommodate these 4 extra German letters.
In the next part of this post you’ll discover ways to type using the German keyboard layout whether you type frequently or infrequently in German.
Infrequent Typing in German
On a PC it can be tricky to remember where those umlauts are hiding. I’ve memorised them and find that it’s not a problem if I just need to quickly type one. I then use the Windows key + Space to switch back to the English keyboard and carry on typing.
If you’d rather an easier solution, you can buy German umlaut keyboard stickers on Amazon very cheaply. Just stick them over the appropriate keys on your keyboard to help you find the hidden umlauts.
If you don’t type a lot in German, this method is ideal. Leave the PC set to English, then Windows key + Space to switch to German when you need to type an umlaut. Then switch back to English and carry on typing.
This is the easiest solution because as I previously mentioned when you switch to German, you don’t just add the umlauts to your keyboard, a lot of other characters get moved around.
If you want a semi-permanent solution you can get silicone keyboard cover on Amazon to overlay the German keyboard over your existing keyboard. This way you can just leave your PC in German mode. When you want to type in English for a longer period, just remove the keyboard cover.
Frequent Typing in German
If you’re typing a lot in German, you’ll probably find it difficult to do long term on an English keyboard.
The best way to solve this problem is to simply buy a German layout keyboard. There are lots available on Amazon, I found this budget Solidtek German USB Wired Keyboard works great for me.
How to Type Umlauts on iPhone & Android
I actually find it much easier to type in German on my Android smartphone, compared to on a PC. These methods work for both Android and iPhone.
- With the keyboard showing, press and hold the ‘a’
- A menu will pop up showing all the possible ‘a’ umlauts and accents for various languages
- Drag your finger to the appropriate umlaut (in German it’s ‘ä’) and release
- Do this for o (ö) and u (ü)
- You’ll find the eszett (ß) when holding down the ‘s’
This method works well for infrequent typing in German. However for an easier method you need to add German as a language…
Frequent Typing in German
Maybe you’re finding yourself typing a lot more in German. Perhaps, like me, you have a few language exchange partners from Tandem. To make typing in German on your smartphone even easier you can add German as a second language.
This setup varies from device to device, but the general method would be:
Settings > Language / Input > Keyboard > Languages > Manage Input Languages
From there you can download the German keyboard.
Once setup, you can switch easily between languages by swiping the space bar, however I just find it easier to leave it in German all the time now.
The eszett (ß) is shown after a long press on the ‘s’ as before.
What If You Can’t Type Umlauts?
If all this seems like too much trouble, there is another way. In German you can avoid typing umlauts altogether. Umlauts are actually a way of shortening a word (yes, I know it’s very unlike German to make words shorter!)
If you don’t have the means to type umlauts, you can use these alternatives. You’ll come across them as you read more German so it’s a good idea to become familiar with them.
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