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7 April, 2010

Fonts, Keyboards & Layouts – How to correctly type Maltese characters

UPDATE: Thomas Pace kindly pointed out this very helpful link which basically covers everything here, and includes steps for Apple’s OSX: http://www.kunsilltalmalti.gov.mt/filebank/documents/kompjuter.pdf

I’ve been asked many times how to enter Maltese characters on a computer – i.e. ċĊ, ġĠ, ħĦ and żŻ.
It turns out there’s a lot of misconceptions out there, and many people think that typing Maltese and other non-Latin characters requires a special keyboard and/or specially installed fonts. This is completely not true, and all users with a moderately modern computer are able to enter such characters by simply adding a selecting a different keyboard layout from their OS.

Below is a short explanation of the misconceptions, if you just want to see the steps for selecting a different keyboard layout, click here.

“Maltese Fonts” and why they’re such a bad idea

A few years ago, everyone thought these so-called “Maltese Fonts” were the solution to entering Maltese characters into your computer. These fonts are just copies of the usual fonts we all know (Arial, Times etc) but with certain characters redrawn, such that when you type a [ it is displayed as a ġ, } becomes Ħ and so on. Now if all you’re doing is typing into a word processor and printing directly from the same computer, the solution seems to work.

But what happens if you want to send a Maltese document to someone who doesn’t have these fonts installed? Well, they will still be able to open the document, but in place of the proper Maltese characters they would see different punctuation symbols. So the phrase Għażiż Ċali would become something like:

G]a\i\ `ali

People just accepted this, and would say to each other “you need to install the Maltese fonts in order to read the document”. But, it gets worse. What if you’re entering text somewhere which doesn’t allow you to change fonts? I you were filling in a form on  a web page or even writing an email, you would just forget the use of Maltese characters altogether.

To summarise, “Maltese Fonts” are a very short-sighted and inelegant solution. Thankfully, due to a little something called Unicode, all modern computers today will allow you to enter (and read) Maltese and other non-Latin characters, simply by changing your keyboard layout settings (see below).

“Maltese Keyboards” and why you don’t need one (but might still want one)

Another misconception I’ve heard is that in order to enter Maltese characters, you require special hardware — i.e. a “Maltese Keyboard”. This is not true, because all a Maltese keyboard really is is a standard US/UK keyboard with different symbols printed on the keys. Circuitry-wise, everything else is identical. In fact any keyboard can be used to enter any type of character, simply by changing your computer settings.

However, that being said, users may find that having a Maltese keyboard is helpful since they don’t need to remember that they need to press the [ button to produce a ġ and so on.

How to select the Maltese keyboard layout on your computer

The screenshots below are taken in Windows 7. Steps for Windows Vista and Windows XP are very similar, almost identical. Steps vary for Linux because of all the different distributions, for Mac OSX refer to the linked article above.

  1. Start → Control Panel
  2. “Change keyboards or other input methods”
  3. Click “Change Keyboards…”
  4. This shows all your installed keyboard layouts. Click Add.
  5. Choose one of the Maltese keyboard layouts:

    • If on your keyboard, the @ symbol is above the number 2, choose Maltese 47-key
    • Otherwise, if the symbol is above the 2 key, choose Maltese 48-key
  6. You can also preview the keyboard layout:
  7. After clicking OK to everything, you should now notice a new icon in your taskbar next to the time, called the Language bar with this icon:

    Click on it to change the desired input language. After changing it to Maltese, try pressing these keys on your keyboard:

[ { ] } `¬ \ | # ~

You should now see our lovely Maltese characters on your screen 🙂 (The last 4 will vary depending on whether you chose the 47 or 48-key layout).

Note that this setting is per-application. So, if you’re in Microsoft word and change it to Maltese, then switch to your email client, you will need to set the language again for that application. If you always want the Maltese keyboard layout to be the default active layout for all your applications, you can set it from the screen in point 4 above (under default input language).