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Occasional texts in languages other than English

I have many friends whose first language is not English. Most are quite 
relaxed about polglotism: they write to me in their first language, and 
I reply in mine (English). Sometimes, however, I need to write in their 
language. I have been too busy learning the other mechanics of Linux to 
worry about non-English characters.

Changing national keyboard layouts is a surprising hassle, not in 
software terms but from the user perspective. It is many years since I 
lived outside Canada and I no longer recall how layouts differ from 
language to language and from country to country. I spent fruitless 
hours last year hunting for examples on the Web before I swallowed my 
pride and hauled out an old Microsoft manual <grin> which I already 
knew had all the layouts I needed neatly laid out in an appendix. Nor 
am I willing to give up my ancient but treasured Nothgate keyboards 
which, being from the USA, have stolidly unilingual keycaps.

My locale is en_CA_UTF8.

I am looking for the simplest way to enter non-English characters from 
an English keyboard (e.g.å é û ). In Windows, it was never hard; there 
are few enough that I usually remembered the Alt+nnn keycode for the 
437 and 850 codepages. For longer texts, the WordPerfect (Ctrl-w) 
function was also dead easy. Rarely, I switched to another keyboard 
layout and kept the layout diagram propped open in front of me.

What I am looking for is something comparable to the old ALt+nnn (where 
n is the numerical keypad) method. If there is nothing, I will switch 
keyboard layouts. I now keep that old Microsoft manual close to my, 
ouch, Linux computer.

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