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For, me I'm especially interested in German umlauts and also Slavic and Russian characters...but I'm interesed in this for any language. Thanks. (I know some of you know because I see people on Italki being able to write these.)
If you're on any version of Windows foriegn keyboards are installed automatically.
Go into Control Panel, then click "Clock, Language, and Region" and then "Language". You'll then be able to add a language.
After a language is added, you should see a little box on the right-hand side of the start menu saying "EN" or "ENG". That represents English. Click that, and you'll see a list of languages you've added. Just select whatever language you want whenever you need it.
If you're on Windows 8, you can quickly change languages by holding 'start' and clicking the spacebar to scroll down the list.
For Russian, after you install Cyrillic in the way Jmat has explained, consider downloading software that will rearrange the location of the Cyrillic characters, so that you have essentially a Russian phonetic keyboard. That is, each Cyrillic character will be relocated to the same key where the analogous Latin letter is. For example, the Russian ф will be moved to the English f key. That way, you won't have to memorize the location of the Russian letters on the standard Russian keyboard.
Check this out: http://www.auburn.edu/~mitrege/russian/cyrillic-setup/cyrillic.html
You can find other Russian phonetic keyboards by googling - russian phonetic keyboard - .
Thanks guys...although it's possible the first sentence of Jmat's answer was all that is necessary. I have Windows7.