The MandarWeb Website: Typing Chinese characters page

Section 7. Typing and inputting Chinese characters on a computer or phone
If you want to input Chinese characters into a computer or smart phone, you obviously can't just type them in from the keyboard or alphabetic pad.

What you need to do, at the appropriate point, is to type in the Pinyin (without tones) for the word or phrase you want, and type a space. The software offers a numbered selection of characters to match.

Suppose you want to type the character wang2, 王, meaning "king". With the system set to Chinese character input (see below), you type in wang and a space. A selection of characters with Pinyin "wang" comes up:

Notice that when you are in Chinese Input mode, what you type is underlined. The character you want, "王", is number 4 in the list. Type "4" and your "wang" will be replaced by the Chinese character.

Maybe the character you want is less common, and doesn't appear in the list of nine characters offered. In this case, pull the little scroll bar on the right-hand side down, and more "wang" characters will appear.

Select the character wanted by typing in its number. In the case of "wang", the system has 15 possibilities, 9 on the first bar, and 6 on the second. The number of characters you can access by moving the scroll bar up or down depends on how many exist with a given Pinyin spelling.

Notice that you go straight from the Pinyin (without tones) to the character -- tones are ignored. At this point you are still in Chinese Input mode. You can continue typing in more characters or compound words. Suppose you want to write the characters for cucumber (wang2-gua1, 王 瓜, literally king melon).

Type in "wanggua" (all run together) and the system will come up with alternatives.

The first choice is the one you want, so you type "1", and wanggua is replaced by the characters for cucumber.

You could also type in wang-space-gua-space and get the same result, but this is only because the "wang" and "gua" characters you want each happen to be first in their bars -- if you don't specify the number of the character you want, you are given No. 1, the most common one. This allows you to type faster, but it's easier to make mistakes.

If you then want to input something in English or other non-Chinese text, you have to come out of Chinese Input mode (see below).

Characters with Pinyin containing the "YU" sound
If you read Section 6, on Tones and Accents, you may remember that standard Pinyin has a double-dot accent used to denote the "YU" sound.

A common character like this in Mandarin is the one meaning "female" or "woman", and is common in multi-syllable words. It looks as follows:

女 . nǚ . (female / woman)

In MandarWeb, this character is written "nyu3". To input the "ǚ" or "YU" component on a computer or phone keyboard, it is substituted by the character "v", which happens not to be used in standard Pinyin.

This is a non-intuitive fix or kludge, and can be used only because the letter "V" is not used elsewhere in standard Pinyin.

Switching on Chinese Input mode
If you have a Macintosh computer, you can set up the operating system to allow you to enter text in all manner of languages.

You do this from the Language and Text section of System Preferences. In Mac OSX 10.6, the Help panel for "Typing in another language" looks like this. In other versions of the operating system, it may vary a little.

You can choose as many, or as few, Input Sources as you wish. By default, your computer probably comes with only one -- American English. On my computer, I have only two -- Australian English, and Pinyin - Simplified.

If you have more than one Input Source set, up on the top main menu bar you will see a picture of a flag, and the name of the corresponding language (unless you have set the latter not to appear). Click and hold your mouse on this flag, and a list of your input sources will appear.

There are two ways to switch your input source (in my case, to turn Chinese Input mode On or Off). The first is to hold your mouse down on the input source flag, drag down to Pinyin - Simplified, and release. Until you change your input mode, all the applications on your computer, including typing emails, naming files and folders, and searching for files, will expect Pinyin input and will attempt to process what you have written into Chinese characters.

Suppose you are typing an email, and you have accidentally turned Chinese on. You type in "Hello, Fred, how are you?" What you see is:
合理咯我副热带, how阿热有?

The give-aways are that what you have typed, up to the first space, is underlined, and that the character choice bar has appeared.

The second way to turn Chinese on or off is with a Keyboard Shortcut. These were noted when you set your Input Sources.

The technique is to hold down the 'Command' key, press the space bar once, and release 'Command'. On the main menu bar, the flag for your normal input language should change to that for the last language you used. In my case this turns Chinese On or Off.

The Keyboard Shortcut is quick and convenient, I use it all the time, but it's not hard to accidentally press Command+Space and find yourself in the wrong language.

Computers using the Windows operating system presumably have facilities like this available somewhere, but most Windows users wanting Chinese characters use standard word-processing packages.

Chinese in word-processing applications
On both Macintosh and Windows platforms, many word-processing systems can use Chinese characters. Choosing a Chinese font, as opposed to a Roman font, will normally automatically open Chinese input mode like that above. To write an email which will include Chinese characters, most Windows users will set it up in Word and then copy over the result into an email window.

Chinese on smart phones
Because they have extensive sales in Asia, essentially all modern smart phones have facilities to type in Chinese characters directly. These do vary from one model to another, but all depend on typing in Pinyin and choosing characters from a choice bar as above. The same fix of using "V" instead of "YU" is normal.

Special language software packages
Most of the facilities described in MandarWeb are essentially free to users, but more demanding power users have available paid-for software packages which greatly enhance what can be done or found out in Chinese. One such package is MacKEY5 or KEY5, described in Section 11. Versions are available for both Macintosh and Windows platforms.

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Version 2.01, 2015 Mar 6.