Learning to type in Chinese is an important part of any Chinese learner’s to do list. Although of course it takes a long time to get round Chinese grammar and expression, there are a couple of reasons why it is good to learn to type in Chinese early on:
1) By using the Pinyin to enter characters or words, you will become more familiar with recognising characters according to their Pinyin pronunciation, and associating pronunciations with characters
2) If you can type characters or words, you can input them into dictionary software, to get quick definitions of words you hear, which is much faster than using a paper dictionary.
Here I am talking about Pinyin input sofware for Windows. The Pinyin input built into the MacOS is already quite advanced, and works in a similar way. The software I recommend is Sogou Pinyin
Download the software here, clicking on the big 立即下载 download button (currently it is blue as below)
Download and run the installer file. Check the box that says you have read the terms and conditions and click the big orange button to do a quick install :During the install you will get another screen that looks like the one below. It is asking you if you want to install the Sogou web browser and set it as the default browser, most people will want to uncheck this box and press the orange button to continue.
In the final stages of the install you may see a screen like the one below. It is asking you whether you want to look at the changes for the new version, run set up wizards, set the company website as your homepage etc. Just deselect all the boxes and click the orange button on the far right to complete the install
Once you have pressed this button, you should have completed the installation and Sogou Pinyin input is ready to use. On my computer, to activate it you press ctrl and space, but if this doesn’t work for you, you may need to go to your Control Panel -> Regions and Languages -> Keyboards and Languages to turn on Sogou Pinyin. You can also find the settings for the language panel there; turn it on and you will get a selector at the bottom right of the screen so you can switch between languages.
Hopefully you should now be able to use Sogou Pinyin. Select Chinese as your input language and try typing in a Pinyin phrase from your beginner’s book. For example, if you type in ‘wo’ , you will get a list of all the characters of all tones that are pronounced as ‘wo’ : (I have a skin installed so it looks slightly different on my computer, but behaves the same)
Here you can see that option number 1 corresponds to ‘wo’ 我 – the word for ‘ I / me’ in Chinese. You can press 1 on the keyboard to enter the character. If the correct character doesn’t appear on this screen then you can press [ or ] to cycle through a list of characters. Characters are normally listed with the most common ones appearing first. Try typing the Pinyin for another character from your textbook and see if you can enter that character. Practice a few.
You can also enter words or phrases of multiple syllables : try ni hao 你好 – hello
As you can see, nihao is a common phrase and it comes up as choice number 1. Press 1 to enter it.
This Pinyin input method is a great way to look up words that you only know the pronunciation for, because you can type them into dictionary software, or software such as Wenlin where you can find the definition of a word just by moving your mouse over the characters.
When you get really good at using Sogou Pinyin, you will find that it is very intelligent and allows you to enter whole phrases and sometimes even whole sentences at a time. Just enter the Pinyin syllabus and the software can often guess all the characters you want to enter:
Give the software a try. It is not only a quick way to type Chinese for users of all levels, but combined with dictionary software it can be a quick and convenient learning tool. Remember, using this system, as long as you know the Pinyin and you can recognise the characters, then you can ‘write’ Chinese. Have fun!