Posted by: xindaya | May 10, 2008

So You Want to Type in Chinese, eh?

Chances are that if you are reading this, you are already happily typing away at your great American/Chinese novel in Chinese, but for those of you just getting into the most frustratingly rewarding language that is Chinese, you really do need to learn how to type in Chinese.

Now we’ve talked about the Google IME here (or was that the SoGou IME?), but as the resident reactionary (read: I still refuse to bow to the power and the pretty of the Jobbite Revolution), I’ve put together a primer on how to get your Chinese on with the Microsoft IME using Windows Vista. I also just installed a new screencap software, so there’s a visual step by step after the jump.

Bear with me as I intend for this to be a very very step by step guide.


Control Panel

First, you’ll need to get into your control panel – easy enough, it’s right on your start menu. (It does help if you have a suitably Chinese-y wallpaper – I chose an image of the Qianlong Emperor as a young man. Don’t you wish you could see more than his shoulder?)

#2 Here’s your Control Panel window:

Control Panel Options

Under “Clock, Language and Region,” click on “Change keyboards or other input methods” (Note: This is the new Vista Control Panel Menu. Under the “Classic View,” you will need to click on “Regional and Language Options” then chose “Keyboards and Languages” Tab) Then you’ll end up here:

Choose the “Change Keyboards…” button and hey presto…

#3 If all has gone well, you will find yourself at a window that looks like the one below:

You can see that the only language/keyboard I have installed is English/US. Let’s fix that. To get to the nuts and bolts of the input options, click on the “Add…” button

#4 Here’s where we actually make the changes. This window gives you the option to add an Input Method Editor (IME) for just about any language you can think of. Scroll up and down the list to see what’s available. Let’s look at the options for Chinese:

IME list

We’ve got options for Singapore, Honk Kong, Taiwan, the PRC, and even Macao. I’ll admit my ignorance about anything but the Taiwan and PRC versions here, but I’m pretty sure the major difference is going to be in how you actually type out the characters. I’m a pinyin man, so I’m going to go with the PRC version. The nice thing is that with the PRC version, I can type in simplified and in traditional, and I’ve even been able to type almost all of the very rare and odd characters I’ve needed – including some of those wacky Cantonese characters that shouldn’t appear in a family-friendly blog.

So which method should you choose? I think the only reason to go with the Taiwan version would be if you are more comfortable with the Cangjie 倉頡 or Zhuyin 注音符號 (bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) methods, but frankly, if you are more comfortable with those, you are probably Taiwanese and can already type in Chinese, right?

Now, if you are going with the PRC version, which of the PRC methods to choose? In my opinion, the Microsoft Pinyin IME 2007 is the best of the lot. Experiment with the others if you like and pick the one that goes best with you.

Note: If Microsoft Pinyin IME 2007 isn’t available (shouldn’t be there on XP systems I think) you may need to install the regular PRC Microsoft Pinyin IME along with the Taiwanese IME (I’d go with Cangjie) in order to be able to use the character handwriting recognition pane (you’ll see it way down there below in #8).

#5 With a click on the “OK,” You should find yourself here:

I’ve got Japanese installed in here too. You can have as many IMEs installed as you want, I think – Go crazy.

#6 Click “OK.” That’s it! You’ve got your IME installed. So how do you use it? Where is it? Well, to cycle through the IMEs you have installed, the default keystroke is Alt-Shift. You should see a language bar pop up that looks like this:

So let’s talk about what all this means.

The CH stands for Chinese, clever that. You can click here to manually select your languages (It’ll say “EN” if you select English, JP for Japanese, for example)

The MSPY stands for Microsoft Pinyin. That’s the name of the IME I am using

The Tiyan 体验 is the type of MS Pinyin input I’m using. There are a couple of options here that again will change the way that the IME interprets what you type. You can play around with the others, but there’s no real need, and you’ll be fine even if you never touch it.

The Zhong 中 is a way of quickly switching between characters and the roman alphabet. The default keystroke to go back and forth is simply your shift key. Try it out – It makes typing half-Chinese and half-English much easier (I’m soaking in it right now).

The Chinese full stop and comma 。, button allows you to switch between Chinese punctuation and English punctuation styles. (also, you can get the serial comma “、” with the “\” key)

The Fan 繁 is the reason you probably don’t need to install the Taiwan pack to type traditional characters. Just select either traditional or Simplified (简) and you are off and running with the character set of your choice. There is also an Extended Character set option (大), but frankly, I’ve never used it and am not entirely sure what it does.

The Pencil Cup (at least I guess that’s what that is supposed to be) leads you to the joy that is the IME pad, which I’ll detail below in #8.

The menu is simply where you get some other options including Unicode and Guobiao input options and the help files – It’s worth noting that the help files are very near worthless, as is the Windows website if you are looking for help with Chinese input or Chinese support on an English Windows machine. You’re much better off goggling any trouble you have (although there still isn’t that much that’s helpful out there either) than trying to wade through the mass of unhelpful and incomprehensible offal that is passed off by Microsoft. And I like Microsoft. I even have a Zune for crying out loud.

#7 Now let’s type!

Go ahead and open up your favorite word processor and go to town! Type out in pinyin what you want, and you’ll be given options for the characters based on what the IME thinks you are trying to say. It’s generally pretty smart about things, but beware – in the above example, the second option is “西安” because the computer is seeing “xian” which could be “西安” or “現.” If you like, you can disambiguate by adding a single quote mark. Thus “xi’an” will get you the city as a first option.

So, figure out what you which characters you want and select them. You can do this by clicking with your mouse, typing the number next to the character you want, or scrolling through with your arrow keys (Page up and down, too – there are often hundreds of options) and then tap your space bar to select the one you need.

#8 Let’s talk about the IME pad. When you first select it, you should get this:

Under the radical tab, you can find troublesome characters by radical or even just by stroke number (select the blank for radical stroke number).

But what if there’s a character that you know how to write, but you have no idea how to pronounce it and you don’t want to futz with radicals or stroke orders? Click on the crossed magnifying glass and pencil (on the left-hand side) to go to the handwriting recognition panel, where the real fun happens:

Beautiful, eh? Use your mouse to write the character you need in the left-hand panel and the IME will try to figure out what you are writing. Yes, your writing will look hideous because you wrote with a mouse (a trackball’s better, but WACOM tablet for the win if you’re rich) It’s actually pretty smart, even with ugly characters like mine. Your options will show in the right-hand panel. It’s even kind enough to give you some options for the pronunciation so next time you’ll know what to type. Just click on the character you need, and it’ll insert into your file.

So, them’s the basics of getting your Windows machine to grok those wonderful wacky words of the middle kingdom. I’m sure I missed quite a bit – let me know about it in the comments!


  1. Dear Sir?madam:

    My name is Helen Ng and I was born in Hong Kong. Although I have been living in Toronto, Canada for the past 30 years, I can watch Chinese shows, read Chinese newspaper and speak Cantanese.

    I am very curious to learn HOW TO TYPE in CHINESE using the same keyboard that I already had at home. I do understand there must be some kind of SOFTWARE that I need to purchase in order to activate the whole system.

    Could you direct me with more detail informations including name of the program, price range of the software, store that I can purchase in Toronto if possible.

    Thank you for your assistance at this matter. Hope to hear from you soon.

    Yours truly,

    Helen Ng Jones

  2. how do u type the u with the 2 dots above?

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