A question that comes up a lot is how to type in Chinese.
I’m a big fan of Chinese typing as it allows you to start communicating in written Chinese really fast. Getting to a similar level of communicative ability using handwriting can take many months if not years.
The process of typing in Chinese generally surprises people – it is very simple. Typing in Chinese is generally called 打拼音 dǎ pīnyīn (to type pinyin).
The basic idea is that you simply type the pinyin of the characters you want to write and then select the characters as they pop on screen. This is much like predictive text in English, as you type a word like C-h-i- your phone might throw up the suggestion “Chinese”.
In Chinese if you simply type n-i-h-a-o your phone/computer will suggest 你好. In fact you can even take shortcuts and type n-h and get the same result.
The ease and speed improvement over written characters means that the vast, vast majority of written correspondence in China is typed. This makes perfect sense. Apart from note taking, signing your name, birthday cards and maybe shopping lists chances are you don’t hand-write in English all that much. And even if you do the volume of handwritten to typed is likely very low.
So – don’t be afraid of typing in Chinese. It’s how Chinese native speakers communicate via the written word and it’ll allow you to start communicating ASAP. In fact, immediately, today!
I want to cover two things:
1. How to Set up a Chinese keyboard
2. How to start using your new Chinese keyboard immediately
Setting up a Chinese keyboard
How you set up your keyboard depends on what device you are using. Also, these instructions will inevitably change over time as software updates. As such here are a couple of links to keyboard set up for the main devices. I’ll update these links as the software is updated.
iPhone (Official instructions) / iPhone Step by Step (Also applicable for iPad)
How to start using your Chinese keyboard immediately
Now you have your nice new keyboard set up how to start using it?
If you are on iPhone/Android I’d recommend you download HelloTalk.
HelloTalk is totally FREE app for language exchange. Short text messages are used as the main form of communication making this a great place to start testing out your keyboard.
Most excitingly though you’ll get responses! This means you can start using the written Chinese language to actually communicate immediately. Very cool stuff indeed – not requiring weeks practicing your handwriting and having only a Chinese teacher reading your work.
Instead you can communicate with real people right now. This is how you can genuinely acquire a language fast. So don’t hang around – grab the app and you can send your first 你好 in minutes. Just type “nihao” and select the 你好 characters and you’ve started!
If you are on a PC/Mac then the best alternative right now is Lang-8. Lang-8 is another free language exchange platform that allows you to write and receive corrections from native speakers.
Go ahead and sign up and use your new keyboard to write your first entry – just introduce yourself using whatever Chinese you know. Copy a script from Lesson 1 of your textbook if that helps but adapt it to introduce yourself.
Whatever platform you use it’s important to start practicing with your Chinese keyboard. This will help you get a feel for how much you can type before the predictive ability of the software gives us.
In some cases you will be able to write whole sentences, in others you’ll only manage a couple of characters before having to select the correct meaning. Play around with the keyboard through actual usage and you’ll get a feel for it very quickly.