Chinese character input

Not being anywhere near proficient in pinyin and not knowing the majority of Chinese characters, what’s a girl to do to include Chinese in her blogs?

I’ve installed the IME (Input Method Editor) and aggravatingly turn it on in the middle of doing other stuff on my computer, not knowing exactly which keystroke does it. It’s an acceptable method when I’m pretty sure I know the pinyin, either from my rudimentary pinyin education or it’s a no-brainer (e.g., “ding”).

My mother is from Canton province and grew up speaking Cantonese. She learned Mandarin in China, without pinyin, so IME does not work at all for her. Given English is her second language, using the same alphabet to teach her corresponding pinyin is really difficult.

Without installing a fancy system of radical-based input, the way I showed her how to input Chinese was this: look up the word using nciku English-Chinese dictionary and copy-and-paste the characters. These days, the standards for displaying Chinese on our U.S. Windows systems is pretty universal so it works most of the time. Sometimes nciku is dead-slow and I recently came upon a case where it wouldn’t give me the traditional characters for “what”*. When nciku fails me, you can Google anything, then copy-and-paste it.

That said, I would love to learn how to do radical-based input!

* This is the fugly simplified form: 什么. In the brackets where nciku usually puts the traditional form, they listed 什麼. But the true traditional form I had to find else where and is 甚麼.

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6 thoughts on “Chinese character input

  • February 25, 2011 at 12:53 am
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    Standard keystrokes for toggling the IME in Windows are as follows:

    ctrl-space will toggle between Chinese input and English input.
    alt-shift will toggle between language regions (e.g. the CH and EN that appears on the language bar).
    ctrl-shift will toggle between keyboards within a specific language region (e.g. if you have multiple Input methods for a single language region such as a pinyin IME and a radical based IME).

    You might also be interested in the Google Pinyin IME

    In addition to having better predictive text than the Microsoft one and therefore allowing you to type long sentences much more easily, it also supports a nifty feature allowing to you input characters by stroke order – useful when you don’t know the pinyin but you do know how to write a character (which sounds like it will be the case for you Mum).

    Take for example the character 木 which is composed of 4 strokes 一 丨 丿 丶. In chinese, the names of these strokes are:
    一 Heng (horizontal)
    丨 Shu (vertical)
    丿 Pie (left falling)
    丶 Na (right falling)

    So, in the google IME you first type the letter u (to signify stroke-based input) followed by the first letter of the type of stroke you wish to input (h for heng, s for shu, p for pie and so on). For example, to type 木 you would enter uhspn.
    Other strokes types are 乚 Zhe (crooked – used for any stroke with a bend it it, e.g. 乙 乛 etc) and 丶 Dian (dot – identical to Na).

    So, for further example, 什么 would be (什) upshs (么) upzd, or for the traditional version (甚)uhsshhhpnz (麼)udhphspnhspnzzd.

    It’s significantly slower to type like this compared to using pinyin, however I imagine it will be much faster than looking the word up in the dictionary each time and then copying and pasting :-)

    If you want to learn about radical based input, you should look up information on the Wubi input method. A good description can be found in English here. It takes a fair amount of practice to become proficient with this method however.

    Finally, if you ever have the need to type in pinyin with tone marks, (e.g. nǐhǎo) then you can use an IME called Pinyinput – which just so happens to be written by me (and partly explains why I know this much about Chinese input methods :-) )

  • March 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm
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    @Imron, thank you so much for taking the time to not only post the links to two powerful input methods but to introduce them here.
    Starting from easier to harder, I have set up the Google Pinyin IME and it is simple but it turns out that I might not know the correct stroke order as well as I thought I did??
    Wubi looks, as you warned, difficult and will require some more effort. Once I have given these a proper attempt, I will probably blog about them!
    Thank you again!

  • March 29, 2011 at 1:52 am
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    Funny! I too use Chinese input via Google and/or Babel Fish.

    If you ever go Mac, all the laptops have Chinese entry via stroking out the characters on the trackpad. Of course, this requires a native-level knowledge of Chinese in order to use properly.

  • March 31, 2011 at 11:59 pm
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    Hi Alfred! Yes, Babel Fish is another option! We’re not totally copping out, in my opinion, as it takes some knowledge to separate the nonsense definition/translation from what we want. :D
    “My” Mac is my work one so I hadn’t considered Chinese character input on that machine and briefly gave your suggestion a whirl. It turns out that it’s very similar (I don’t know which preceded which) to the Chinese input on iPhone which I *LOVE* and works very well. During my short foray with the MacOS version, I think I had the wrong character set turned on because it would not recognize anything and I know I have my stroke orders down for some of those words! Plus, unlike an iPhone where what you touch goes dark, I kept writing over my previous writing area using my Magic Trackpad. It is the fastest way for me to get a word in… other than above outlined copy-pasting from a dictionary look-up. :D

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