Inputting Chinese characters

If you are learning Chinese then chances are that before too long you will want to write in Chinese using the computer. Assuming you are looking for a tool that allows you to write in Chinese as easily as it to write in roman script, then what you are looking for is a Chinese IME (Input Method Editor).


Google has is own IME for inputting Chinese characters, and like most things Google it works well. Once installed it is easy to switch between writing in English and writing in Chinese.


The key selling point of any Chinese IME is its ability to provide the exact characters you want. For instance if you are writing about a policeman then you will want 被警察 (bèijǐngchá) rather than 北京茶.

The Google IME appears to claim that it will do a better job at getting to the characters you want quickly and accurately, and from my experience so far it seems to do a very good job of it. It can cope with writing long strings of characters and analyse the whole sentence to determine what characters make sense.


One drawback about the Google IME is that it the software itself is in Chinese– i.e. the terms and conditions, the settings etc are all in Chinese (so not so helpful if you are still a rookie language learner). You don’t need to alter the settings to make it work well, so this isn’t necessarily a problem but if you are of a nervous disposition, or just like to carefully read all your terms and conditions then maybe the Microsoft Pinyin IME would be a better alternative.


See also the previous blog post on wubi and pinyin.


Chinese Character Writing Competition – Top Finalists

This past week we had a chinese character writing competition among our students at school. Students were allowed to write either a short essay, or just characters from their new vocabulary list from their lessons. After our students had submitted their entries, teachers and fellow students were given the opportunity to vote for which student had the best written characters.

Congratulations to Ruth for taking first place!

Chinese Character Writing Competition

Chinese Character Writing Competition

Chinese Character Writing Competition

For those who are looking to improve their Chinese character writing, one of the most important aspects is understanding the stroke order of Chinese characters. If you’re unsure of how a character should be written, most online Chinese-English tools will have an animation of how particular characters should be written.

The three most popular among our students is Skritter – a web app that helps you learn Chinese characters fast, nciku and MDBG, which they all show the stroke order of characters.

1. Skritter is a web app that helps you learn Chinese characters, with a focus on writing and vocabulary, using handwriting recognition and advanced spaced repetition scheduling algorithms, Skritter is the most efficient way to learn those thousands of characters you’re going to need to tackle one of these languages.  They stated that you can learn a new character every 192 seconds and remember 95% of what you learn. I heard very positive feedback from our current students, you can sign up for an account to use this awesome tool for two weeks for free, no harm to find out. Click to get your two week for free.

Learn to write Chinese characters

2. On nciku, you can see the stroke order of a character by clicking on the button to the right.

NCIKU Character Stroke Order

3. For MDBG, the stroke order feature isn’t as obvious, but you can access it by clicking on the yellow brush image to the left of the character.

MDBG Character Stroke Order

If you have any other tips that have helped you learn and write Chinese characters, please do share them in the comments!

Wubi and Pinyin – Which Chinese Character Input Method?

Chinese Input Method KeyboardWriting Chinese characters by hand is a confusing task of memorizing strokes and characters, but the use of computers has made it slightly easier- perhaps an unfortunate blessing since I’ve heard time and time again from local coworkers how their grasp of writing out Chinese characters has regressed because they only now need to recognize characters due to their constant use of Chinese input methods. There are many types of input methods available; some which are based on pronunciation, while others on character structure, character set or a combination of pronunciation and character structure. I’d like to talk about two of the popular Chinese character input method editors (IME): Pinyin and Wubi.

Pinyin (拼音输入法)

Pinyin Chinese Input MethodThe Pinyin IME (拼音输入法 pin1yin1 shu1ru4fa3) allows users to input Chinese characters by typing in the pinyin of a Chinese character, and the Pinyin IME then presents the user with a list of characters with that pinyin pronunciation. The advantage of the pinyin input method is that it’s very easy to learn for Mandarin speakers, since those who are familiar with pinyin will already be able to input Chinese characters with almost no training, which is not the case with other input methods. The Pinyin IME is very popular in mainland China, since children are already required to learn pinyin in school. However the Pinyin IME was created based on the pronunciation of standard-Mandarin so native Mandarin speakers who speak with accents will have a hard time distinguishing a number of similar sounding syllables, such as c and ch, s and sh, z and zh, n and ng, h or hu and f, or n and l. Moreover, Chinese dialect speakers who don’t know pinyin, or speak Mandarin, will not be able to use this input method at all.

Wubizixing (五笔字型输入法)

Wubi Chinese Input MethodThe Wubi IME, short for The Wubizixing (五笔字型输入法 wu3bi3zi4xing2shu1ru4fa3) allows users to input Chinese characters based on the structure of characters rather than their pronunciation, making it possible to enter Chinese characters even when the user doesn’t know the pronunciation, or if the user speaks a dialect of Chinese. As the name suggets, the Wubi 五笔 (wu3bi3) IME divides the keyboard into five regions, which is assigned a certain type of character stroke, which allows for the user to efficiently write characters with at most 4 keystrokes. Another efficiency in using Wubi over phonetic character input methods, is that users don’t have to select characters from a list of similar homo-phonic choices, and so there’s a greater ability for a Wubi typist to ‘touch’ type without having to look at the computer screen. However, a major drawback to learning Wubi is that it has a high learning curve, and requires memorization and practice for a user to use it proficiently.

Which Input Method?

My recommendation for choosing between these two Chinese character input methods would be to consider your goal for typing Chinese. If you aim to be a professional Chinese typist, and need to input Chinese characters at a high rate, then it may be well worth your time to learn the Wubi IME system. However, if you are a standard-Mandarin speaker, and only need to input Chinese for casual computer use such as online chatting and surfing, then the Pinyin IME system will be more than sufficient for your needs.

Are you a well versed Chinese typist? Share your views on these two Chinese character input methods, or any other input method that you may be using already, in the comments below.

Learn Chinese Characters