It will only take 9 minutes to read this post!
Have you ever seen a Chinese character you didn’t recognize and wanted to know what it meant? If you’re on the computer, it’s easy to copy and paste it into a Chinese dictionary but what happens when you’re out and about? Where is our real-life copy and paste?? You may have heard of apps that let you use your phone’s camera to figure out the character. All you need to do is point your camera at the character and it will tell you how to say it and what it means- in fact, we just added this FREE feature into our own Written Chinese dictionary app (currently only available for iOS) and people are loving it. Get the app here.
But what if you want to try handwriting it into your phone instead of using your camera? Well if you have a smartphone and about 5 minutes, we’ll show you how to sort this out. And there’s even more good news: you won’t need to buy anything and depending on what kind of phone you have, you may already have everything you need. Yep, that means it’s totally free, versatile and useful.
For iPhones and iPads (including minis) it is super simple to set up Chinese handwriting. Just follow these easy steps.
Adding a Chinese handwriting keyboard to your iOS device
Step 1: Go to ‘Settings’
Step 2: Tap ‘General’ and scroll down to ‘Keyboard’
Step 3: Tap ‘Keyboards’ and ‘Add New Keyboard’
Step 4: Either tap ‘Chinese (Simplified/ Traditional)’ in the ‘Suggested Keyboards’ section
If you already have a pinyin keyboard OR, scroll down and find ‘Chinese (Simplified/ Traditional)’ in ‘Other iPhone/iPad Keyboards’.
Step 5: Tap ‘Handwriting’ (and any other Chinese keyboard you want)
A blue tick will appear on the right-hand side. Hit ‘Done’ when you’ve completed adding new keyboards.
Your ‘Adding a Chinese handwriting keyboard to your iOS device’ challenge is complete!
To change keyboards, tap the globe icon on the keyboard function and keep tapping until you find the handwriting screen.
Adding a Chinese handwriting keyboard to your Android mobile
For Android, it is a little bit more involved, but don’t worry we’ll take you through all the steps!
So Apple is very restrictive with how you can customize its system. For that reason, it is very easy to use but you won’t get the extra options that you’ll get with Android when we’re talking about keyboards.
With Apple, you can only use the system keyboard and then pick which languages you want to use. But with Android, you can actually install multiple keyboards and those keyboards may have multiple languages to choose from. So it’s a little bit more confusing, but just a little bit! Take it one step at a time!
(for these steps, I am using Samsung Galaxy SIII Plus, but you should be able to follow along with most Androids)
Step 1: Look at the keyboards that your phone already has.
To do this, go to your Android Settings, then scroll down to “Language and Input”.
From here you can check out all the keyboards you have right now. If you have any that say “Chinese IME” or something like that, make sure that you have it selected. You can have more than one keyboard selected at one time, it just means that these are the keyboards that will be readily available to you when you want to switch between keyboards. So if you know you’re not going to use one of them, just deselect it. A cluttered phone is a cluttered brain!
Step 2: Make sure your Chinese keyboard has Handwriting
Most Android keyboards that are specifically designed for writing Chinese will have the option to turn on a handwriting function. Because those keyboards are typically designed for Chinese-native speakers, they usually assume you want either pinyin OR handwriting and they make it difficult to easily switch between those modes.
So what if you do want both? Personally, I like to try to use the handwriting keyboard to reinforce how to write the character and then when I can’t quite remember or run out of patience I switch to Pinyin. So I switch between 2 keyboards: my primary one and my Chinese handwriting one.
As there are lots of great options out there for keyboards which include Chinese Pinyin input as well as English and other languages, I keep my primary keyboard set with Pinyin. I type in English, Bulgarian and Pinyin on my primary keyboard with Swiftkey. To learn more about how to install a keyboard for Pinyin input, look here.
Let’s talk about the handwriting input. So because it’s cumbersome to switch between Pinyin and handwriting on most Android keyboards if you want good English or other language support (let us know if you find one that’s great!) I like to keep a specific keyboard always set to Chinese Handwriting.
If you’re using a keyboard called Chinese IME, then go into the keyboard settings by going to your Android settings, then scroll to Language and Input, then choose the Settings icon next to the keyboard. Scroll down to Keyboard type settings and then you can select the handwriting option.
Once you’ve installed it, go back to Step 1 to set it up.
Step 3: Learn to Switch Keyboards
This may be the most essential step because if it’s difficult for you to switch, you’ll be less likely to practice your Chinese writing! So listen up and listen good!
I’m using Samsung, and I’ve had a couple devices with them over the years so I’ll show you the methods that I’ve learned to switch the keyboard. When I say switch the keyboard, I don’t mean toggle language. Toggling languages on a keyboard is usually very simple and straight-forward. I mentioned above that I use my primary keyboard, Swiftkey to enter English, Bulgarian and Chinese Pinyin. All I need to do to toggle between those languages is swipe from right to left over the space bar.
Switching keyboards is a different story. If I want to switch from typing in English to going to Chinese handwriting mode, here are the methods that I’ve found. Please, please, please, put in the comments below how it works on your phone because I only own one phone people!
If your keyboards are already set up from Steps 1 and 2, then you’re ready to rock at writing Chinese into your phone!
Method 1: Works for Samsung Galaxy SIII (and probably most others)
This is easy! Just tap into an area where you want to type in order to pull up your keyboard. Now you’ll see a little keyboard icon in your notification bar.
Pull down on the menu and you’ll see a button that says “Choose input method”. Tap it and switch the keyboard that has Chinese handwriting. Bing, bam, boom!
Warning! If you see your Chinese handwriting keyboard is suddenly writing in English, you probably accidentally bumped the language toggle on the keyboard. Have no fear! Tap it to get the handwriting option back.
Method 2: Works for older Samsungs (and others)
Tap into an area where you want to type in order to pull up your keyboard. Next long-press where your cursor is, this will bring up your keyboard options. Yeah! You’re a pro now.
So now that you’re all set up and ready to be awesome at writing Chinese, here is how you can use your phone’s keyboard to practice your Chinese writing on the go and not waste paper:
Hey everyone! Did you know that your smartphone can be a great way to practice your Chinese writing without installing any specific app?
Take a look at the new Chinese character.
Launch the WCC Dictionary.
Flip on the handwriting keyboard.
Write it in using the correct stroke order.
If you get it right, you’ll now see that character in the choices listed above the keyboard.
Hit “Done” on your keyboard or the “Search” button to see what the character means.
So what if you just can’t get the stroke order?
If you’ve been trying and just can’t seem to get it, this can be so frustrating! The character may look the same but if the stroke order is off, then your keyboard will have a hard time determining which character it is.
Here’s how to solve this issue once you’ve tried your best to write it in and still aren’t getting the results you want:
Launch the WCC Dictionary app.
Tap the eye button.
Hold your phone up to the character.
Now you know what it is!
If you want to know where you made a mistake in writing it, then click the [x] button.
Now click on that character.
Click the writing tab.
There it is!
To make sure you’ve really learned it, now try writing it again. Did you get it? We thought so!
You can learn more about our Chinese Learning Toolkit here! You can also click on the links below to download it for your iOS and Android devices!