I’m learning Mandarin at the moment and wanted to be able to type in Pīnyīn on my computer to create some cheat sheets to help me with revision. I also wanted to write a document to help prepare for an oral test. I thought it would be a simple configuration setting in Microsoft Windows 7, but most Pīnyīn input methods assume that you are just inputting Pīnyīn so that you can select the correct Chinese character.
That’s great for native Chinese speakers, but when you start to learn Mandarin you will often use Pīnyīn to help simplify the learning process. It’s much easier for a native speaker of a language based on the Roman/Latin alphabet to learn how to say “Nǐ hǎo” than to try and remember the Chinese characters “你好” together with the correct tones.
After some searching on Google I stumbled across Pīnyīnput, a free input method editor (IME) for Windows that makes it easy to type Hànyǔ Pīnyīn with tone marks. The latest version supports Windows 7, including 64-bit versions (which mine is). The documentation on the website is pretty straight forward and my installation went very smoothly.
I decided to install the IME with my default English locale to avoid the problem documented with Microsoft Word. This works quite well for me, so I can easily switch between English and Pīnyīn input.
One hint that seems to be missing from the documentation is a keyboard short-cut for switching between the Pīnyīn input method and your default input method. I found this article on Microsoft’s website which provides a variety of keyboard short-cuts for the language bar. The solution is to use ctrl-shift to switch between the input methods.
The beauty of Pīnyīnput is that since it’s a Windows IME that it works across all programs, unlike a Microsoft Word specific macro. Each program also remembers what input method you are using too. For example, you can be typing in Pīnyīn in a Microsoft Word document and then click on Windows Live Messenger and start typing in English, then switch back to Microsoft Word and keep typing in Pīnyīn.
Now I can create Pīnyīn documents, search in Pīnyīn on Google and get laughed at by my Chinese friends on MSN at my poor Chinese!