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how to type mandarin on mac

Thomas Kho’s Blog » Learning Mandarin Chinese with Mac OS X
Learning Mandarin Chinese with Mac OS X

April 19, 2008 at 9:09 pm · Filed under Computers, General, OS X

I use a Mac probably 90% of the time, so I wanted to share some tips for OS X I picked up that (I hope) are really helpful to the Mandarin Chinese learner.

As a bit of background, let me tell you where I’m coming from: I went to Chinese school for years as a kid and didn’t really learn much of anything. I was never fluent, never really learned enough characters to sufficiently read (let alone write), and then I just stopped caring for some amount of time. Now, I’m back for more learning.

So, here are the tips:

* ITABC Input Method

I haven’t really used Windows in years, but last time I tried, I don’t think it had the pervasive Unicode support to even display Chinese characters in most apps. That said, I was nicely surprised when I found OS X 10.5 comes with a slew of Traditional and Simplified Chinese Input Methods built in. The one I use, ITABC, is dead simple. You just enter pinyin without tones and choose from candidate matches. There are plenty of places online (here’s one at Yale) that can walk you through setting it up.
* CEDICT for Apple Dictionary

Apple includes a dictionary application in OS X. No big deal, right? Well, it’s actually pretty cool, because you can add your own custom dictionaries that integrate as seamlessly as the built-in dictionaries. CEDICT is a Chinese-English dictionary project (here’s an online dictionary based on CEDICT) that’s available as a user dictionary for Even better, it also has pronunciations (little sound bites you can play) embedded in dictionary entries.

Here’s CEDICT for Apple Dictionary at Apple Downloads. Just download it and drop it into your /Library/Dictionaries (or ~/Library/Dictionaries).
* integration throughout OS X

I mentioned seamless integration in that last bullet point. Well, in the Apple way, the dictionary is integrated throughout the system. Hover over some text, hit a hotkey (defaults to Cmd-Ctrl-D, but might I suggest F1), and a little panel pop up (inline, in your application) with the definition.

This hint at Mac OS X Hints reminds us that we can hold down the dictionary hotkey to continuously get the definition of whatever word is currently under the cursor. Say you’re scanning and there are a handful of words you don’t know. Just hit that hotkey, the dictionary entry panel pops up in Safari, and it moves with you as you move the cursor across the sentence.

If the default popup panel is too small for your tastes, this post has a link to a modified (drop it in /Applications/ that enlarges the popup panel window. Alternatively, you can open up in Interface Builder and just need to change the size of both the popup window and its content. Be sure to make a backup first!
* ChinesePod on iTunes

Alright, so this last one might be a strech, but I found out about ChinesePod, which is a podcast with lessons in spoken Mandarin. It helps that the podcasters are pretty amusing. How does this tie in? Well, iTunes is setup to scrape the newest lessons and syncs them automatically with my iPod, so I can listen on my way to work. Zero effort necessary!

Alright. That’s it for now. If you know of any other tips, please do share!

Note: This might seem like one big rave for OS X, but I tried really hard to keep that to a minimum. Apple’s just too cool :)


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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips. Do you know of a way to display the pinyin above each character, as a pronunciation guide? MS Office offers this feature, and as a new Mac user, I don't know how to do it.

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I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further innovates, the possibility of downloading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4[/url] DS NetSurf)

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