So you’ve just gotten a new Mac running OS 10.8. Support for displaying Chinese characters is built-in and enabled by default, of course. But if you want to enter Chinese characters, you need to enable an input source (aka “input method” or “keyboard”). Here are step-by-step instructions:
- Go to System Preferences (from the Apple Menu or your Dock)
- Click Language & Text
- Click Input Sources
- Select Chinese – Simplified and/or Chinese – Traditional
When you check either Simplified or Traditional, every sub-option for each is checked by default. If you only plan to enter characters by typing in pinyin, you can uncheck the others. Using pinyin input allows you get Chinese characters into your documents by typing pinyin on your keyboard. I won’t go into the other Input Sources now.
If you have a laptop (hence a trackpad built-in) or Apple’s Magic Trackpad, you will see the additional options of “Trackpad Handwriting” for both simplified and traditional.
Before you leave this Preference Pane, you will probably want to make sure that “Show Input menu in menu bar” is checked. This will allow you to switch Input Sources from an icon in the menubar. You can also switch Input Sources with keyboard shortcuts; these are shown at the top left of the Preference Pane. If you have a trackpad, you will see three Input Source shortcuts; otherwise there are only two.
The Input Source shortcuts shown date back to the early days of OS X, but with the introduction of Spotlight, those shortcuts became the default commands for invoking Spotlight (perhaps Apple figured that few people needed to switch keyboards regularly). If you want to use command-space for keyboard-switching, as shown, you’ll need to disable or change the default Spotlight commands. This can be done in System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts.
Note that while Trackpad Handwriting is active, you cannot use the trackpad for mousing. While I understand that the trackpad would not be able to distinguish between writing and mousing, I wish that Apple would allow two trackpad/mouse devices to operate simultaneously so that one could be dedicated to writing and one to mousing. The impossibility of using Trackpad Handwriting and mousing simultaneously make it virtually impossible to use handwritten Chinese as your main input method. You have to constantly use “control-shift-spacebar” to turn trackpad handwriting on and off every time you need to mouse.
This next bit is optional, but will help avoid some small problems that can arise when using Chinese on the Mac. Once your Input Sources are set up, go to the Language tab, drag the 中文‘s above 日本語. This will make the system assume Chinese instead Japanese if there ambiguity. Of course, if you also work with Japanese, you may want to leave that on top.
If you don’t already have OS 10.8 (Mountain Lion), you can download it from the Mac App Store.