If you’re learning Chinese, you know how helpful pīnyīn can be. It’s a great way to be able to read Chinese out loud. But how do you type pīnyīn on the iPhone or iPad? The answer is Pinyin Keyboard. While the built-in iOS keyboard will let you type the 1st, 2nd, and 4th tones by holding down on a vowel key, there is no way to access the 3rd tone mark. This has always driven me nuts as I don’t understand why Apple doesn’t include it. But I’m not worrying anymore thanks to Pinyin Keyboard.
With iOS’ new third-party keyboard options, users can now install different keyboards than the, rather plain, default one your iPhone and iPad ships with. Using this feature, Pinyin Keyboard gives you a full keyboard dedicated to typing pīnyīn. And you’ll be able to use this keyboard in any app you want. Like all iPhone and iPad custom keyboards, Pinyin Keyboard first needs to be installed in the Settings app. Go to Settings->General->Keyboard->Keyboards->Add New Keyboard. Here you’ll see a list of your available keyboards. Tap on Pinyin Keyboard, and it will be added to your device. The last step is to tap that keyboard again and turn on Allow Full Access. Now you’ll be able to switch between keyboards by tapping on the globe icon now available next to the space bar.
Now that Pinyin Keyboard is activated, you can use it system-wide. Just go into any app you’re writing with and tap and hold the globe icon on the keyboard. This will bring up a chooser menu of all your activated keyboards. To select Pinyin Keyboard, select “Keyboard English”. That’s pretty confusing to me as this makes it seem like you’re choosing the default English language keyboard. I would much rather have Pinyin Keyboard distinguish itself by its name. Hopefully the developer will correct this. Now you’ll see a nice QWERTY keyboard with English letters. Yet as you type vowels, above the top row will appear your pinyin tone options. For example, typing a “u” will bring up u, ū, ú, ǔ, ù, ü, ǖ, ǘ, ǚ, and ǜ. Tap the tone you want and it will be placed in your text. If you’d like to switch back to your regular keyboard, tap the globe icon until it returns.
Pinyin Keyboard also takes advantage of another iOS feature by offering a Today View widget. Without even needing to enable its keyboard, Pinyin Keyboard will let you copy any vowel and tone combination by swiping down the Today View and tapping it. This will place the text on your clipboard and allow you to paste it in any text you’d like. For more information on enabling and using widgets, visit this page.
I love that I now have the ability to type proper pinyin sentences in any app I choose. For all you zhōngwén xuéshēng Pinyin Keyboard is an app you’ll definitely want to pick up.
Pinyin Keyboard is just one of our favorite Chinese learning apps for iPhone and iPad. We’ve collected all of our favorites here. And if you’d like to see more of our top app selections in different categories, just head on over to our Best Apps Series.
Here are a couple of our other picks of the best Chinese learning apps for iPhone and iPad: