I often want to be able to type a character that I don't know how to pronounce.

I've read online that most input systems let me type a "u" and then be able to type a radical in. This has had little success for me, as it seems my mac input methods and my android phone input methods behave differently.

In addition I often don't know how to pronounce the radicals. What is the easiest way to do this?

I imagine that I would have to do it stroke by stroke, and maybe the order is important?

There is a stroke option on my mac input but I can't figure out how to use it:

enter image description here

  • FWIW if you read traditional characters somewhat, IIRC you can look up characters with similar components (e.g. radicals) on zhongwen.net and get the pronunciation there.
    – user5714
    Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 16:06
  • if character is known, deduce 4-corner index, then use online 4-corner index dictionary to display all possible characters
    – user6065
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 5:46
  • The 4-corner method is probably beyond the capabilities of a beginner. Learn how to lookup characters by radicals with a mobile phone app. You are going to need it anyway, if you are serious about learning Chinese. The other, "lazy" method is: recognize a part of a character, that you know how to enter, and scroll through the list of characters containing that character part. Pleco can be used both ways.
    – imrek
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 8:41
  • If you want to post a follow-up comment, use the comments and link the photo there. Answers are meant to be answers. Thank you. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:13
  • Just install Pleco and write the character with your hand to get its pinyin. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:59

7 Answers 7



  1. Handwriting tools like https://chineseinput.net/handwriting.html allow you to draw the character, but this is slow.

  2. Painstakingly guessing radicals and looking them up in a dictionary which is even slower.

  3. Shape-based input methods.

I strongly recommend shape-based input methods and Cangjie5 in particular.

I studied Cangjie5 for about a month, and now I can quickly and accurately type literally any character I see. (simplified, traditional, ancient variants, Cantonese, Japanese shinjitai, chu nom, etc. More than 70,000 characters total)

I've also found it helps me remember how to write characters.

Hope that helps.


With stroke method, you need to know the characters very well, which means you know how to write the character in correct order. It's hard for a non-native speaker in my opinion.

I would suggest you use the "Trackpad Handwriting" instead.

Well, well... I tried "Trackpad Handwriting" which provided by Mac, it's SO BADLY DESIGNED. I can't even believe it's product of Apple!

Thanks for @Ming 's reminder, Trackpad Handwriting has special setting to enable features like "two fingers tap clear". Then, the UE design might not that bad. But considering it's not default options, it's still bad! Not that bad, but bad!


Here are some online handwriting input method for Chinese, which are more effective and convenient than Trackpad Handwriting.




If you are using Chrome, then the extension provided by Google may be the best choice for you.

  • I tried this and it works. A bit awkward for sure since there is no visual feedback to let you know where you are if you have to look back and forth at the trackpad and the character.
    – pixelearth
    Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 5:43
  • Please see my updated answer.
    – thinwa
    Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 5:50

Assuming you know most simple characters, then lots of online search lets you search by parts, for example in Baidu

水水水 gets you 淼

亡口月贝凡 gets you 赢


You can use a tool for Windows called NJ Pen (payware, but they offer a trial).


Just draw the strokes over the notepad page using your PC mouse (holding its left button until starting next stroke), and after you finally release the left button, the character will be typed in notepad (or in other editor you use). The tool is also provided as a part of NJ Star word processor (very useful for learners).


I would also suggest the app Pleco. You can hand write the character on a full-screen canvas. I used it when I studied in China. It also has a camera function (better than Google Translate) that you can point at the text and it overlays what it thinks is the correct character.


This is where having a paper dictionary helps a lot... Low-tech wins every time. On the other hand when I am outside, I use a small Android app I wrote that accepts Wubihua 五筆畫 input. I input the strokes and it gives me options. I pick the one I want and I can display Unihan data. If I type ⼃⼃⼁⺂ I get:

enter image description here

And then I pick 彿.

enter image description here

All good. As suspected this character is pronounced fat6 in Cantonese.

  • What's the name of the app? Nice work!
    – Ludi
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 10:59
  • 1
    The app is called, very imaginatively, Wubihua. It is not on the Play Store.
    – dda
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 13:23

Stoke method require the user know how to write Chinese characters(Hanzi) in a right order. It's so high standard that even native Chinese rarely use this input method.

If you want to type the hanzi without knowing the pronunciation, there's an input method - Wubi method is good for you. This method has the fastest speed for typing Hanzis, but it require you know the Hanzi well. And it's only for simplified Chinese.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.