How to use Pinyin to Type Chinese (Mac OS X Mountain Lion)

Ever wonder how to input Chinese characters into your computer? There are actually several methods for Chinese input, but I want to focus on what I personally find to be the fastest and most widely-used method: Pinyin.

Don’t know pinyin? Learn pinyin on your iPhone

UPDATED: Things have changed a bit in the latest version of Mac OS X, so please refer to the updated guide on how to type Chinese (Mac) if you’re running Mac OS X Yosemite or later.

Adding Chinese Pinyin Input Methods

First, open your System Preferences from the Apple menu.

Select System Preferences

Then, Select Language & Text

Select Language & Text

Make sure the Input Sources tab is selected, then scroll down to until you find “Chinese – Simplified” and “Chinese – Traditional”. Check the one you prefer to use. I personally use both and then use keyboard shortcuts to quickly switch between them as needed. Deselect all sub-options except for “Pinyin – Simplified” and/or “Pinyin -Traditional”.

Make sure “Show Input menu in menu bar” is checked (near the bottom of the window) so you can see which input method is currently selected by looking at the menu bar.

Add Chinese Pinyin input methods

Switching between input methods

At this point, you will see a new menu bar item at the top of your screen.

Tapping on said menu bar item will reveal the input menu. You can switch back and forth between input methods by selecting the method of choice here.

Switching input from the menu

Using keyboard shortcuts to switch between input methods

If you’re like me, you don’t like taking your hands off the keyboard while typing. And, when typing, you’ll often need to switch between English and Chinese. So, let’s set up keyboard shortcuts to quickly switch between English and Chinese Pinyin input methods.

In the same Language & Text window, click on the “Keyboard Shortcuts…” button. Then, select “Keyboard & Text…” in the left column, then scroll the right column down to the bottom to find the option for “Select the previous input source”. Clicking near the right edge of this row will highlight the current shortcut. When highlighted, hold the control key down and press the spacebar. Afterwards, you should see that the shortcut has been set to “^Space”.

Setting up keyboard shortcuts

From this point on, you can type control-space to toggle between input methods. You can also hold the control key down and tap space (without letting go of the control key!) to reveal a handle input selector.

Input source selector

Note: on Mac OS X Mountain Lion, the input selector will only appear when using the “Select the previous input source” option and does not appear for the “Select next input source” option.

Give typing in Chinese a try

Now that you’re all set up, open up your favorite text editor and try typing Chinese!

Typing in Chinese with Pinyin input

If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it! Also, let me know if you have any questions.


  1. Ryan - reply

    How do you use the strokes then?

    • steven - reply

      Hi Ryan, if you’ve followed the instructions above and have the handwriting input method enabled, you can access it with Control + Shift + Space. You can then use your trackpad to write and select characters. Then, when you’re ready, use Control + Shift + Space to switch back to your previous input method : )

  2. Will - reply

    Helped me. 谢谢!

  3. andy - reply


  4. maria - reply

    thank you so much!

  5. Chris - reply

    Thanks! That was very helpful.

    One more question: how to do I change the shortcut for input source change (the Control+Space was already used for another shortcut)? As described above, I highlighted the “Control-Space” row originally set for input source change, then held the control key down and pressed the another key (shift, or shift + space, or some other characters, etc). However, that didn’t modify the shortcut for input source change. I also tried Control+F7 since the bottom of the Keyboard dialog window suggested this, but that did nothing either.

    • steven - reply

      Hi Chris, please try this and let me know if it works:
      Once you’ve highlighted the “Control-Space” row, click directly on the “^Space” text (on the right-hand side of the row). Doing so should select/highlight the “^Space” text separately (indicating that it can now be changed).
      You should be able to enter your new shortcut.

      Hope that helps!

      • Chris - reply

        Hi Steven, it worked. Instead of just highlighting the “control-space” row, I realized that I also have to check the box on the left. After that the shortcut key can be changed as you described. Thanks again!

  6. Leah Keiser - reply

    Thanks buddy! All ready for my chinese exam tomorrow

  7. Ace - reply

    谢谢!This is so cool!

  8. Marco - reply

    THANK YOU! 🙂

  9. me - reply


  10. shirley - reply

    thanks, very helpful.

  11. ann - reply

    Can anyone tell me how to type chinese pinyin with ‘tone’ to narrow down selections? With OS 10.5.x, I could use 1,2,3,4 for tonal indication, it does not appear to be working on the current version?
    Greatly appreciate any guidance.
    Thanks so much!!

  12. 柯瑞斯 - reply


    • steven - reply

      😀 很高兴可以帮你这个小忙! 加油!

  13. Pauline - reply

    Many Thanks! really wanted this for so long.

  14. Jack - reply

    Hi, so happy to see your advice as I am a person with little knowledge about computer. I have Pinyin-simplified in my Mac. but it just does not give me the Chinese words that I need/want when I type pinyin. How to solve this problem? Also instead of seeing “Language & Text” in my computer, what I see is “Language & Region”, so I cannot go to the page as you instructed. Thank you.

    • steven - reply

      Hi Jack, I’m sorry for the confusion! It looks like you are running a newer version of Mac OS X (Yosemite) while these instructions were written for an older version (Mac OS X Mountain Lion).

      To answer your question, I’ve gone ahead and created an updated guide for Mac OS X Yosemite. Please have a look and let me know if you have any further questions!

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