If you haven’t heard of Chinese handwriting input software, we’re about to blow your mind.
But what if you’re out and about in a Chinese-speaking country, find a food product in a supermarket and want to check the ingredients list?
If you don’t know all of the hanzi listed on the package, you’re out of luck in knowing what you’re eating.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Imagine just handwriting that strange hanzi on the package into an app and quickly learning what it means. That’s what Chinese handwriting input software can do!
Why Should I Use Chinese Handwriting Input Software?
- It can help you with your hanzi writing skills. Most of the software on this list can positively identify even poorly-written hanzi characters. Even if you don’t have a good grasp on stroke order and other nuances that come with handwriting Chinese characters, you can still practice your basic skills with Chinese handwriting input software.
- You may encounter an unfamiliar character that you want to define. It’s not always as easy as copying and pasting a character you’re unfamiliar with online into a digital Chinese dictionary. You could encounter hanzi in a book, an advertisement or a photo. Handwriting input software can help you identify characters that aren’t so easy to scan for.
- Some Chinese handwriting input software can assist in mastering stroke order. While all of these awesome handwriting input resources are great for identifying strange hanzi, you can also use some of them to improve your hanzi stroke order to further improve your writing skills.
Write by Hand: 5 Chinese Handwriting Input Programs That Are Total Game Changers
If you want to familiarize yourself with Chinese characters, check out FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Each video comes with annotated subtitles in hanzi, pinyin and English, including an image for you to associate with every word. Then FluentU creates personalized quizzes to help you memorize the characters. You can even use FluentU’s digital flashcards to review the characters you learn through these Chinese handwriting input programs.
Qhanzi is accurate, straightforward, simple to use and contains just enough customizable options to be helpful but not overwhelming.
Qhanzi’s Chinese handwriting input feature is perfect to use for bare bones lookup. The only downfalls are that this site doesn’t come in app form and doesn’t work too well on smartphone browsers. But if you want to look up a character via handwriting on your laptop, this is an ideal option!
To begin, use your mouse (or finger if you have a touchscreen laptop) and use your best artistic skills to identically mimic the hanzi you wish to look up. More often than not, the first hanzi character to pop up in the list will be the correct one… but just in case, there will be quite a handful of close alternatives listed, as well.
You also have the option of removing the previous stroke in case you made a mistake so you won’t have to start completely over on a particularly complicated hanzi.
Purple Culture Chinese Handwriting/Mousewriting Input
This input from Purple Culture operates similarly to Qhanzi. It has a few more add-ons but maintains a user-friendly, simple interface.
To use this input website, draw the hanzi you’d like to look up in the middle box with your mouse. What’s handy about this site is that the space to write is split into four sections so you can more accurately draw the character. It’s sort of like how lined pages can help people practice penmanship more accurately than blank pages.
You’ll see a list of possible hanzi in the third box. After selecting the right one, that character will pop over to the first box. This is really useful if you have a full sentence of hanzi you’d like to handwrite and look up. For each character, you can select “lookup in dictionary” to view its pinyin and definition all in one spot. You can even listen to the audio pronunciation of the character!
Mobilefish Chinese Handwriting Recognition
This input software has a lot of options for the output you may want. These include converting handwriting to hanzi characters, converting a traditional Chinese handwritten hanzi character into simplified, converting a simplified Chinese handwritten hanzi character into traditional and much more.
You can even handwrite an entire email or block of text within the website, which has a list of easy-to-copy Chinese punctuation handy.
Despite being called “Mobilefish,” this Chinese handwriting input program only works properly in web browsers on a tablet or laptop.
Chinese Handwriting Keyboard
Finally, an app! How else are you going to look up the ingredients of that 老婆饼 (lǎo pó bǐng) — wife cake in the middle of a busy supermarket?
This free tool from GOMO Apps takes all the convenience of Chinese handwriting input software and puts it into a smartphone application… along with a user-friendly keyboard. This way, you can practice your hanzi-writing skills while having a conversation with someone via SMS or social media.
The recognition rate is quick and accurate, plus it can identify both simplified and traditional Chinese without switching between modes. The keyboard skins are very aesthetically pleasing, as well.
To install Chinese Handwriting Keyboard, simply download the app from the Google Play store and follow the instructions to enable the app as a secondary keyboard plugin. You may have to install GO Keyboard ahead of time in order to use this app, but GO Keyboard is free, so that shouldn’t be a huge hassle.
Google Translate isn’t exactly known for being the most accurate translation app in the world, especially when it comes to Chinese. However, it has a very useful Chinese handwriting input feature that many people don’t know about!
Open the app and set the input language to “Chinese” and the output language to “English.” Click the “拼” drop-down menu below the first input box (the one next to the microphone icon) and select “Chinese (Simplified, China) – Handwrite” at the bottom of the menu.
A popup window will appear. Here, you’ll use your finger or mouse to draw the character. The bottom of the popup window will present you with different possible characters. Once selected, that character will pop into the input box and you’ll see the pinyin and English translation.
It’s actually surprising how fast and accurate the handwriting input option in Google Translate is. Plus, it’s compatible for almost all devices!
I bet you weren’t expecting so many types of handwriting recognition software for Mandarin, were you?
It’s impressive how far technology has come. Now, even sloppy handwriting can be positively identified through software. Hopefully, these Chinese handwriting input resources will only improve your Mandarin writing skills!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist who writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.