You may think that you have to invest in some special software. But, if you have Windows, you simply have to change some settings! This is the quick and easy, totally basic way of how to add other languages to your computer. Of course, these steps can apply to every language and not just Mandarin, but that's my bias for you~
It's so easy, you'll be kicking yourself after for not figuring it out yourself.
I would like to note that this is for Simplified Chinese. If anyone would like to make a Mac version (or confirm that this is also how it works for 7), I would appreciate it!
1. Navigate yourself over to the Control Panel. If you don't know how to get to that point... How are you even on a computer? (Hehe~)
→ Click on Region and Language options.
2. Click on the Keyboards and Languages tab.
3. Click the "Change keyboards..." button.
4. Another window and set of tabs pop up. We only need to worry about the General and Language Bar tabs.
I already have languages added. If you were to scroll down, you could see Chinese.
To the right of the listings, there are buttons to Add... and Remove languages.
→Of course, we click Add
5. All of these languages appear.
→Click on the + next to Chinese (Simplified) for Mandarin.
→Check off the Microsoft Pinyin IME. *
If you would like to also add traditional style for Hong Kong or Taiwan, the rules to both still apply. I only study Mandarin and thus only need Simplified. I have never fiddled around with the keyboards for Traditional. I will discuss characters in a moment.
6. Now that we're on the main window again, you can set your default keyboard. If you plan on using this computer mostly for working in English, DO NOT change it to Chinese as a default. I will explain why in a moment.
Click the Language Bar tab.
Make sure that the "Docked in the taskbar" option is selected. The other two should be default as well, but the text label part and transparency setting are there more for your convenience.
7. A myserious little EN should appear on your taskbar. Click it! You can now choose Chinese (Simplified, PRC) as one of your keyboards.
This is what it will look like after you have clicked it.
8. Why pinyin? You're probably looking at this tutorial more as a beginner of learning Mandarin than you are as a Mandarin speaking person unsure of how to work a computer. Pinyin is the easiest way for beginners to really sink their teeth into Mandarin.
Okay, now that I've got it, how do I use it?
Simply start typing in the pinyin of the characters you wish. You will notice right away that every character able to be pronounced in any tone of that pinyin will pop up. You can press the number associated with the character or click it with your mouse. (i.e. to say 人, I would simply press the 1 key here.)
Use the ► arrows to select more characters.
You may be wondering why the numbers have nothing to do with the tonal number. This is because computers are like totally super smart and woah. It will remember the characters you use the most (as you start typing more often) and put those towards the front. For example, 觅 in 周觅 is actually the seventh or eighth possible character for "mi," but I type his name so often, it is now the second option.
Switching Between Chinese and English within Chinese Keyboard
You can easily switch from Chinese to English using the Chinese keyboard input. There are some words that the Chinese do not have a way to spell with their characters. English must be used. While in the Chinese keyboard, simply press the left shift to change between the two languages. It should appear as below when done so.
This is why I do not recommend keeping your keys set to Chinese if it is still a mostly English functioning computer. The shift, which most of us use to capitalize, can be picky as to what constitutes a capitalizing shift and what is a language switching shift. Even in the English setting, it keeps the Chinese punctuation and just looks awkward in the midst of normal English.
That's the basics! Perhaps as I get more time, I will make a full and detailed tutorial of all the little settings and features of this.
Please feel free to suggest better alternatives, comment, or anything at all!
*NOTE: I have never tried any of the other keyboards for Simplified Chinese. Pinyin is the only way I know how to type. This system works very well for me. However, if you have tried one of the other keyboards and it works better for you as a beginner, please don't hesitate to let me know!