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Windows 8 Chinese Language Features

A Quick Start Guide to Using Chinese Language Features
in Non-Chinese Versions of Windows 8

On this page:
Reading     Writing     Fonts     Display Languages     Other Features

Setup pages:
1. Setup  ◊  2. Pinyin for Traditional Chinese  ◊  3. Handwriting & Display Languages

Related FAQ:
Which Chinese features are missing or broken in Windows 8 and 8.1?


Windows 7 Chinese character input example

All versions of Windows 8 for the US and most other countries include the Chinese features of Windows 7 Ultimate, including display language packs and handwriting input. This alone may be worth the upgrade price for those who do not have Ultimate already. The only major differences seem to be the new centralized location and finger-friendly design of language settings and controls, plus a couple of new UI fonts.

There are also incremental improvements to handwriting input, which I'm sure are very much appreciated by those who need it, especially when using a Win8 tablet...but so far the global release of Windows 8 RT has been a disappointment for those wanting to handwrite Traditional Chinese characters, as I'll explain.


In the US version, and most other country versions, you can read and write Chinese while using Windows 8 in your own language (English, in my case) or you can change the display language to Chinese. There is nothing else to buy for these basic features.

In mainland China, Microsoft sells a single-language version of Windows 8. That one does not include display language packs for other languages. If you want your menus in English or any language other than Chinese, you'll have to purchase and do a clean install of the full version. (Other display languages will seem to be there, but you will get a message saying they are unavailable.)


Windows 8 Start and Desktop screens

It took me a while to get used to the "bipolar" nature of Windows 8. This extends to language setup, which is best done in the Desktop, using the good old-fashioned Control Panel. The language setup options within the new Modern user interface (a.k.a. "Metro") are sometimes limited to what will work in tablet apps. More about that on my Pinyin setup pages. But first, a general introduction to the Chinese features.


Chinese Characters in Windows 8

IE10 Bing Chinese search resultsUnlike Windows XP, you do not need to "enable East Asian languages" in Windows Vista, 7 or 8 just to read Chinese documents, including web pages. And if you need to write Chinese, setting up input methods is easier than ever.

However, in every version of Windows, there have always been Chinese applications and websites that do not cooperate. If you encounter problems, please see my ideas for troubleshooting non-Unicode programs and web issues. I will be updating that page for Windows 8 as soon as I can, but the basics are the same.

Being able to read Chinese in Windows is not the same as displaying all Windows menus, control panels and other system text in Chinese. For that, you need to download and install a free display language. See the display languages section below.


Chinese Input Methods in Windows 8

Windows 8 Chinese input method switchingThe Windows 8 "Simplified, China" & "Simplified, Singapore" regional options includes the MSPY SimpleFast phonetic input method. Beginning with Windows 8.1 this is simply called Microsoft Pinyin in English, but still 微软拼音简捷输入方法 in Chinese.

The MSPY New Experience input method has been retired, but in Windows 8.1 the popular Wubi stroke-based input method was added. New Experience was my favorite, but in China most users prefer Pinyin input methods that visually separate each syllable. See Pinyin setup for instructions.


The Windows 8 "Traditional, Taiwan", Hong Kong, and Macau regional variants include the New Phonetic input method, renamed "Bopomofo" in Windows 8.1 even though it will do Zhuyin *and* Pinyin. Also included are Changjie (Cangjie), Quick, Traditional Dayi, and Traditional Array.

Windows RT tablet users will need to enable the full virtual keyboard after switching New Phonetic from Zhuyin Pinyin, or the Latin letters will not appear. I will show you how to do this on the Traditional Chinese Pinyin input method keyboard setup page.

Handwriting input is also available in the global release, in the new Touch Keyboard for Simplified and Traditional characters (and also in the old IME Pad for Traditional characters). For the handwriting to work, on many Windows 8 systems you'll need to first download a display language pack. I will show you how to set up handwriting and display language packs.

Character sets: the PRC/Singapore IME also offers Traditional characters in mainland GB encoding, and the Taiwan/HK/Macau IME offers Simplified characters in Unicode encoding, each with some feature limitations.


Windows 8 Chinese Setup:

1. Windows 8 Simplified and Traditional Chinese input methods setup

2. Windows 8 Traditional Chinese Pinyin input method keyboard setup

3. Windows 8 Chinese handwriting and display language packs

4. Zhuyin / Bopomofo: I'm working on this. Meanwhile see #1 above, and see also my Windows 7 Zhuyin input, symbols, and "ruby text" page.

See also my list of third-party input methods and tools. I haven't tested any of them with Windows 8 yet, but I don't think you'll break anything if you get ahead of me on this.


Chinese Fonts in Windows 8

Some Windows 8 fonts for Chinese and other languagesWindows 8 includes the same set of Han fonts offered in Windows 7 and Vista, adding only "UI" versions of JhengHei and YaHei designed for the new Modern user interface. I believe some of the minority fonts are new, but I haven't been tracking those.

See the full list on my Windows 7/Vista Chinese fonts page. So far I haven't felt the need for a separate font page for Windows 8 here. You may also be interested in my survey of free and commercial third-party Chinese fonts.



Display Languages (Language Packs / MUI) in Windows 8

All consumer versions of Windows 8 sold in the US and most other countries include the "language packs" that were previously available only with the purchase of Windows 7 Ultimate. They're available to Windows 8 Enterprise users as well, depending on your organization's IT policies. These packs are not available in the single-language versions of Windows 8 sold in China and a few other emerging markets.

Windows 8 Start screen in Traditional Chinese display language

The main purpose of a display language pack is to allow native speakers of another language to work comfortably in Windows 8 by providing localization of tiles, menus, and other features in their language. But in many cases you will also need to install Chinese display language packs to acces Chinese handwriting input. Handwriting can then be enabled for use under any display language, including English. For Traditional Chinese handwriting in the Taiwan/HK/Macau IME, you can also use the old IME Pad for handwriting. I will show you how to do that.

If you encounter Chinese software or web pages that do not display Chinese characters correctly, it is usually not necessary to use the display language packs to solve those problems. See my page on non-Unicode programs and web page issues. I'm not certain what Microsoft will release for Office 2013, but usually Office language packs must be obtained separately.

The Traditional character display language pack is available only within the Hong Kong/Macau regional settings in versions of Windows 8 released outside of Taiwan. The Simplified character pack is much easier to find, in the PRC or Singapore regional options.

See my page on Chinese handwriting input and display language packs.


Other Features in Windows 8:
Stroke/Radical Input, Speech Features, & More

As this is "Pinyin Joe's" website, you won't see much here about other input methods, but here are a few items you may find interesting:

  • If you need to input characters by radical, stroke, or Unicode number, I discuss IME Pads and other tools in my introduction to fonts and input methods for ancient, classical and rare/obscure Chinese characters, because I get questions about those topics mostly from scholars working with older texts.
  • There are also Chinese text-to-speech features (with the voice of Microsoft Lili) and speech recognition input features in there somewhere.
  • And there are a bunch of other fun features I hope to post about here soon!


Next pages:

1. Windows 8 Pinyin Setup

2. Windows 8 Hanyu Pinyin input for Traditional Chinese

3. Windows 8 Chinese handwriting and display language packs

4. Windows 8 and 8.1 missing/broken Chinese features


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