Chinese input methods for computers

Chinese input methods for computers
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Hundreds of Chinese input methods are available for entry of Chinese characters into computers, but most keyboard-based methods rely on either pinyin phonetic readings or root shapes in Chinese characters. Although the pinyin method is easier to learn, root shapes are often preferred by professional typists due to their faster input speed.

Other methods allow users to write characters on a designated "pad"; this requires extra equipment but can be performed using a mobile phone with a touchscreen.



An early experimental Chinese keyboard with many keys was developed by researchers of National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, but it never came to the mainstream.

Chinese input methods predate the computer. One of the early attempts was an electro-mechanical Chinese typewriter Ming kwai (Chinese: 明快; pinyin: míngkuài; Wade–Giles: ming-k'uai) which was invented by Lin Yutang, a prominent Chinese writer. It assigned thirty base shapes or strokes to different keys and adopted a new way of categorizing Chinese characters. But the typewriter was not produced commercially and Lin soon found himself deeply in debt.[1]

Before the 1980s, Chinese publishers hired teams of workers and selected a few thousand type pieces from an enormous Chinese character set. Chinese government agencies entered charcters using a long, complicated list of Chinese telegraph codes, which assigned different numbers to each character. During the early computer era, Chinese characters were categorized by their radicals or Pinyin (or romanization), but results weren't completely satisfactory.

A typical keyboard layout for Cangjie method, which is based on United States keyboard layout

Chu Bong-Foo invented the input method used today in 1976 with his Cangjie input method, which assigns different "roots" to each key on a standard computer keyboard. With this method, for example, the character 日 is assigned to the A key, and 月 is assigned to B. Typing them together will result in the character 明 ("bright").

Despite its difficulty of learning, this method remains popular in Chinese communities that use traditional Chinese characters, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan; it is also the first method that allowed users to enter more than a hundred Chinese characters per minute.

All methods have their strengths and weaknesses. The pinyin method can be learned rapidly but its maximum input rate is limited. The Wubi takes longer to learn, but expert typists can enter text much more rapidly with it than with phonetic methods.

Due to these complexities, there is no "standard" method.

In mainland China, wubi (shape-based) and pinyin methods such as Sogou Pinyin and Google Pinyin are the most popular; in Taiwan, Boshiamy, Cangjie, and zhuyin predominate; and in Hong Kong, Cangjie is most often taught in schools.

Other methods include handwriting recognition, OCR and voice recognition. The computer itself must first be "trained" before the first or second of these methods are used; that is, the new user enters the system in a special "learning mode" so that the system can learn to identify his handwriting or speech patterns. The latter two methods are used less frequently than keyboard-based input methods and suffer from relatively high error rates, especially when used without proper "training", though higher error rates are an acceptable trade-off to many users.



Pronunciations are converted into relevant Chinese characters with phonetic methods. Homophones commonly found in the Chinese language are listed for selection by the user. Modern systems, such as Sogou Pinyin and Google Pinyin, learn the user's preferences and "predict" the most wanted characters based on the context. For example, if one enters the sounds jicheng, the software will type 繼承 (to inherit), but if jichengche is entered, 計程車 (taxi) will appear.

Various Chinese dialects complicate the system. Phonetic methods are based on standard pinyin, Zhuyin, and Jyutping in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, respectively.

Chinese speakers find the phonetic system easy to learn, choosing appropriate Chinese characters slows typing speed. While there is yet no research comparing available typing speeds, most users report they can enter fifty characters per minute, and some can even reach over one hundred per minute.[2]



  • Tze-loi method (子來; 子来)
  • Renzhi code method (認知碼; 认知码)

Examples of keyboard layouts


Sogou Pinyin

Sogou Pinyin is a popular Chinese Pinyin input method editor developed by Sogou, a Chinese search engine. It is also available on-line without installation, through a so-called "cloud input method".

Google Pinyin

Please refer to the term Google Pinyin.

See also

External links



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