Chinese Input Methods

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Here's a introduction to Chinese input methods.

Apple keyboard taiwan 06885
Apple Keyboard Taiwan.

The labels are 2 different input methods for Chinese, used in mostly Taiwan.

The labels on the upper right is “bopomofo”. Look at left column, keys 1 Q A Z, we have ㄅ ㄆ ㄇ ㄈ.

The lower right is Chinese input method called Cangjie (倉頡).

chinese keyboard layout cangjie
Cangjie keyboard layout.

Chinese has thousands of characters. You need to know 2 to 3 thousands of them to read newspaper.

Chinese Input Methods

To type Chinese, you need to use what's called “input method”.

chinese input methods menu 2017 07 19
Chinese input methods, offered by Google as of 2017-07-19.

There are more than ten input methods for Chinese, invented at different times by different people in China and Taiwan.

Chinese input methods can be roughly devided into 2 categories.

Sound based methods are far more popular, used by most Chinese, because it's a system anyone who speak standard Chinese can learn in a day.

Character shape based methods require learning, and is in general faster and more accurate. Because, for each character, there are usually over ten homonyms (character of the same sound), so sound based system popup a selection to let you pick the right character. But character based input don't have this problem.

(but as time goes by, sound based might actually be faster due to guessing at whole phrases with Artificial Intelligence tech, for inputting the type of text that's everyday speech. For poetry, academic writing, or any text that's not commonly used daily by average people, character based is much better.)

Sound Based System: Pinyin and Zhuyin

The most popular input methods are:

Both are sound based.

Pinyin input method is mostly used in China. Pinyin is a phonetic system using English alphabets. Any USA keyboard can type pinyin. No special label is necessary on the keys.

Zhuyin (aka bopomofo) input method is mostly used in Taiwan. Zhuyin is a phonetic system special symbols. It is almost the same as pinyin, except that it uses special symbols instead of English alphabets. Any USA keyboard can also type zhuyin, but if the keys don't have zhuyin labels, you'll have to know which keys are what zhuyin characters.

For example, to type the character


(meaning “I, me”, pronounced “wo”)

in pinyin, you press w o.

chinese pinyin input 2017 07 19
Chinese pinyin input.

in zhuyin, you press j for and press i for .

Character Based System: Wubi and Cangjie

in China, the second most popular Chinese input method is Wubi. Its a shape based system.

In Taiwan, the second most popular Chinese input method is Cangjie. Its a shape based system.

Both of these require labels on the keys to learn it.

But in China, there's no keyboard with wubi labels, because most people using this method just memorized it. (keyboards in China are just USA keyboards without any special label on the keys.)

In Taiwan, most keyboards have dual labeling, of Zhuyin and Cangjie. Actually, most keyboards have another label for the Dayi system. So, a key usually has 4 labels: English, Zhuyin, Cangjie, Dayi.

taiwan keyboard layout
Taiwan keyboard layout. 4 labels for each key. ① English. ② upper right: zhuyin. ③ lower left: cangjie. ④ lower right: Dayi. 〔png image taiwan_keyboard_layout.png

The Most Popular Chinese Input Method

  1. pinyin → (sound based) used in China and around the world. Used by perhaps 90% of ALL Chinese speakers.
  2. zhuyin → (sound based) used mostly in Taiwan.
  3. wubi → (shape based) used mostly in China by some people.
  4. chanel → (shape based) used mostly in Taiwan by some people.

Note: pinyin input method has lots variations, that use shortcuts and artificial intelligence to guess, to increase efficiency.

Turn on Chinese Input

In Microsoft Windows, Mac, Google gmail, support many Chinese input methods.

Just go to your system preference or control panel, usually in the “international” or “languages” section.

See also: Emacs Chinese Input

Pinyin Letter Frequency and Keyboard Layout 拼音字母頻率 鍵盤佈局

Pinyin Letter Frequency and Keyboard Layout 拼音字母頻率 鍵盤佈局

Pinyin 拼音, Zhuyin 注音, IPA Comparison

Pinyin 拼音, Zhuyin 注音, IPA Comparison

See also: Book: The Chinese Typewriter: A History

Keyboard International Layouts

  1. International Keyboard Layouts
  2. Chinese Input Methods
  3. Japanese Keyboard Layouts
  4. Russian Keyboard Layout
  5. German Keyboard Layout
  6. French Keyboard Layout
Does my article help you pick a keyboard?

Put $5 tip at patreon

Thank you.

Ask me question on patreon