Chinese input method for teenager

The time has come for Kid A to have her own laptop, and she’d like to learn a Chinese input method. She’s been through elementary school, so is fluent in Zhuyin (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).

My partner is suggesting teaching her a rather arcane system, where 4 (seemingly random) letters = a character e.g FDDV might represent 好. That’s an awful lot of random codes to learn. I’d prefer a Pinyin input method over that, and pinyin also provides a solid bridge between her English and Chinese. I’d understand though if she was more comfortable continuing with Zhuyin.

But what options are actually out there? Ones which are available across multiple platforms (Windows, Android, Apple etc.)

Is there a summary thread?

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Wouldn’t it be most useful for her to learn that one that everybody else here uses?

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There is Pinyin input for just about every system out there AFAIK. I can definitely speak to Mac and IOS – I use Pinyin input on both all the time, for both (separately)

Lots of options for Mac under Traditional character input: 33%20PM

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Sogou pinyin input is my favorite. It’s attached to a huge database of terms, so it often knows what you want to type before you finish typing. It’s from China though, so it’s probably spying on you.

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I’m curious for what reason does your partner suggest this method?

Phonetic input system works like crap for a language like Mandarin, and most Sinitic languages, where you have to choose a Hanji from sometimes hundreds of homophones.

When choosing Hanji on a computer system with a phonetic system, it requires you to take you eyes off your input area, and divert your attention to the little box from your IME. It constantly breaks your train of thought and is actually bad for your eyes. It is even worse for your wrist if you end up selecting a Hanji with your mouse.

Boshiamy, Cangjie or any other IME that breaks Hanji into parts is extremely useful if you do academic stuff. Phonetic IMEs’ auto select are trained with daily usage, which completely breaks down when you want to enter technical terms or do higher level Chinese homework.

I personally use Boshiamy, and I chose to do so because even though I could get 70 characters per minute out of New Zhuyin on Windows in a ideal condition (no Hanji selection required), it just gets in the way.

When I decided to do so after researching for the best option, I disabled my New Zhuyin and just went for it. It was tough at first, but it only took 2 weeks before I felt I could type most of the stuff without needing to look it up.

With Boshiamy, I get at least 100 characters per minute, and instead of selecting 2 or 3 characters every sentence, I would at most select a character every paragraph.

If you choose one of the Cangjie derived IMEs, I would suggest try out 大新倉頡. It’s basically Cangjie with Boshiamy style rule. So you would at most enter 4 alphabets per character.

Of course, that only works if your learned to write Hanji before you learned how to type. If you can only speak the language, then Pinyin or Zhuyin would be the sane choice.

If you do use Zhuyin, I would suggest switch the Zhuyin keyboard layout to the Hsu layout (許氏鍵盤).



Because she has the book. This insanely heavy 1,000 page tome of codes. It must date from the 1980s :crazy_face:. And the software is somehow up-to-date (almost). But, whatever, I must dissuade her from any attempt at handing this down a generation.

Thanks to all, @hansioux in particular, for input. I’ll consider all this and try out a few.

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I’m doing some english to Chinese translations and the bo po mo thing slows me down majorly. I have to choose from a list of words and sometimes I hit the wrong key by accident and end up having to start over, taking 10 times longer to type anything. I just used iphone’s dictation feature which speeds things up. Windows doesn’t have a good dictation feature.

Is there some primer on how to use the other input methods? When I was in the army the guy doing human resource (they are called 參一, they basically handle leaves, where personnel is assigned, if someone has gone AWOL, in battle if someone is KIA/MIA, etc.)types with some other method and types Chinese faster than I can type in English.

There used to be this website that lets you compare two Chinese IMEs’ number of keystrokes and Hanji selections. It’s been down for years, but amazingly it still works on WayMachine’s 2007 back up.

You might have to manually set browser encoding to Traditional Chinese. The link I provided is for two of the fastest IMEs back in 2007, Boshiamy and Smart Cangjie.

Enter a sample text you want it to compare, and then click the number of keystrokes per minute for it to estimate speed.


Sample result for 12 keystrokes per second. Smart Cangjie was the better option then.

If you want to see the entire line up for the IME comparison site, click this instead.

I like to use dictation. Saves a hell lot of time and screws up the characters less than 30% of the time.

Definitely Zhuyin. That’s what the vast majority of people in Taiwan use. You don’t need to know how to write a certain character since it lets you choose from a list of homophones. That’s one big advantage over Cangjie. The only disadvantage is that it involves all four rows of the keyboard, so it’ll take longer to learn touch type comparing to learning touch typing English. But I’d advise against changing the keyboard layout since nearly all computers here have the Zhuyin keyboard set up by default. Once you master Zhuyin, you can sit down in front of any computer and start typing away in Chinese.


If standard Zhuyin is everywhere, that’s exactly why you don’t need to learn to do it. What’s to learn, just look down at the Zhuyin keyboard.

Changing zhuyin keyboard layout is extremely easy on all operating systems. When you can’t for some weird reason, say if you are using a public computer that’s poorly managed, as public computers should be set up in a sandbox so that each user can do whatever they want to their session, and have it reset to default once logged out, and you couldn’t configure keyboard layout, then just look at the keyboard.

It’s not like you will need to write an essay in that situation. You probably just need to type your name.

When you are on your system, or a system that allows you to pick a layout, then layout (許氏鍵盤) frees up all none alphabetical keys for normal usage.

I can’t relate to this personally as my mandarin is nowhere near the stage where i can type, my wife uses standard Zhuyin. Whichever country we have lived in its been easy to just switch any computer to Zhuyin and not have to bother setting up alternative keyboards. we have a mix of computers, devices from different countries with different operating systems, her current laptop is from abroad so no Zhuyin symbols on the keyboard, she can type just as fast as on the other computers i think half the time its just muscle memory. :muscle:

I do think it’s important that they learn the same as the other kids/ people around them. Learning a language works better when its a social thing, when they get stuck trying to write a word it’s easy to learn from your friends, than having to go look it up in a book or online by your self. :2cents:

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The fact that she can turn on zhuyin on a computer abroad means she can also switch to a new zhuyin layout. Unless for some reason that computer abroad had zhuyin setup already.

Some people never get to the point where them can type comfortably without looking at the keyboard. For them, the best choice is probably Boshiamy.

My result with the typing test using Boshiamy.


The only down side with this type test is that you need to press enter after every word.

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I also learned Zhuyin as a kid and got my own laptop a couple years ago. I ordered one with a Zhuyin keyboard, because although pinyin is faster for most who can touch-type in English, I find pinyin more confusing. I got a MacBook - if you use the online order, you can select the desired keyboard for no extra charge.

It is true that all keyboards can change to Zhuyin input, but it won’t be written on the keyboard, and you might have to do some fiddling in controls to get the Caps button to be a language switcher, while that’s default on Zhuyin computers. I preferred to order it but an alternative might just be writing the Zhuyin placements on your English keyboard with Sharpie or the like.

There is a faster Chinese input method, which might be what you’re talking about, but it takes so much memorization and kind of it’s own training, that I don’t think it’s worth it for the average person. It’s so little used that Macs don’t even sell taiwan keyboards with them anymore.

Exactly why you should choose a Chinese IME that blends English touch-typing muscle memory with its own system.

That’s the reason why I would suggest Boshiamy for those looking for speed, and Hsu keyboard for those who just want to use Zhuyin.

Both use the alphabet as the basis, so you don’t need to sharpie anything onto your keyboard, and the muscle memory you’ve built is applicable to either language.

Take Hsu keyboard for example, the N key stands for both ㄋ and ㄣ in zhuyin, and the reason would be obvious to those who knows zhuyin well enough to want to type with it.

Boshiamy maps parts of the radicals to the alphabet.


口 maps to O
車 maps to C because Car.
⺡ (which is an alternate form of 水) maps to W because Water.

It’s silly but definitely helps with memorization.


It seems interesting and I could get used to it, but I’d still need the characters printed on for a while till I memorized it. Having memorized Zhuyin in the classic order, the standard keyboard layout means at least I know generally where to find a specific one. For someone just starting to type on a keyboard, having it printed on the keys does matter I think. And anyone can get faster over time and habit.

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The so called “standard zhuyin layout” is the essence of lazy design, no, rather non design. It relegates the most often used zhuyin symbols, such as ㄢ, ㄣ, ㄤ, and ㄥ to the ring and pinky finger of the right hand. It’s anti-ergonomical, and carpal tunnel inducing.

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Just don’t use telegraphic code. I knew a guy in the States who used to be a typesetter and sat for 8 hours a day inputting text using telegraphic codes. He had thousands of them memorized. It was a little scary to watch. Seemed normal otherwise, though. LOL