A common question we receive is how to write Chinese on the computer. Since the Chinese do not use an alphabet, they need to input thousands of different characters into the computer as they type. To a Western user, this seems a bit difficult, considering the size of the average keyboard. So how is it done?
The reality is that typing in Chinese is not difficult at all. It is possible not only with an ordinary keyboard with a hundred some keys but even through the input pad of a mobile phone. This is done through the help of one of the various input methods. A common input method is based on pronunciation. Take, for example, the character representing the word "cat." The word in Mandarin is pronounced "mao" so it can be written in three keystrokes on the English keyboard. When you type in these three letters, a little bar at the bottom of the screen will show you all those characters that have this pronunciation. You pick the one for the word "cat" and the character appears in the right place in your document. Very simple.
Or perhaps not quite so simple. The problem is that there might be way too many characters that have the same pronunciation. For example, if you type in "shi", you will have to pick out your character from over a hundred candidates. There are several solutions to bypass this problem. One is to rank the characters based on their frequency. So if a character is used often in Chinese, it appears at the beginning of the list, you will find it almost immediately. A very nice improvement of this principle is to rank the character based on your own usage: the characters you pick more often will come closer and closer to the top. Or simple have the last-picked character jump to the top of the list. All this, of course, is done by the input bar automatically, but you can adjust the settings according to your preference.
Another way of speeding up the typing process is to link characters together by typing entire words or phrases at once. This way the number of potential candidates drops dramatically. While the sound "shi" gave you over a hundred characters to chose from, "shijie" will bring this down to two or three choices. If the word or phrase consist of three or more characters, you will usually only have a single candidate which you can select by pressing the space bar.
In addition to the above method of linking characters, you can type a phrase by only inputting the first letters of each syllable. So to write the phrase "People's Republic of China" is Chinese you would have needed to type in the string "zhonghuarenmingongheguo" which, as you can imagine, consist of a lot of characters. But you could just type in "zhhr" and the phrase would show up just the same. This way, you can actually type much faster than in English.
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