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What does a Chinese keyboard look like?

What does a Chinese keyboard look like?Searching the Internet for information on double-byte languages recently, I came across the following question about Chinese keyboards:

"Seriously, do they have letters or symbols? And if symbols, are there a ton of keys?"
Intrigued, I searched a bit more and found a general sense of curiosity - but also a lack of real information. When curious minds inquire about Chinese keyboard layouts, "answers" often come in this form:
"They have normal keyboards, sometimes a couple extra buttons"
But hidden amongst the dribble, I found four good resources:
  1. The Explainer at slate.com has a good overview of how people in China type on computers.
  2. Wikipedia's explanation is short and gets to the point.
  3. eHow.com provides an alternative description of how Chinese keyboards work.
  4. Help in typing pinyin with tone marks
Take a look at these resources and get ready to impress your friends, family, and clients with your nerdy knowledge!

Want to give your inner geek some free rein? Check out our posts on the life and times of a typeface, a binary translator for communicating with your CPU and nerdy friends, and the ever-popular periodic table of typefaces.

ForeignExchange provides medical translations to medical device and biopharma companies - in Chinese and dozens of other languages. Ask us for a detailed proposal on your next medical translation project.


  1. Tex said...
    In Tomorrow Never Dies, a Chinese keyboard frustrates James Bond. See minute 9 in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLgooF7W87w&feature=PlayList&p=B56FF33A50474143&index=8
    Andres Heuberger said...
    Thanks Tex - very à propos :-)

    Here is the clickable link to the YouTube video for anybody who wants to check it out.
    amaxson said...
    To add to this post, its keyboards differ by region, not just by alphabet. If you've traveled extensively, and typed from many internet cafe's, I'm sure you've found slight differences between them. To a font geek, like myself, this is extremely intriguing. Since the QWERTY keyboard is the standard in the US, and it has been proven this is not the most efficient way to type (it was actually developed to slow typists down, so as to not jam typewriters!) Most countries adopted this same layout, some with slight differences, such as QZERTY, or AZERTY. The major difference still lay in what the 'dead' keys do, and how to make special characters appear on the screen.
    Zachary Overline said...
    Actually, most Chinese people type with a standard QWERTY keyboard, using really, really good predictive text systems so that they don't have to worry about tones. Sometimes, you can type an entire sentence just by entering the first letters (pinyin) of each word and letting the computer figure out what you want to say.
    Any sort of stroke-based keyboard (using a system called wu bi) tends to be outdated and only used by stenographers or old people who never learned pinyin. I've heard that you can type a bajillion times faster using strokes, but even so, most computer users these days are actually forgetting how to write characters properly because they're so dependent on pinyin.
    amaxson said...
    @Zach, Thanks for your post! It is an interesting topic for sure. I was not aware that the predictive text was so good using pinyin! Its funny that you brought that up because recently, we had a request to sort an index in pinyin, and we (non-Chinese speakers) all thought: why would you want to do that?
    Do you think that younger generations of Chinese speakers are more familiar with pinyin than other methods of sorting Chinese? (such as stroke count)?

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