The Truth About Zhuyin

There are several reasons why you would want to use zhuyin instead of pinyin. However, I’ve seen pretty much everyone point out the wrong reasons. For example, people say it is a more accurate portrayal of Chinese pronunciation. This is kind of true, but if pronunciation is an issue for you, that has nothing to do with the transliteration you’re studying. The problem is you haven’t learned how to read pinyin properly.

I’d also like to note that if you’re a beginner who’s still learning the basics of Chinese pronunciation, don’t learn zhuyin yet. How many learning resources for foreigners learning Chinese use zhuyin? The answer is none. Everything made for the native English speaker uses pinyin.

What’s that you say? You want to use the textbooks Taiwanese children use to learn Chinese? No, you actually don’t. Textbooks for Taiwanese children do not teach grammar fundamentals or basic vocab because native languages are learned by speaking first. Nobody teaches babies the parts of speech or word order, they just kinda figure it out.

The real reasons to learn zhuyin

Now that that’s out of the way I’d like to give you the two real reasons why you should learn zhuyin.

  1. You want to consume Taiwanese content and/or talk to Taiwanese people through text or online
  2. You want to type Chinese very 快

That’s it. Just those two reasons.

Taiwanese people using zhuyin

One of the biggest reasons to learn zhuyin is if you are interested in Taiwan and are consuming a lot of content from Taiwan. When Taiwanese children learn new characters they don’t use pinyin like mainland Chinese children do, they use zhuyin instead. Because this system is ingrained in them as children and they are never taught pinyin, Taiwanese people always transliterate using zhuyin. This manifests itself in colloquial written content like subtitles, online comments, and text messages.

Applications of zhuyin

Consider the following image…

來源

You see how the sentence is ended with zhuyin? That’s because the sound is non-standard, and in dialect. Taiwanese dialect does still use characters as you can see with the 拍謝, but the 尾音 (ending sounds) and other local variations of dialect speech are generally written in zhuyin. Basically, writing these non-standard sounds makes something seem very authentically Taiwanese.

You might also encounter exclamations from Taiwanese people written in zhuyin rather than characters. For example, ㄏㄏ rather than 哈哈 (haha). There was an article about mainland Chinese people being confused about this, thinking ㄏㄏ was 厂厂 which gets funnier the more I think about it.

Using zhuyin to type Chinese really fast and make all Taiwanese people think you’re really cool

Yeah… that definitely won’t happen. If you have absolutely nothing better to do I suppose you could learn zhuyin to shave off a few milliseconds of your Chinese typing time. Think of all the productivity you’ll save! Except it will probably take longer to learn the system and get up to speed with it than the total amount of saved time will be sooooo maybe just keep typing with pinyin. After researching Chinese typing competitions (Youtube rabbithole), I actually wouldn’t recommend using zhuyin if your going for gold. The method used by most competition winners is 嘸蝦米, a radical based input method which you can get here.

So should I learn zhuyin or not?

If you have no interest in Taiwan and only plan on consuming mainland Chinese content, then probably don’t learn zhuyin. Furthermore, you can’t even take advantage of the slightly faster typing unless you’re using traditional characters because zhuyin input is exclusive to the traditional keyboard on most operating systems. Even if you are consuming content from Taiwan it isn’t really necessary to learn how to read zhuyin, it’s more of a minor annoyance encountered in online comments every once in a while. It’s just kind of like reading english without “y’all” and “lol”.

You can incorporate zhuyin into your life by changing your pleco settings to display zhuyin on the entry list, and then have both pinyin and zhuyin when you tap an entry like my setup below.

How to read zhuyin

Take this free zhuyin to pinyin chart as a gift from me to you.

ㄅ Bㄉ Dㄍ Gㄐ Jㄓ ZHㄗ Zㄧ I,YI ㄚ Aㄞ AIㄢ AN
ㄆ Pㄊ Tㄎ Kㄑ Qㄔ CHㄘ Cㄨ U,WUㄛ Oㄟ EIㄣ EN
ㄇ Mㄋ Nㄏ Hㄒ Xㄕ SHㄙ Sㄩ Ü,YUㄜ Eㄠ AOㄤ ANG
ㄈ Fㄌ Lㄖ Rㄝ E,YE ㄡ OUㄥ ENG
ㄦ ER

ㄨㄚ ㄙㄞ 。 ㄋㄧˇ ㄏㄨㄟˋ ㄓㄨˋ ㄧㄣ 。

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