Zhuyin

Zhuyin

Zhuyin will be used for displaying the Mandarin pronunciation of the Chinese characters in this blog. Zhuyin (also known as bo po mo fo) is a traditional system to teach the right pronunciation of each character. Have you heard of Pinyin? So, it’s a similar idea, but using some special Chinese characters to represent different pronunciations.

Zhuyin vs. Pinyin

And why do I prefer Zhuyin? Because I believe it teaches the pronunciation of characters in the correct way. Pinyin was created to simplify the process of learning the Chinese pronunciation, and it might be a great tool for beginners to have an idea of how the characters’ pronunciation sounds. However, I believe Pinyin can causes a lot of confusion, especially for Westerners, on how the right pronunciation of a character should sound. It can be very confusing for our brain to identify the differences between the same English and Pinyin character and associate the right pronunciation to the Chinese character.

For example, the letter E in English can have many different sounds, depending on the word we are talking about. It can sound like EE (like in be), IH (like in pretty) or AY (like in cafe). But in Pinyin the character E sounds more like a very short UHHH, like when someone is punched in the stomach.

Complicated to visualize that? So take a look at the graph below for a better overview of how confusing the pronunciation map for Zhuyin, Pinyin and English vowels can be:

Zhuyin, Pinyin and English characters.
Legend: Zhuyin (blue), Pinyin (red) and English (black).

To avoid this confusion, I’ll be using only the Zhuyin system, so we can avoid these problems from the start. 🙂

Pronunciation

Okay, so here comes the hard question: how to learn Zhuyin pronunciation if most of the material available only use Pinyin?

The best bet is to rely on some materials available online. Zhuyin and Pinyin are available in most of the translation/dictionary websites, but it’s very hard to find websites only presenting the Zhuyin characters. Still, I was able to find a good one that we can use for practicing our pronunciation. It was designed for kids, so it is very straight-forward to use and the pronunciation sound is great.

Find the link here: mdnkids.com

Keyboards

Another reason why it’s so important to have a good understanding of Zhuyin? This is one of the systems used to type Chinese characters on computers.

zhuyin-bopomofo-keyboard
Zhuyin keyboard

The keyboard above is widely used in Taiwan for Chinese characters typing, and it is somewhat easy to use once you understand a bit of the Zhuyin pronunciation. You can notice that the first Zhuyin characters are placed on the left side (1 Q A Z being bo po mo fo), and the vowels are located in the left side (it ends on for ㄦ). The keys 3, 4, 6 and 7 are used for the pronunciation tones.

How to use the keyboard? Very simple. Let’s say we want to type the character (light). You need to type E J ; (ㄍㄨㄤ) and then press SPACE, so it will display the character that has the sound you just typed. However, there are many characters that use the same sound, so when you press the DOWN arrow key you will see a list of options to choose, so you can search the character you are looking for and press ENTER. You can see an example below:

Zhuyin keyboard typing
Zhuyin keyboard typing

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