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Written by Nora at WrittenChinese.Com
At first glance the Wubi method looks completely intimidating. Take it from me, who has been staring at a printed copy of the Wubi keyboard guide for about an hour attempting to make sense of it. I have been using Pinyin ever since I started learning Chinese but I have been frustrated because it seems like for every new character I learn, one pops out of the side of my head.
That’s because I am basically trying to learn 2 languages at one time- first learning the pinyin with its tone and then learning the character. So my brain is going from English to Pinyin to written Chinese. While I believe that extra step is essential in learning new words and re-learning forgotten ones, there are many characters that I can recognize that I still cannot write. Using Pinyin on the keyboard offers a nice cheat for that, but at the end of the day, that’s what it is: a cheat. While I can distinguish the character from a row of other characters, when you put the pen in my hand I hesitate how to write it. That’s because I’m still more strongly associating the word to its Pinyin than to its character. Is that so wrong? Well, no, and for some of you Mark Zuckerberg’s out there, you can easily remember the character and its Pinyin together so go for it and skip the Wubi. But for me, your average Wisconsin cheesehead, I’m all about simplifying my Chinese learning and finding ways that will reinforce what I’ve learned in my daily life.
Side note: I am in no way advocating to remove Pinyin from Chinese learning entirely, in fact I wrote this love poem to show how I feel:
Ode to Pinyin
You came and took the sounds from distant lands
Turning them into words I understand
Allowing me to see the other side
And faithfully have been my loyal guide
I turn to you when I forget the strokes
My brain more weak than Zuckerberg-like blokes
You’ve been my crutch and friend you’ll always be
But now it’s time to get to know Wubi
So what is Wubi?
In a nutshell, the Wubi input method turns your keyboard into a calligraphy brush. Instead of typing in the Pinyin and then choosing from a sometimes very long list of possible characters, you type in the character shapes with a few keystrokes and the correct character nearly always appears first. Not only is this method faster than Pinyin, but it is more forgiving too! If you forget exactly how a character is written, you can put in the shapes that you DO remember, and often you can still get it anyway.
Do I have to give up my Pinyin?
Don’t worry, there’s no need to say goodbye to your old pal, Pinyin! Nearly all Wubi input methods include Pinyin (and even English), allowing you to easily switch between Wubi and Pinyin. This not only makes it an easy transition from Pinyin, but typing in the Pinyin will also give you the Wubi code so you can try using Wubi the next time you want to type that character. As I’m still learning Wubi now, I’m using about half Pinyin and half Wubi. This hasn’t slowed me down since the free Wubi software that I’m using recognizes both methods so there’s no need to even hit shortcut keys to switch.
So then how do we start to break away from Pinyin, and when is it too early to start using Wubi?
There are quite a lot of resources online that can help teach you the Wubi method, however, I haven’t been able to find a good comprehensive guide that makes it simple to learn Wubi. That’s why I want to create a simple teaching system that will include the following:
- Recommended free software to start using the Wubi method
- Printable Wubi shortcut keyboard map that work with the recommended software
- Get Started Guide with everything you need to know about using Wubi
- Common problems and solutions when using Wubi
- Tips and tricks for how to quickly memorize the keyboard map
- Practice sets to get you started
Not only do I want to give you a complete guide with good resources, but I want to break the learning process down into simple steps which any Chinese learner can follow, even if you haven’t started learning to write Chinese.
We will create these Chinese teaching tools about Wubi for you if we think you will find them useful. Leave your email here if you think you would use these tools. If we get enough interest, we will create them!
As always, happy studying!
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