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I am wondering about communication and typing speed in common scenarios.

  1. How fast can one communicate using Simplified Chinese on a phone or a computer?
  2. How does it relate to speed of communication in English or other popular languages?
  3. Is there any research on this topic?

Let us assume the computer in question is just a regular modern laptop without any advanced keyboard dedicated for Chinese.

Also, some multiword English ideas can be expressed by one character, but perhaps time needed to type it out varies on different devices. So even if one can read faster on all devices, writing time would depend on device in question.

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    Someone on Quora claims: >Normal people can type 70-100 Chinese characters per minute, while professionals can easily exceed 200 char/min. I'm not seeing where they got their info from though. – user3306356 Feb 25 '18 at 7:07
  • How could this relate to words per minute in English? Is there some known ratio like 2 Chinese characters ~ 3 English words? For English Wikipedia has "the average rate for transcription was 33 words per minute", so Chinese seems way faster here. – Legat Feb 25 '18 at 7:17
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    Another undocumented stat: If you can type 150 chinese characters per minute, that amounts to roughly 50 words per minute if you subtract particles and composita, as many chinese words have only one or two characters. tonimueller.org/blog/2014/Dec/typing-chinese-on-a-computer – user3306356 Feb 25 '18 at 7:29
  • High speed people don't type one by one, they type word(several characters), input method will choose the right characters for you. And as far as I know, most people type 50, 70 can be treated faster, more rate can be only archived by practice. – Jacob Mar 4 '18 at 15:56
  • Doesn’t it also very strongly depend on the type of input method you use? I’ve only used hanyu pinyin, but there are others like cangjie, wubi, bopomofo etc. See here for a list of different methods that could probably achieve very different speeds, but also require time to learn: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. Also, some might be better for TC, others for SC. – Philipp Jun 29 '18 at 15:11
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Disclaimer: This answer is largely based on personal experience and anecdotes and written from the perspective of a Simplified Chinese user.

For English: wpm/cpm, including punctuation. Conversion: 1 wpm = 5 cpm.
For Chinese: cpm, including punctuation.


It all depends on the text you're typing, the device you're using and the particular method of input you're using. To understand typing speeds on mobile, you first have to understand...

Casual/Professional typing with physical US keyboard

English

Apart from the amount of training, the speed difference among various English typists come from the keyboard layout. There's no "IME" so to speak, because whatever character you type will end up on your text-based editor. Two common layouts are QWERTY and Dvorak simplified.

Chinese

Usually with QWERTY keyboard but with specialized input methods (IME), including but not limited to 拼音、双拼、郑码、二笔、五笔 that turn a sequence of keyboard inputs into one or more Chinese characters or symbols. To make typing faster, modern IME often have native, on-the-fly or "cloud" dictionaries where common phrases are given an input sequence.

As I'm only familiar with 拼音 and 五笔, I'll use them in the following comparisons:

  • For text that are archaic or severely lacking in multiple-character phrases, 拼音 usually is the slowest due to the sheer amount of characters you have to choose for each pinyin—a phenomenon called 重码. When using 五笔 to input characters one by one, the frequency of 重码, a.k.a. 重码率 is fairly low. The effort to learn 拼音 without memorizing the selection in 重码 is way lower than learning 五笔 without memorizing the selection in 重码, but 拼音 users typically max out at 60 cpm, while 五笔 users average at 60 cpm.

  • For text that are rich in words and phrases, modern IME can make 拼音 users type at least faster than inputting single characters. On the other hand, 五笔 users relying only on non-updating built-in dictionaries also get a speed boost. Both types of users can reach 120 cpm1.

Casual typing with touch-screen keyboard

This section could partly explain mobile phones with a physical keyboard.

This is where the world slows down. To fully utilize the screen, one would think about using the 26-key layout on smart phones, but because the smart phones are small and one is only tempted to use a maximum of 2 fingers (as opposed to a large keyboard and a maximum of 10 fingers in use) mis-clicks occur more frequently. To cope with this, layouts that lump multiple characters into one key are designed. As long as you know one of the keyboard IMEs, one would type faster than writing using character recognition IME. Modern mobile IME use dictionary and prediction technology as well, but well-trained physical keyboard users who haven't trained in touch-screen keyboards will experience a significant speed drop.

Professional typing with specialized keyboard

A.k.a. steno-typing. These are not used in everyday scenarios so I'll make it short.

English

World record for Steno keyboard stands at 375 wpm. Steno-typing typically works by parsing a sequence of simultaneous multi-key inputs into one or more words.

Chinese

Similarly, stenotyping systems such as 亚伟速录 exists, and a user using its specialized keyboard maxes out at 500 cpm.


1 Anecdotally, I know a 五笔 user who averages at 180 cpm on text that contain 1/6 archaic Chinese.

  • To future readers: Please go ahead if you want to request citations for particular statements or if relevant citations are missing from this answer. – Frenzy Li Jun 30 '18 at 6:04
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  1. Relatively fast if you are a native speaker, if you use Han Yu Pin Yin (汉语拼音)it could be quite fast. That said, based on my personal experience typing in english seems faster because you do not always get the right words out on the keyboard. There is also auto correct in English that can help you finish or fix words that you typed wrongly in English, not so sure about that in Chinese...

  2. Speed on communications really depends on your proficiency in both languages, whichever language you are more proficient in, you should be able to communicate better with it. That said, English might have a wider range of vocabulary that you can more accurate express yourself, thus increasing speed of communication.

All are based off my personal opinion, and if I side English more it's because it is used more often here, but I am both a native English & Chinese speaker.

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