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Defining fast here as ~80WPM in English. I use a Dvorak keyboard and that's about what I hit when I take the typing tests online that include the excessive punctuation that realistically doesn't show up in every day typing.

While not possible to create an analog between a phonetic language's word and Chinese words we can instead compare the time it takes to type two sentences which are equivalent.

Common words that the statistics engine find are just fine but more complex words are extremely slow. For example, I tried to type this sentence with Microsoft's Pinyin IME:

enter image description here

It produced:

為鏡頭金科讓居民免受帝都輻射的上海

I'm not sure what the exact translation is in English but assuming it's something like, "The headscarf protects citizens from taking damage from low radiation levels." it takes a bit less than 9 seconds for me to type that in English. Using Mandarin, I tried to get my IME to output that sentence correctly but just stopped the clock at a minute as I had spent almost all the time scrolling through the pages of characters to click the correct ones.

I've tried other IMEs and they don't seem to do much better albeit I have limited myself to the ones that don't "phone home" as security is a concern.

My question is whether Chinese people have other input methods they are using to type at a speed commensurate with what a reasonable typist can do in phonetic languages? IE: Roughly 80WPM.

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  • THis past post might be useful to you. chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/38980/…
    – r13
    Oct 15, 2022 at 22:20
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    well, there is a type of IME called 双拼, which I currently use, it benefits from the fact that almost all characters' pronouciation is composed of a consonant and a voyal, so we only need to tap two keys for a single character. Here is an example: 围wz颈jy头tb巾jn可ke让rh居ju民mn免mm受ub低di度du辐fu射ue的de伤uh害hl。It's a competitive alternative to 五笔. BTW, professional typists have their special typewritter. Oct 29, 2022 at 13:44

5 Answers 5

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The answer: with uncommon texts, I suspect that is impossible.

Common words that the statistics engine find are just fine but more complex words are extremely slow.

That's just the case. I experience that every day.

I tried to get my IME to output that sentence correctly but just stopped the clock at a minute as I had spent almost all the time scrolling through the pages of characters to click the correct ones.

I followed your steps (i.e. tried to type that sentence) and reproduced your results. I did that faster than you but I felt the pain nonetheless.

P.S.

  1. I type common words at a decent speed, compared with people of my age.

  2. My typing sped up hugely after I learned 双拼 in 2020, which I take to be a more economic IME paradigm to learn than 五笔. First, the former is easier to learn when you have a grasp of pinyin. Second, in 五笔 you press 4 times for each Chinese character, whereas in 双拼 the number is 2. Hope that helps.

P.P.S.

Somebody in V2EX, a tech forum, presented his Chinese IME project based on corpus a couple of days ago. His idea is that for every pinyin sequence corresponding to a number of Chinese phonemes, there is a list of possible Hanzi sequences that might be ordered by their possibility to occur in reality, calculated statistically from their frequency in corpus. This is different from what other IMEs do in that his method involves no or little tokenization, which he claims is more efficient in giving non-frequent output candidates. The original post is most likely deleted now, possibly because his plan met with nothing like a warm welcome, from what I remember.

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I don't know enough about security to reccommend specific keyboards, but I can help list the ways to type in chinese I know in a rough order of possible cpm (assuming a conversion to characters a minute).

。五筆字型 someone else mentioned this, but 5 stroke uses 5 different keys to hit representing the basic strokes. The simple layout means typing speed can get very fast. However knowledge of proper stroke order is vital and searching through the resulting characters is still needed sometimes.

。九方輸入法 9 stroke is similar to 5 stroke but with a few extra keys to make it easier to type, aimed at a 9 key number pad layout.

。倉頡輸入法 Canjie input is based on qwerty, using 20+ keys to deconstruct characters in such a way that almost all can be typed with 2-4 key presses. I think most would agree that this style is by far the quickest way to type in chinese. Those properly memorizing the system can have cpm well into the hundreds. However, there is a steep learning curve, you have to learn the way to break down chinese characters to each key first. This is somewhat arbitrary and most typing chinese who haven't learned it properly have a much lower cpm (often with cheat sheets of the break down at hand to assist).

Generally pinyin is the quickest cpm for those at risk of not remembering how to write a word or not wanting to learn another keyboard layout. The others will likely be quicker in the order I listed them for those adept with them.

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You can try Wubi (五笔) . It needs some effort to learn its input methods. But you can gain a very fast speed in inputting. The relation between the character you want and the key you pressed are hard coded so no data is collected to improve this method.

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This doesn't directly answer your question but at least provides some context as to why this all came to be. There is a really fascinating book called The Chinese Typewriter that explains the long and complicated history of the typewriter for Chinese characters, and why it was incredibly difficult to port over a lot of Western alphabet versions of the typewriter into Chinese markets. As an example, here is an old prototype of a Western typewriter:

enter image description here

And an old Shu-type prototype of Chinese typewriting that required selecting from a tray of many characters and manually pressing down each one:

enter image description here

As such, this would later lead to what would be predictive text in IMEs for Chinese, which relied on saving time with radical-based predictions of texting and keyboarding. Here you can see the Mingkuai typewriter, which had a rotating wheel design that selected characters based on a series of radical impressions similar to modern IMEs. In the second image, you can see a looking glass apparatus on the front of the keyboard for selecting from a range of characters like phones do now :

enter image description here

enter image description here

The issue when going from mechanical to digital in Chinese is that there is the additional confound of which typing is being done. Pinyin adopts a bit of an intermediary step to balance phonetics and semantics...it requires typing each letter of pinyin while also selecting the character:

enter image description here

With something like bopomofo or zhuyin, you have the option of using a radical or syllabary to eliminate steps in the process. In some ways this can make typing faster or slower depending on what is being typed. In any case, I hope this provides some historical perspective into the why of Chinese keyboarding, which is really an extension of typewriting history.

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Maybe you should give SouGou PinYin IME a try, it has a better associative ability. For example, if you are gonging to type '居民', it's likely that as soon as you typed 'jm' the IME will give you the full word.

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    Unfortunately Sougou very much falls into the category of phoning home. It definitely sends data back and the worst part is that it’s not at all clear what it sends back because they won’t tell us. See globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1214202.shtml (wouldn’t normally post global times here but I don’t see a reason for them to misreport this). Moreover, AFAIK Sougou is using ML to improve its hit rate which necessarily means it’s sending at least some information about what you’re typing back home. Oct 16, 2022 at 11:33
  • Pinyin input method are partly work with ML. You should not use the model trained by others' data while not sharing your data to train. So,if you want to use Pinyin without any data collected, you can not use any advanced features unless you self have well trained model. You can try rime, but you need to prepare the dictionary library for it.
    – wznmickey
    Oct 16, 2022 at 15:10
  • @GrantCurell, well, if you're really concerned about privacy, the best way to improve typing speed is to practice, especially with the IME with lower associative ability. I used to use Google IME on my phone, but the typing experience is so bad for it constantly forgot the word I just typed. So it's just a trade-off, and the choice is up to you.
    – Rafael_DD
    Oct 18, 2022 at 6:05
  • I don't think this really gets at the question though. To requote: "My question is whether Chinese people have other input methods they are using to type at a speed commensurate with what a reasonable typist can do in phonetic languages? IE: Roughly 80WPM. Are there tricks to making Pinyin faster?" The only part of the OP this really targets is the last bit where we're tacitly saying, "You can make Pinyin better with ML" but I'm not sure that this would actually allow someone to type commensurately with phonetic languages. Oct 18, 2022 at 20:11
  • I have edited the OP for clarity by dropping the bit about Pinyin as what I'm actual curious about is whether someone who is already proficient is able to type at the rough Mandarin equivalent of 80WPM. I am not asking for feedback on how to improve my own typing ability. Oct 18, 2022 at 20:13

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