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One week with Cangjie Input (倉頡輸入法)

DrWatson

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I decided to learn Cangjie Input Method recently. I often find myself in the situation where I need to look up the meaning and pronunciation of a Chinese word or character. But how can I type it into a dictionary using pinyin if I don't know the pronunciation? I usually find myself using a stylus on my tablet to draw the characters, or even using the mouse on a PC to draw the characters on screen. Worst case, I look up each character by selecting radicals. Having to draw or look-up the character slows me down so much when I'm really trying to focus on reading a passage, and I get less time to study and find I am spending a lot of time trying to input characters.
 

When I lived in Japan I once witnessed a typist inputing characters into an old type-setting machine. The typist was reading hand-written manuscripts and converting these manuscripts to a digital format. The typist could input any character with only a few keystrokes, it was amazing. The typist was so proficient with this system that she found using a phonetic-style IME on Microsoft Windows to be very frustrating. She complained of having to type and then select a choice from a list, where as on the type-setting machine she could look at a character and quickly get it on screen. Also, if she didn't know a difficult character, she could still type it without having to know the pronunciation for inputting the character. Of course she had to learn this typing system and I am sure that it took time to master.

 

Is it worth it to learn a non-phonetic based input system?  Perhaps. I learned to touch-type when I was 15 and it changed my life. It took time and work, but it has paid off in many ways and was well worth the time investment. Perhaps Cangjie may offer a similar experience?  Before committing to Cangjie, I looked into other systems, such as Wubi, but it appears that Wubi is only for simplified character sets (as I understand it).  As primarily a student of Traditional characters, I wanted to learn a system that could do Traditional characters at a minimum. I also thought about a hand-writing based input system, which would be good for remembering how to write by hand, but I still think a keyboard is more practical.

 

The first week was good overall. There were some surprises to begin with. I'm working mostly from a Linux laptop with the Ibus input system. Unfortunately, the Cangjie plug-in for Ibus only supports characters used in Hong Kong, and as such it is not possible to input any simplified characters. Other Cangjie implementations allow this from what I have read, such as Twinbridge (which doesn't even appear to be in active development and is Windows only). I'll have to try out Cangjie on Mac OS X next to see how that goes. While this is not a show stopper for me, it is a bit inconvenient. I'll still have to use pinyin for when I need to type a Simplified character.

 

Learning Cangjie will clearly take time though. I memorized the 24 primary/main signs and practised typing some characters and words that can be input with a single or combination of the primary/main signs. Note: signs are like radicals...but not the same thing. Signs are character components that make up a complete character.  From this point forward it is going to get hard though. The next step is to learn the secondary signs (80+), and then learn the rules for identifying the proper order and identification of the signs.

 

I hope to have more progress to report next week.



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I'm very curious to see how you get on. I had an extremely frustrating week looking for a traditional character input method that would accommodate me thinking in spoken Cantonese without using pinyin and essentially Cangjie seems to be the "best" option. I am reluctant so I hope you have success and selfishly I also hope your success can motivate me.

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Way back in the archives there's some (often imron-powered) discussion of Wubi, which will touch on a lot of the same issues. Here's one, there will be others if you search. Good luck!

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Back in 2009, the Slow Chinese podcast mentioned Wubi and other methods were becoming less and less popular, and pinyin input more and more popular. I wonder what the natives prefer these days in the Mainland, HK and TW.

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@陳德聰:

 

I will try to do my best about keeping this blog updated with my progress, and also share my honest opinion about the system. So far I am really liking it, but I am just getting my feet wet.

 

@roddy:

 

Thanks, I totally forgot to search the forums here, very absent minded of me. The post you linked to mentions traditional support with Wubi on Windows it appears.  Very cool! I've already started down the Cangjie path so I'll stick with it, but that was an interesting post!  Looks like imron had success with Wubi before the Mac OS X switch. I hope things have improved on MacOS after a decade later...

 

@mlescano:

 

I imagine with the massive move to mobile computing and smart phones that Wubi and Cangjie are not popular at all, especially with the younger generations. I can't speak for HK or PRC, but in Taiwan a lot of folks I know use Zhuyin / BoPoMoFo phonetic input since they learn that in school at a very young age. For a native speaker, they don't run into issues as frequently with not knowing how something is pronounced. When it does happen though, in Taiwan I saw people using the mouse-based drawing input in their IME for characters they didn't know how to type. It will be interesting to see if this little experiment of mine pays off. Perhaps these systems might be better suited for learners?



 

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4 hours ago, DrWatson said:

I hope things have improved on MacOS after a decade later...

 

Default Wubi is still not great on macOS.  I currently use WBIM which is quite nice.

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I use pinyin to input simplified characters.

I use simplified Cangjie (just type the first and the last sign and then pick from a list) to input traditional characters.

On a phone/tablet I use handwriting input.

 

Works well so far.

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11 hours ago, lips said:

I use pinyin to input simplified characters.

I use simplified Cangjie (just type the first and the last sign and then pick from a list) to input traditional characters.

On a phone/tablet I use handwriting input.

 

Works well so far.

 

Just out of curiosity for this conversation, where are you based out of? HK? PRC? Taiwan? Singapore? Other overseas? Are you a native Chinese speaker?

 

Don't mean to be nosy, just very curious though!

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