Chinese input skill helps students stay 'literate'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2012, 12:00am


Mastering the various Chinese input methods will help local students stay 'literate' in the computer age, according to language experts.

Today, one new Chinese input method is being created every month. But back in the computer's teething days in the 1960s, putting Chinese characters on screens was considered impossible as they are made up of around 400 different components - a massive number which could not be distributed across a conventional keyboard.

It wasn't until 1978 when the first Chinese input method was invented: Cangjie places components into 26 groups, thus making it possible for users to construct characters from a qwerty keyboard. These days, new Chinese input systems are invented based on phonetics, strokes, and the components of the characters.

Ho Man-koon, who specialises in Chinese teaching and learning at he Chinese University, reckons that it is important for every student to learn a Chinese input method to facilitate online learning.

'Many Hong Kong students have not learned it properly in school, because there is no proper systematic teaching in the skill,' he says, adding those who cannot type Chinese are the 'illiterate of the new generation'.

However, the past decade has seen young people use symbols, English letters and words, or similar Chinese characters to replace the 'proper' use of Chinese in instant messaging, blogging and other communication. Critics have dubbed it the 'Martian language', and those who use it 'brain-damaged'.