This is a common question so I am going to try and smash it here.
❤️What is Zhuyin?
Zhuyin is the phonetic system used in Taiwan until now and also in China before 1950s. Commonly referred to as BoPoMoFo. It looks like pieces of actual whole traditional characters. Each zhuyin has their own sound and when blended, it makes the sound of the Chinese character. This is very much like the English alphabet.
❤️Why is Zhuyin GREAT?
- Easy Early Writing: Young kids starting writing can write Zhuyin with ease due to the low number of strokes involved in writing each Zhuyin. This means smaller children can have a go at writing just like the English alphabet!
- Self Expression: In learning Chinese, it is impossible for smaller children to be able to “write” 3000 characters at an early age especially in America to be able to write journals and express themselves. This becomes an extremely frustrating process in learning a language where you would like to express yourselves. Being able to write Zhuyin allows you the freedom to just spell out what you want to say rather than memorizing how to write 3000 characters before you can write a proper essay! We utilize Zhuyin in class for essays because we understand the students want to express more than what they can write with full traditional characters so zhuyin allows them to have freedom of expression and won’t slow down your Chinese learning journey.
- Proper Stroke Order: Students in our classes pickup writing traditional characters so easily when they’ve learned Zhuyin before because Zhuyin already encompasses the foundation to proper stroke order. The full Chinese character is after all, made up of tiny Zhuyin inside each character. By knowing Zhuyin, it makes character writing 10 times easier!!! In addition, stroke order foundation is already in place!
- Be Indepedent in Reading: Once you have it down, you can essentially read ANY CHARACTER in a book that does have the Zhuyin attached to the words in the book.
- Book Choices: Taiwan has a plethora of books all the way up to 6th grade with Zhuyin as with China only has Pinyin books up to maybe about early grade 2. This means if your child is older and beginning to learn Chinese, they will have limited books in their maturity level to read if you’re doing pinyin. However, with Zhuyin, your older child will have a much easier time finding mature age appropriate level books to read by themselves all because they have Zhuyin and the supple choices of books.
- Pronunciation : I know many may argue different but I still want to make my own opinion of what I’ve witnessed in class and elsewhere. For children in AMERICA (I emphasize America) who already know English and the alphabets, learning Pinyin may give them an American accent when speaking Chinese. Why? Because the brain already has a sound for each letter of the alphabet and pinyin is made up of English characters. Many will say their child doesn’t have that accent and they know pinyin. It is true that some don’t have it in the states by learning pinyin but over 90% of the kids I see in the states that learn Pinyin, has an accent. If your child is one that has a great differentiation, great! For the rest of us common folks, our brains work different. It makes sense because when I’m trying to pronounce Spanish words, I sound absolutely awful because my brain defaults to English! LOL. In this respect, Zhuyin looks so different and is attached to just a sound the brain has to memorize. Essentially you’re relearning a language in absolutely a fresh way so you don’t have anything to fall back on in terms of pronunciation. I’ve heard many feedback from families (Cantonese and Chinese American) that use Zhuyin here and say their child has perfect accent all thanks to Zhuyin.
- China uses Pinyin and None of Them Have Accents! So true!!!! But did they learn Pinyin before English? Do they know English? To them, Pinyin might as well have been Zhuyin because they associate the Chinese sounds to English letters FIRST! Again, I could be wrong but this is what I’ve witnessed. AND again, if your family or child is the exception, that’s WONDERFUL! I didn’t say EVERYONE will have this issue but most of us do! I keep repeating this because I just know many will post below and argue the opposite. I didn’t say you definitely will get an accent but it’s definitely EASIER not getting one at least for “me” by using Zhuyin.
- Self Teaching!!! I taught my kids the first few hundred characters in Chinese when we started and the best thing I’ve done is also teach them Zhuyin. They learned the rest of the thousands they know… from reading with Zhuyin. It was the best feeling having them read on their own and then witnessing them now reading non-zhuyin books without my help and often pointing out words I DO NOT KNOW OR HAVE NOT SEEN. 😱 I have to say, if you’d want to let go then this is the easy way to do so.
1. Will my child rely on Zhuyin and not read the characters?
It really depends on the child and the way you teach. If you do not teach at least the first 300-600 characters by memorization, then some children may want to rely on zhuyin but if they already have a few hundred down, they realize it’s much faster to read the character instead of spelling out the zhuyin during reading. In any case, they should always be adding more characters to their study list even after they know zhuyin to get them used to reading characters and only defaulting to zhuyin for characters they do not know!
2. Do we need Zhuyin if we already know Pinyin?
Yes, if you want access to the Taiwan books and would like your child to read those on their own.
No, if you think you want to teach every single character on your own through memorization.
Everyone has a different preference. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just a path that would fit your own family.
3. Typing in Chinese is easier in Pinyin, why learn both?
Short answer: You don’t need to.
Long answer: Typing and writing and reading are ALL SEPARATE. We choose Zhuyin for writing and reading and actually, if you’re willing to learn the Zhuyin keyboard, then you don’t need Pinyin at ALL! However, in our Chinese courses, I find most kids already know the placement of the English characters and most can type English already so it’s a EASY SWITCH to type Chinese through Pinyin. In the course of this, they pickup pinyin. To me, knowledge is power. If you learn and know both Zhuyin and Pinyin, aren’t you practically invincible? 😆😆 We learn Zhuyin first to get down pronunciation, stroke order and all the benefits listed above. We learn Pinyin LAST for typing or you can choose a Zhuyin keyboard.
🥰How Do We Get Started?
As with any journey, start with Zhuyin learning books that have been recommended before. I recommend the system from 康軒 to go step by step but you could easily do flashcards too. The key is diligence and review and practice!!!
In our classes, we follow 康軒textbooks along with our own flash method while incorporating character recognition.
If you’re interested in smashing Zhuyin from start to finish in 14 weeks, our check our next classes in session: