Reading in Traditional Chinese with zhuyin

Not long ago, I finished a Taiwanese novel, 請把門鎖好 by Ji Qing (既晴), that I bought on Readmoo.

Readmoo is a Taiwanese website, so all the e-books sold here are in Traditional Chinese. I chose to read in Traditional Chinese because I thought it would be easier to make connections with Japanese kanji and Korean hanja, and this site is easy to navigate. I also didn’t have any issues during the purchase.

Later, I realised that among the fonts I could choose from, the one called 芫荽注音體 was, as its name indicated, displaying the zhuyin! This was an amazing discovery, I just could not believe it! Imagine if you could choose a font in Japanese that would display full furigana in your novel.

Screenshot of a e-book written in Traditional Chinese. There are zhuyin annotation on the right of each character (the text is written vertically, from right to left).

There was only one little problem: I didn’t know the zhuyin.

I was not particularly thrilled by the idea of learning a new transliteration system from scratch, but I thought it would be worth it. Learning it would take me some days, but then I would have access to the pronunciation of every single character of every novel I would buy on this website.

Obviously, having the pronunciation makes looking up words much easier, but to me it also had another huge benefit. Thanks to Japanese, there are a lot of words whose meaning I know or can easily guess, which makes reading in Chinese much easier. The problem is that I often don’t know how these characters are pronounced in Chinese. Maybe I know some of them but not all, or maybe I forgot the right tone, etc. Given that I know the meaning, I can still understand what I’m reading, and as a result, I don’t feel like looking up the word just to check the pronunciation. This way I can limit the number of words I have to look up, but at the same time, I feel like my Chinese will never improve if I never learn how to pronounce the words.

Being able to read the zhuyin would immediately solve this problem!

I started learning the zhuyin with the website Dong Chinese, and I was amazed at how good this system is to understand Chinese sounds. It also made me realise just how bad and confusing pinyin is in comparison, but that’s another topic. Memorising all the symbols was easy, but it took me much more time before I felt comfortable with them. Eventually though, I reached the point where I could use the zhuyin annotation in my novel.

Given that the same font exists with and without the zhuyin, it’s easy to toggle on and off the pronunciation. Again, I keep thinking of how cool it would be if it were possible to do the same with furigana.