|>>|| No. 23539
There are different ways of typing in Chinese because obviously a standard keyboard layout doesn't work. I don't know enough to talk about the other methods, but some methods have developed a system where different keystrokes make up different combinations for characters. It's all very complicated for a non-native speaker, but I think if you are fluent or native then it makes sense.
However, another common method, and one more commonly used by younger Chinese people (particularly familiar with this Latin alphabet due to learning English or being brouhgt up computer savvy) and foreign people trying to type in Chinese like me, is to use the pinyin.
I hope I'm not being patronising, but I figure if I explain things in the plainest detail possible, it makes it easier to understand.
The way Westerners learn Mandarin is through a very basic system that almost relies on you learning two Chinese words for every English word. So when you learn the word for 'I; me', you learn the pinyin, which is the Chinese in Latin [Wo], and this then can be used to turn it into hanzi, the Chinese characters [ 我].
So once you learn the pinyin, many phones, computers and programmes allow you to type that and it translates it into hanzi, the Chinese characters for you.
If you fancy having a go, go to this website: http://gate2home.com/Chinese-Keyboard and scroll down below the keyboard and change the drop down menu from Chinese Cangjie (a complicated method I talked about before) to simple pinyin.
Then type 'wo shi ying guo ren' and you should come out with something like this: 我是英国人。
Therefore, English translated into Chinese pinyin, which is Chinese in latin, typed and turned via computer into hanzi, Chinese characters.
Not that many. According to a massive study done on the language you can master it with relatively few characters (http://www.zein.se/patrick/3000en.html). If you know 100, you understand 42%, if you know 500, you know 75% and if you know 1500 you can understand 94% of it. If you go on to learn 3000 you can understand over 99% of everything said, and whilst this may seem a lot that would include politics, law and other deep topics. So by learning 500 you could probably get on quite well.
Every character has a radical (sort of a glyph that gives away what the word might be about) and then another component or more which say what it means.
For example the character ren (人 ) means people, but if you have 人人 it literally means everybody, because there's two characters. Once you get into it, most of it becomes easily guessable and self evident.
Another example is 海, which means sea.
If you look closely, there's two almost horizontal, but probably diagnoal strokes, which kind of look like apostrophes, on the far left. If you look under that, there's a sort of line going up. This radical means water, so you know that character is something about water, and in this case it is the sea. Here is the radical: 氵
Sorry if this all makes no sense, I'm still very basic and not a teacher, but it's how I visualise it. Obviously some of it is more complicated than this, but in basic terms, it's me saying that it isn't some complete clusterfuck of funny symbols that you have to drill into your brain from birth.
It's really quite logical.