Romanization of Chinese

Romanization is a way of writing non-English languages using English characters. There are many ways to romanize Chinese. It is very confusing, since there different spelling of a Chinese term in English. People grew up in China use Pinyin, which is the standard romanization based on Mandarin. Older translation uses the Wade-Giles system, which is popular in most of 20th century and still used in Taiwan. The major problem of the Wade-Giles system is that it is not very accurate. In some cases, it cannot distinguish similar pronunciation and create confusion. On the other hand, we can tolerate the lack of accuracy. I found the Wade-Giles system is easier for English speaker to pronounce and remember the terms. Maybe Wade-Giles is designed by Englishman, the spelling looks more like a normal English words. Pinyin is more accurate in phonetics, but the j, q, x, z looks odd in spelling.

Hong Kong has its own system of romanization, or should I say lack of a system of romanization. The HK government has a table of commonly use Chinese characters, but there is no coherent rules in the table. Some characters, such as tree, has two different correct spelling in the table. Most people in HK don’t know how to romanization Cantonese. If we have to romanize any characters, we simply do it in an ad hoc way. On a second thoughts, HK is a bilingual city, most people know Chinese as well as English. There is no need to romanize Chinese, we can simply use English instead. Maybe romanization is only helpful to foreigners who wants to learn Chinese.

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