I am just going to say from the outset that I am not great at Chinese (Cantonese). I did go to Chinese school every Sunday until I was about 18 but it was not necessarily by choice and I was not great at paying attention. It was only when I had my daughter that my mother said my Chinese improved and my pursuit of gaining a better understanding of the language took off.
I remember when I went to Hong Kong and I wanted to buy a keyboard that I could be able to type out Chinese. I was duly told by my lovely condescending relatives that I would not be able to use it; which was true, however no one really explained why. Most keyboards with Chinese typing ability work on a QWERTY keyboard. The user just changes the keyboard properties and it will switch languages.
I looked at the keyboard and swiftly thought, yes - I have no idea how to use it. Then I became mum and bought lots of Chinese books and workbooks and everything that will help my daughter understand or familiarise with the Chinese language. My first epiphany came when I was studying 識字魔法字典, a Chinese picture dictionary book. I noticed that there was a section called 倉頡碼: the Canjie code which is the input method in computing for the Chinese language.
For those who don't know and as far as I understand, this is a Mandarin thing. Each symbol used today can tell the reader how to say the character phonetically. A bit like the phonetics in the English alphabet. So if you know how to say something in Mandarin and you know the phonetics, then you would be able to use the keyboard. The picture below should demonstrate what I mean.
In essence, I am just thankful that most of my gadgets I use have the writing function via strokes so I can write it all out instead of having to understand the keyboard method. So for everyone who ever wondered what all the random symbols were that were next to the characters in a book, there you go, here is your answer.
Things of interest
In my quest for bi-lingual excellence (although I fail quite often), I have found a few resources that may be of interest.