September 16, 2022
When you walk around Chinatown, you see vibrant sights, smell the aromas of delicious food — and hear the sound of Cantonese, a variety of Chinese spoken by over 55 million people worldwide. Despite a reputation as one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn, Cantonese has been a dominant language in Chinatowns across the U.S. for decades. Now, a linguistics professor in Hong Kong wants to attract even more learners by harnessing the addictive power of the trendy internet word-guessing game Wordle to make learning Cantonese more fun.
Professor Chaak-ming Lau created Zidou, Cantonese Wordle. Since its creation in January 2022, more than half a million people have played this game.
While Cantonese speakers typically rely on a writing system that requires thousands of characters for literacy, Zidou uses a phonic system called Jyutping. Zidou players use this system to spell out the sound of Cantonese characters using the English alphabet. This affords those who do not read Cantonese characters to learn the spoken language.
Here is Lau’s story of creating Zidou.