Forget writing characters

During my one-year stint to learn Chinese in Taiwan some years ago, I spent all my time studying writing and memorizing characters using flash cards. I think this was a good method because I could sort of visualize tones in my head and so removed much of the guesswork involved for new learners.

But progress was slow because I also tried to learn to write all the characters on what resulted in many hundreds of cards.

I’m heading back to Taiwan and plan to learn to just read characters. I think I’ll be able to pick up my pace of learning by at least 10X.

Do you really need to be able to write characters? Especially now, with PCs doing all the hard work for you?

The only disadvantage I see is missing out on the beauty of characters and the relaxing, almost therapeutic effects of sitting down for an hour or so and writing characters. But from a pragmatic point of view, I don’t see the need.

I write characters only for pleasure (and very occasionally at that). I think it’s good to know HOW to write (i.e., stroke order and the mechanics of it) otherwise you would just be clumsily copying like a person who knew no Chinese, and the characters would not come out accurately.

But – after 20 years in Chinese, working as a translator and interpreter, and teaching at Chinese schools and government agencies – I don’t have to write by hand. Period. Anything that needs writing, I write using a computer. It make sense anyway, because anything I write is going to have to be heavily edited by a native Chinese speaker, and that’s going to require either re-copying the whole thing (time-consuming, but I suppose edifying) or editing the computer file. I know which one I’d rather do.

Writing out the complaint against the guy I’m suing just now by hand was, however, admittedly somewhat Zen-like in nature, very calming and relaxing, and all the more so as they required three copies of it… :raspberry:

yea…but how about when you just want to leave a quick note for someone and there’s no pc around?

I think its worthwhile having about 200-300 useful characters at your disposal for notes and filling out the various ridiculous forms that your company may require for vacations etc. (if you work for a local company, that is…) But Ironlady is right. I’m much faster and more accurate typing in Chinese than actually WRITING it. Wonder who you are suing IL? Good luck.

I’m suing another foreigner, actually. Bit of confusion on his part…when he took the money, he was quite clear about it being a loan, but then later, post-loan amnesia set in. (It was really amazing…he also “forgot” how to speak English during the mediation session last year). We’ll see if his English and/or Chinese have improved during the intervening months. :raspberry:

Hasn’t there been a huge uproar about Taiwanese college students and teenagers having horrible writing skills (and grammar skills)? (“Writing” referring to the actual “pen on paper” concept.)

I had heard from several people in the teaching profession that the “younger” generation has begun to rely on typing so much that they have almost completely neglected using pen and paper and, thus, almost completely lost the ability to write characters. (The people saying this aren’t old, jealous curmudgeons, either; most were in their early 30’s.)

To me, there are few things as visually powerful as traditional/classical Chinese characters in black ink on white paper. Writing Chinese characters is a fun and challenging activity.


[i]Why learn to just recognize the characters/words at the expense of learning to write them?

Why not just do both at the same time?[/i]

Why not just try it the same way nearly all Taiwanese learn to read and write? That is, start out on your training bo po mo fo wheels, and eventually from reading enough books you’ll have naturally absorbed recognition of the characters and will no longer need to rely on the bo po mo fo crutch. Chinese children don’t just leap into memorizing thousands of characters. That’s an awful way to learn Chinese, because you wind up forgetting as much as you learn.

Being no expert, my opinion is simply - be patient and study. For me, I am (or try to be) more patient. I am in no rush. Granted I have been here two years and my overall Chinese ability sucks…but then again, I plan on being here a few more years so I figure I have time. The taxi drivers get me where I want to go…eventually…and since I am not a picky eater, I am not starving. :smiley:

I think I will eventually put pen to paper and start learning to write characters again, but learning characters is a neverending process of reviewing what you forgot. I think 10 and even 20 years is not that unreasonable a time frame if you want to also be able to write well. This slow pace can be very discouraging to say the least.

If you’re not bound by career goals (for example) and need reading comprehension fast (like myself), perhaps the best approach is spending the majority of your time (say 80%) learning recognition and the rest of the time spent on writing.

Because we are not native speakers. The “bopomofo” training wheels work only if you know the word when you hear the sound of it. If you don’t, about all they do is to distract you from the character you’re seeing (our eyes tend to go to symbols that are more familiar to us, and bopomofo is going to attract your eye more than an unfamiliar character – the same reason why I ask students not to write between the lines in their textbooks or materials but rather to use footnotes when they want to make a note) or, at best, provide you a faster way to look up the offending character in the dictionary.

Might be better than nothing but can you really think of a five-year-old with a poorer vocabulary than a beginner foreigner learning Chinese?? (Outside of institutions, that is… :laughing: :blush: )

You can always use bo po mo fo for the characters that you can’t remember how to write. That’s what first-graders do. So, if you can stand the indignity of writing notes like a first-grader then you’ll have no problems.

My first three years in Taiwan, I would sit in a coffee shop for an hour or more a day, writing and memorizing the 214 radicals. I’d also study other stuff, but I’d always spend lots of time on the radicals.

I’d memorize them in 17 songs (dictionaries put them in 17 groups according to stroke number). I’d chant the songs as if I were some kind of monk. Only a 崇華 nut would do something like that, I think. What a nut - chanting the dictionary religiously as I rode my scooter to the kindergarten.

I also memorized their number from 1 to 214. I made a memory game with two polyhedron dice and a radical list.

Waste of time? I love it. I thumb through Chinese dictionaries with the same ease I do English ones. I even get that thing where you’re looking for a character and you open the dictionary right to it on the first try.

Also, writing characters is decisively more interesting and easier when you can see all the radicals.

Right now, I’m doing the same kind of thing with 倉頡. Slowly but surely. I really want to master 倉頡.

I suppose we all need a hobby… :laughing:

thumbs up to Mr. Sir!
I wanna tackle cangjie too…seems not easy :frowning: