How important/useful is learning to write Chinese?

Do you think writing is important ?
Many students told me that they don’t wanna learn how to write, they just wanna speak first, they don’t even wanna read. After few months, they found that they couldn’t read anything, they’re kind of regret. So we have writing lesson. What do you think? speaking, reading, listening and writing, which is more important, which is less?

All are important, including writing. Writing will also help you with your spoken Chinese. becuase writing takes longer to learn, you should start right away. I don’t think learning to write all the words you learn in class is the best way to strat though. Start writing easy chracters and radicals forma book like ‘Fun with Chinese Characters’ or ‘Reading and Writing Chinese’. Also if you’re learning in Taiwan opportunities to talk will come up to you, but no6t opportunities to read, you have to go and find those yourselves.

Bri

I am just here for a few weeks and hardly speak any Chinese but I notice that by writing characters I can easier recognize them - even though I do not necessarily understand if they are used together with others. I think it’s important being able to read (/write) as most e.g. local restaurant don’t have menues in English.

I have a car - I learned real fast to read road signs - else you get lost - and the only really useful maps are chinese. I guess - just now - I can read better than speak.

Then again if I could speak better - I could ask someone how to get there - or follow them - shread the maps - seems to be the Taiwanese way.

The problem that I see with writing is that it’s over-emphasized. I’ve actually heard a teacher say that we need to talk less so we can finish the chapters in the book. The tests are, of course, 100% written. Speaking, listening, and reading are never tested.

Writing is important and it’s the hardest part of learning the language but I still feel that there needs to be more balance.

I don’t think you should learn writing IN CLASS. Do some schools do this? Learn writing at home by yourself. Just show it to someone now and then to make sure you haven’t picked up any bad habits. I also don’t think that jumping straight into learning the words form a typical ‘Lesson 1’ is the way to go either. Think about, you might have to learn things like 謝 xie4, 歡 huan1 and 對 dui4 which are not easy chracters to begin with. You should start with easy stuff like 人 ren2 and 大 da4. Then afetr a while what you’ve learned to write and what you learn in class match up.

Bri

If you need to write for some reason, then by all means, learn to write.

You might also consider if being able to write with a computer (using, probably, a phonetic input system like Pinyin or bopomofo) would be enough for you. That would actually involve knowing accurate pronunciations (including, for some input systems, the right tone) and being able to select the correct alternative from the characters that have the same sound. (Using tones in input, IMHO, is a help in reinforcing them.)

Of course you are trading time for learning. You can learn to recognize many more characters in the same time it takes to write a few. If you’re a kinesthetic learner (learn by moving your body) then you may feel that you need to be able to write each character in order to learn to recognize it. However, other kinds of learners (visual, auditory) may find more success with mnemonics like stories that help you remember the parts or structure of the character and its sound, color-coding parts of the character on your flashcards, or just using flashcards or a computer flashcard program to review the characters.

At any rate, I strongly support NOT beginning to read/write until you have some command of spoken Chinese. You will probably learn faster and with less effort if you can relate what you are reading/writing to real language (language you understand) than if it’s all just a confusing sea of little henscratches, such as was presented to me over the first weekend in college after our first Chinese class on a Friday. (“Well, those are the four tones…see those 30 characters printed on page 4? Test Monday. Have a nice weekend.”)

(It was not a particularly nice weekend.)

Terry

quote[quote] Of course you are trading time for learning. You can learn to recognize many more characters in the same time it takes to write a few. If you're a kinesthetic learner (learn by moving your body) then you may feel that you need to be able to write each character in order to learn to recognize it. [/quote]

Actually I put the two together. I learn to read, by writing, so there’s no trade-off in time. If you can write a character you can probably read it, and there’s less chance of ‘misrecognising’.

quote[quote] At any rate, I strongly support NOT beginning to read/write until you have some command of spoken Chinese [/quote]

I totally disagree. You should head-start on the writing, because it takes longer to learn. Can’t see any reason to wait until you can speak some. Learn some of the basic ‘meaning’ radicals first.

Even if tyou can’t think why you’d want to read, it also helps you’re spoken chinese.

Bri

quote:
Originally posted by Bu Lai En:

I totally disagree. You should head-start on the writing, because it takes longer to learn. Can’t see any reason to wait until you can speak some. Learn some of the basic ‘meaning’ radicals first.

Even if tyou can’t think why you’d want to read, it also helps you’re spoken chinese.

Bri


I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I totally disagree, but as someone who started learning both at the same time, and has reached a good degree of fluency in both reading, writing and speaking the language, I would say that it worked very well for me. Doing it at the same time doesn’t mean that you have to do it in tandem, ie learn to write at the same speed as you learn to speak, or even the same characters. As Bri hinted at, the fact that you do all at the same time actually enhances the learning experience, in the same way as being in a Chinese-speaking environment (as opposed to learning it in Europe or the US or wherever) enhances the learning experience. Total immersion. Great for language learning.

I still do not believe that learning to read at the same time that you are acquiring the words in the second language is the most efficient way to do it.

The fact is, however, that quite a few of us DID it that way, simply because that’s the only way anyone has ever thought about teaching Chinese (tradition! tradition! I hear Zero Mostel in the distance), but that doesn’t necessarily make it the only nor the best way to do it.

And I still maintain that there is a trade-off in time, as any acquisition of receptive vocabulary (written or spoken) is going to take less time than for productive vocabulary, therefore you might get 2 or 3 times the amount of receptive in the time it takes to get one portion down as productive vocab.

You can’t teach any other language in the United States, for example, without “addressing the multiple learning styles” (i.e., auditory, kinesthetic, visual, and now they’ve got about a dozen other ones with more coming out every day, seems like) – the point is that Chinese is about the only language where you can still teach like it was the 1950s and get away with it. If you taught French like Chinese is taught in most places, you’d never keep any students in your class. Most Chinese texts today are boasting about being “communicative”, which was a method popular in the 1980s and which has since been passed by in terms of the latest in language acquisition research. It still remains popular, however, because it’s easy to teach and folks like to hear the students doing output exercises, even if they don’t actually acquire the language that way. (Most buxibans in Taiwan, for example, are quite proud to be “communicative” in their teaching methodology.)

Hey…don’t get me going!!

Terry

Hi all

I’d appreciate hearing some opinions on and experiences of learning to write Mandarin.

I’m currently in the UK but have been indulging in some self-study in preparation for moving out next year.

The good news: I really like Mandarin so far. It seems so pragmatic and I love the musicality of it.

The bad news: I’m feeling really daunted at the prospect of learning to write characters. I’m struggling to remember how to write more than one, two, and three at the moment. :blush:

I was wondering how useful other students have found learning to write in terms of overall language acquisition. I had a theory that the kinaesthetic act of writing would be another helpful way to learn but now I’m questioning whether I should bother devoting much time to this. How often am I going to be required to write in Chinese for general living purposes, for example? I doubt I’ll ever be in a position to use it in a job.

On the other hand, I’m probably going to be studying more formally when I get there, so presumably it will be a part of the curriculum. I’d like to study formally at some point as I feel that will give me a good understanding of grammar but I wouldn’t want to be prevented from progressing by poor writing skills. Would this definitely be the case?

Also, does anyone have an opinion on whether being able to write helps specifically with reading skills?

Don’t bother.
You should not be recognizing characters stroke by stroke as you read them, so it stands to reason that the stroke-by-stroke kinesthetics of writing by hand will probably not help you very much in recognizing characters.

If you think about pattern recognition in general – and that’s what you’re proposing to do, learning to recognize a large number of symbols with (at least at the beginning) little or no phonetic information in them to help you determine which is which) producing the pattern by hand is not what is important. Recognizing elements that repeat (radicals and/or character parts) helps. Distinguishing one from another, especially in cases where some parts look similar, is important.

From a reading perspective, having language FIRST is the most important thing, unless you only want to read (for example, if someone is doing research or something like that). Take your time to first acquire the language, at least to the point where you can easily understand and speak the things that you will be practicing reading first. Then and only then, get those things in written form, preferably in many different versions so that you’re not just looking at memorized content, and start reading.

The whole point of reading is that text is a frozen form of spoken language. Yes, in Chinese the official written language has wandered a bit far afield from the spoken language in terms of usage and syntax, but for a beginner, reading means reading what you know how to say (or it should mean that). So learn to understand Chinese first, so that you can recognize those things in text, and over the course of time, if you decide to stick with Chinese, you’ll increase your spoken and written vocabulary to the point where you can begin reading authentic materials.

[quote=“Petrichor”]Hi all

I’d appreciate hearing some opinions on and experiences of learning to write Mandarin.

I’m currently in the UK but have been indulging in some self-study in preparation for moving out next year.

The good news: I really like Mandarin so far. It seems so pragmatic and I love the musicality of it.

The bad news: I’m feeling really daunted at the prospect of learning to write characters. I’m struggling to remember how to write more than one, two, and three at the moment. :blush:

I was wondering how useful other students have found learning to write in terms of overall language acquisition. I had a theory that the kinaesthetic act of writing would be another helpful way to learn but now I’m questioning whether I should bother devoting much time to this. How often am I going to be required to write in Chinese for general living purposes, for example? I doubt I’ll ever be in a position to use it in a job.

On the other hand, I’m probably going to be studying more formally when I get there, so presumably it will be a part of the curriculum. I’d like to study formally at some point as I feel that will give me a good understanding of grammar but I wouldn’t want to be prevented from progressing by poor writing skills. Would this definitely be the case?

Also, does anyone have an opinion on whether being able to write helps specifically with reading skills?[/quote]

Hey there! I’m a student learning Mandarin now. We are learning about 25-30 characters per chapter right now, it speeds up though after a while. It lists the character, the pinyin (the sound, the romanization of it) and then the english equivalent. The emphasis is learning the sound, just like in normal language learning. We learn that hao3 is “good”, but then immediately we learn the character. I use flashcards for the recognition if I need it but to be able to remember how to write them, I usually just write them over and over until I know it. Sometimes it helps to use little things to help you remember, understanding character structure (how the radicals are set up, i.e., like side by side, top and bottom) really helps and whatnot. After a while, writing just becomes muscle memory almost, if you miss a stroke you know it right away.

I think knowing how to write gets you intimate with the character. I can instantly recognize characters without knowing how to write them now, but I dont think thats ideal. When you know how to write the “wan1” in Taiwan…for example (its a beast of a character considering we learn it right away!) it means “more” somehow, its not just a bunch of strokes. You know it more deeply. If that makes sense.

Once you start writing characters, it gets easier as you go. Even hardcore ones arent too bad once you get “comfortable” with the whole concept, stuff starts getting more familiar and the way characters flow and whatnot start to make more sense. Keep at it! :slight_smile:

Hi Petrichor, it’s natural to be a bit intimidated at first by the written script in Chinese. Don’t worry, we all are, at first. You’ll get there! :slight_smile:

Ironlady’s post rightly emphasizes the value of the natural order of language acquisition. Children learn to understand what they hear first, then learn to speak. Only then do they learn to read, and finally, writing is last. It is reasonable, especially in a language as difficult as Mandarin, to follow the same order of acquisition. It’s what I chose to do. It’s not the only approach out there, though, and for an adult learner, whether or not it’s the right one for you depends IMO on your goals, your resources and your time frame. However, even if you choose or are railroaded into another approach, it’s useful to keep this natural order of language acquisition in mind to help temper your approach, or perhaps to help you keep a sense of perspective on any difficulties you encounter along the way.

Like you, I engaged in self-study at first, was enchanted by the language, was motivated by the challenge, and decided to move here to pursue it more earnestly. I had the same philosophy as Ironlady, so I focused on listening and speech for the first few years, and only around year 4 or so began to study reading and writing in earnest. If you have this luxury, it’s an excellent approach. It’s the least stressful, and I certainly don’t regret taking it.

On the other hand, if you are going to enroll in classes (I didn’t), the fixed structure of those classes may require learning characters a bit earlier. I guess their assumption is that you don’t have the luxury of the same 12+ years that children do to go through the natural order of learning, so they try to compress it and get you up to reading and writing speed more quickly. This mirrors what Bu Lai En said earlier in this thread (into which I’ve merged yours): “because writing takes longer to learn, you should start right away.”

If you think you’re headed for that path, a bit of reading and writing practice now so that the classes aren’t so daunting might not be a bad idea. But from what I hear, the structured classes overemphasize writing far too early (understandably giving rise to objections like Ironlady’s). If you find yourself frustrated by an unnatural effort to learn to write something that you don’t really know yet verbally, well, Ironlady’s already explained why.

Perhaps (again, if you have the luxury) some balance between the two perspectives is best. After all, if you wait too long before learning to read, you’ll be unable to use written info to help make your life easier here – I’m specifically thinking especially of immediately useful items like male vs. female restrooms, the words for restroom, out of order, hot or cold, close or open (for elevator doors), open for business or on break (Drink tea! :laughing:) and so on. If you are a vegetarian, you’re going to want to learn that character (素) before you arrive, for instance. And the sooner you can read menus, the easier life will be! But I would emphasize, at first, only learning the most basic, functional characters for survival purposes. Spend most of your time on learning proper pronunciation (bad habits are dreadfully hard to change), then spoken skills and listening, and don’t overemphasize reading or writing at first. On the other hand, the latter skills do take longer to learn, so don’t put them off for TOO long.

In terms of usefulness of learning to read, Ironlady’s right in that the (stroke-level) mechanics of writing are unlikely to help you much with reading, whereas learning to read (and later, to write) repeated structural groups of strokes ( ‘elements’ or ‘components’, including both phonetically and semantically meaningful units) is useful. This mirrors what Ironlady says: “Recognizing elements that repeat (radicals and/or character parts) helps. Distinguishing one from another, especially in cases where some parts look similar, is important.”

[quote=“Petrichor”]

I was wondering how useful other students have found learning to write in terms of overall language acquisition. I had a theory that the kinaesthetic act of writing would be another helpful way to learn but now I’m questioning whether I should bother devoting much time to this. How often am I going to be required to write in Chinese for general living purposes, for example? I doubt I’ll ever be in a position to use it in a job. [/quote]

As said, writing won’t help you much with speaking. It has its uses in that regard, but the high learning curve of written Chinese means that pinyin will be a more effective tool for those purposes for the beginning student.

I personally found after living here for a few months that not being able to read shop signs or menus wasn’t acceptable for me for daily living. Not being able to fill out a form without enlisting assistance was galling as well.

I can’t imagine doing one without the other. To make sense of the system you’ll have to get in there and write a bit.

I started off a bit differently from other posters, so I’m posting that, although I agree with what DB, Ironlady, Bu Lai En and Tempo Gain have already said.

Originally I bought Book 1 of the Shi Da series (Practical Audio-Visual Chinese) because it had traditional characters, a simple easy to follow unit structure and an accompanying exercise book with characters, their stroke order, zhuyin pronunciation and meaning. I was initially attracted to Chinese because of the characters. I didn’t initially feel a great need to communicate, because I thought I would only be here for a year or two and my boss at the time took care of everything for me.
So I started to teach myself the characters from the above mentioned book. My interest in the characters themselves was from an aesthetic point of view, as I saw them as a form of sketching, or art… drawing these little “pictures” that actually meant something was what drew me to it.
I’m not sorry I did, because this was what got me interested and hooked on Chinese to begin with. That said, in acquiring the language (speaking and listening) that wasn’t the best way to go about it. Initially that wasn’t why I was learning the characters, and I never thought I would eventually make Taiwan my home. I’ve come a long way since then, and as I can recognize many characters, I’ve now come to a point where my speaking and listening comprehension has caught up with my ability to write and read. So I now often find myself reading something (billboard, menu, or whatever) and knowing what it means. But as I said, this was a very backwards way of going about it if your goal is to communicate.

As to usefullness… Apart from the obvious like reading a menu etc, I had an interesting experience a few months back. When I went to the Household Registration Office to apply for a Candidature certificate I asked the lady to help me write my address (as she could obviously do it quicker and “neater”/cursive). She said she couldn’t as the applicant needs to write it him/herself. Good thing I could write, otherwise I would have been there for ages trying to copy the address from my JFRV card.
But as with most things Chinese language related, I still don’t feel 100% happy with my writing. I can write well enough, but I feel my script looks too “blocky” and too much like an elementary school child’s writing. I’m trying to get to the point where I can write in a more cursive script like the locals, but who knows how long that’s going to take!

Good luck on the beginning of what is sure to be an interesting journey, and possibly (hopefully!) a life long passion. :thumbsup:

In my work I have to write Chinese all the times. And I do, by typing using the hanyu pinyin and bopomofo input or the IME character recognition pad if I don’t know the character. I can barely handwrite a few characters as I have absolutely no need to. But I can recognize characters and so I can type.

I don’t know why schools don’t spend more time on computer skills. Imagine how much faster students could progress if the school had a little chat site where students could communicate with teaching assistants or volunteer students by writing? Or where class schedules and contents were written up. Then when students got more confident they could move to real chat sites if only just to practise reading. But no, I think some still encourage you to get a penpal. :laughing:

[quote=“Mucha Man”]In my work I have to write Chinese all the times. And I do, by typing using the hanyu pinyin and bopomofo input or the IME character recognition pad if I don’t know the character. I can barely handwrite a few characters as I have absolutely no need to. But I can recognize characters and so I can type.

I don’t know why schools don’t spend more time on computer skills. Imagine how much faster students could progress if the school had a little chat site where students could communicate with teaching assistants or volunteer students by writing? Or where class schedules and contents were written up. Then when students got more confident they could move to real chat sites if only just to practise reading.[/quote]
That would be a brilliant approach! :thumbsup:

Which leads to Language Exchange, and we all know where that leads to! :howyoudoin:

I basically agree with what Ironlady and others have said, although I don’t think the current situation is that bad. I have studied Chinese for about 4 years now, and I’ve learned to read and write both simplified and traditional characters. For the first two years (one in England, and then one in Beijing) it would be fair to say that a pretty big wedge of my time went on learning to write characters. It’s hard to say exactly how much time, since writing out vocabulary helps remember both the word and the character, but definitely a lot of effort. Starting from about the 3rd year, though, I stopped needing to write characters out in order to learn how to write them. Going through flashcards and learning the vocabulary that way seemed to be enough, and that’s still how I learn new characters now. During my 4th year of study I didn’t take a single “modern Mandarin” class, and so didn’t have to write anything at all if I didn’t want to. I was still learning a lot of characters and vocabulary, but only passively – essentially, I had a year off writing Chinese. Now I’m taking some classes in Taiwan and I’ve got to start handwriting again for tests and homework.

Handwriting hasn’t somehow suddenly become easy, but it would be fair to say that I put almost no extra time into learning how to write a given character. For example, when doing a test or writing a homework, the most difficult thing is finding the correct wording and grammar, and not remembering how to write a certain character. If I do get one wrong I simply note it and try to remember for next time, I don’t write it out hundreds of times.

I think it would be better if teachers focused more on HOW to learn characters, rather than the traditional method of just writing them out over and over again. I found it much easier to learn and remember characters after I’d learned the constituent parts (including but not limited to the radicals), as well as the various semantic and phonetic patterns. This cuts out a lot of tedious work, and essentially removes the need to mechanically write out characters, since (after a while) you’ll be able to write all the constituent parts and it’s just a case of putting them together in the right order.

In summary, yes, learning to handwrite does take up quite a lot of time and is of little practical use outside of education; however, if you want to become literate in Chinese, you will have to be able to differentiate characters to quite a high degree anyway, and it’s not THAT much of a jump from there to be able to write a good deal of them too. Perhaps as others have noted it might be better to delay writing characters or at least put less emphasis on them during the first few months/years of learning. But when you’ve got over the “hump” and you know the stroke orders for all the components, and you know what all the bits and bobs mean, writing characters is not such a big deal after all.

Writing is not a big deal, remembering them all is. I’d say do a bit of hand writing but don’t worry about it to much, that’s what they invented computers and pinyin for.