I’m just beginning my study of Chinese. While contemplating what looks like a pretty steep educational “hill” in front on me, I had to wonder about something. I know, in general terms, that different Asian countries use either traditional or simplified Chinese characters. I’m not really looking for an exhaustive list. I understand that learning traditional characters will help a great deal while I’m in Taiwan. However, I wonder about the “post-Taiwan” utility of that education.
Any real likelihood of people traveling to the other few places where traditional characters are used?
Even where the characters are different, is the Mandarin speech roughly the same, and so that part of the Chinese language education in Taiwan would still be useful?
Can one who learns traditional characters read most similar simplified characters? Or are the two so different that they have to be learned separately?
I will reply to this question in a rather unusual way, by asking a Question, and I hope you keep this Question in mind during your beginning studies of Chinese . . . . . .
Question: Can you name me five things related to metal which are written in Chinese without the metal radical??
The point of this “exercise” is to show that what the Chinese consider the “logic” of the characters, in terms of their composition, in fact does not exist . . . . .
So . . . . . . from the point of view that “the written language is a tool for writing things down” . . . . . . (no more and no less) . . . . . . of course any efforts to simplify the characters is worthy of praise . . . . . . .
P.S. Unfortunately, here in Taiwan, the above argument(s) will not get you anywhere. Good luck with your studies.
i am chinese(mainland),and the character in our life is simplified chinese(that is GB2312 set).of course there would be no problem for me to go across the mainland,but i doubt there would be some problems if I to HongKong or TaiWan,I can’t recognize the characters sometimes,especially when i want to watch movies producted in HongKong or TaiWan,the characters shown below is quite different----that’s it,there are much more strokes.but generally speaking,it somewhat like an British man visite U.S.A,you can get it most the time.
but english is just so so .hehe…
If you plan to ever reach a high level in Chinese, you will have to know the traditional characters. I suggest, then, that you start with the traditional characters. It seems to be easier to first learn the traditional characters, and then practice a bit to make the transition to also be able to read the simplified, than the other way around.
It takes a bit of practice, but it’s not that hard to learn to read simplified characters after you’ve already learned the traditional.
don’t worry about the steep hill. worry about the immediate. learn your present lesson’s characters. glance at the simplified equivalent if you will. it all comes together quite nicely four years down the road (where i might add, the steep hill looks like an even bigger mountain).
the more you know, the more you will be able to know as the entire script radiates out from about 100/200 basic characters/elements.
well… personally i think traditional chinese (TC) does have the advantage over simplified chinese (SC) in that it is easier to understand SC when you have learnt TC than the other way 'round.
however, having said that, chinese communities outside Taiwan generally use SC more often. HKese (although they can understand TC reasonably well, they do use SC quite frequently I believe), malaysians, and even singaporeans, they all seem to understand SC better than TC… so yeah… maybe studying SC is more useful to you… depends on where you want to go in the future i guess. [/img]
I think you can make a simple comparison between simplified chinese and traditional chinese,it’s obviously not hard to find the obvious differeces,that is,in most occasions,traditional chinese characters have more strokes then that of simplified chinese.and I guess sometimes you would have a hard time reciting the complicated strokes,so as primary learners,I think it gonna be easier to learn simplified chinese.
On another of your questions, don’t be too worried about any possible variations in spoken Mandarin. The differences between, say, Mandarin on the mainland and Mandarin in Taiwan could be likened to the differences between American and British English.
And as for “the few other places where traditional characters are used” - I only know of two places, outside of foreign universities, where simplified are used: the mainland and Singapore. Most Chinese communities will use traditional, in my admittedly limited experience.
Going from traditional to simplified characters can be an effort, but there’s generally some sort of pattern to the simplifications, or at the least you’ll be able to get a fairly good idea based on your knowledge of traditional.
To put it simply, what Chinese you learn in Taiwan will be portable. Don’t be too concerned about that. I studied mainland Mandarin at university back home, and going from that to Taiwanese Mandarin hasn’t been too big a hassle.
What you need to learn at the beginning is accurate grammar (patterns) and useful, high-frequency vocab (well, that’s a challenge sometimes given the materials, but…don’t get me going again!!)
Mandarin as spoken in the Mainland is, alas, quite different from that spoken in Taiwan…we were recently sent to Shanghai for 2 weeks’ training and it was a stretch to understand many of the people we were working with (and mind you, these were people with 20 years Chinese study behind them, plus a native speaker from Taiwan). But by the same token, if you learn strictly Mainland Mandarin, the folks in Taiwan will get that “huh?” look on their faces part of the time.
As a foreigner, your variety choices are DIFFERENT from those for native speakers. You don’t necessarily have to come down on one side or the other, and people will forgive you a lot more variation (we’ll use that word, charitably, instead of saying “errors” or “mistakes due to thinking about another kind of Mandarin”!) than they would a native speaker. For example, the US State Dep’t usually won’t hire native Chinese speakers from Taiwan as interpreters, but they have no problem hiring non-Chinese who acquired their Mandarin in Taiwan…and most of the State Dep’t “clients” are from the Mainland.
I wouldn’t worry too much about this problem at the beginning stages. Better to put your energy on learning the basics. The really basic stuff will apply to both (or “all”) varieties (well, except the handy-dandy Taiwanese past tense “ni3 you3 qu4 ma5”, but that’s another post.)
Why would you say that? They are all arbitrary symbols, anyway.
I hear this argument in favor of traditional characters a lot. It’s the reason I learned traditional first. Nevertheless, I think it makes no difference. The reason I can read simple just as fluently as traditional is not because I knew traditional characters first and that helped me pick apart the simple characters. I never do that and most other people like me don’t, either. The way I learned to read simple Chinese fluently is simply by looking at the context. Sure, some simple characters look like the traditional form and that helped me a bit at guessing, but the same can be said going the other way; lots of simple characters look very much like the traditional form.
I will say one thing in favor of of traditional characters, and it has nothing to do with any inherent qualities of the characters themselves. You can write traditional characters on the mainland and most people will be able to read them if there is enough context. They usually won’t pretend stupidity (although some mainlanders really are too stupid to figure out what some traditional characters are ), and they usually won’t bitch too much. At most, they’ll call you a reactionary. On the other hand, many Taiwanese just completely refuse to look at a simple character. Sure, they do write some of them, but if you write anything that is specifically a mainland simplification, Taiwanese will often turn their noses up.
I don’t think you need to worry too much about characters at the beginning stage, though. I’m sure that your Chinese instructors, especially if they are Chinese, will start throwing characters at you from day one. My advice is that characters should be studied just enough to satisfy your teachers (who probably have no clue what they are doing), and to make phonology and the grammar of spoken language your personal focus. Don’t waste too much time on characters at the beginning. They won’t be of much use to you until you’ve at least reached intermediate speaking ability.
I am on the mainland now and am about to go to taiwan. I have learned the simplified characters and will study the traditional soon. I have seen alot of the traditional around here and they dont seem to be too complicated, just more strokes. I hear alot of people say that learning the TC is better because then switching to the SC is easier, I disagree. TCs have about as much reasoning behind them as SCs do (hen3 fu4 za3). I also think that SC is going to spread, Taiwan will eventually be forced to use the simplified characters (as HK, Singapore, and alot of koreans who study here all have). disagree as you may but look at the numbers: taiwan (no more than 50 million people(and I am being generous)) vs 1.3 billion (give or take a few hundred million). Study simplified unless you are planning to study history.
What do you mean by “going to spread?” Taiwanese and Hong Kong people already write a lot of simplified characters. Writers of Chinese have done so for hundreds of years. The difference between the mainland on one hand and HK and Taiwan on the other is that in the latter two places, simplified characters aren’t held up as the standard form. They are just a form of shorthand. Without government actually shoving simplified characters down people’s throats, simplified characters are not going to expand outside of areas where they are already taught as the official forms.
Traditional and simplified characters easily co-exsist with each other. There are plenty of places where people use both. In Guangdong, quite a lot of non-government signs are in traditional characters. In my previous job in a factory in Dongguan, everything was printed in traditional characters. It was never a problem. There are plenty of buxibans in Guangzhou where kids are learning calligraphy in traditional characters.
People who act as though there is a clash between simple and traditional characters are making a mountain out of a molehill. They are both equally backward and crappy systems of writing. For both a foreigner and a Chinese person, they are both equally difficult; it doesn’t matter which one you learn.
"What do you mean by “going to spread?” Taiwanese and Hong Kong people already write a lot of simplified characters. Writers of Chinese have done so for hundreds of years. The difference between the mainland on one hand and HK and Taiwan on the other is that in the latter two places, simplified characters aren’t held up as the standard form. They are just a form of shorthand. Without government actually shoving simplified characters down people’s throats, simplified characters are not going to expand outside of areas where they are already taught as the official forms. "
Ha, so then how do you figure english spreads outside of the area its taught? It gets rammed down our throats, sure has made inroads in this area hasnt it!! You think that a cohesive system of writing (there is logic behind the whole “backward and crappy systems”, just difficult to see) cant spread and influence other systems? When (not if, when) the mainland takes taiwan back, the system will spread, hell it already has, you should see how many koreans study SC. I meet more koreans here than chinese. In the unlikely event that the mainland government collapses, then I can see TC coming back. Until then its pretty difficult to compete with a system that has 1.3 billion users (minus the odd hundred million illiterates), you think that many people will pick up a writing brush and happily relearn how to write? well enough said
I agree with what you said about it not being a mountain of a problem though.
You are comparing apples and oranges. The reasons for why someone might study English as a second language are completely different from the reasons for why a native Chinese speaker would want to pick up simplified characters. People generally study English out of self interest. In HK and Taiwan, the only Chinese people who actually study the whole system of simplified characters in order to write them as fluently as a mainlander…well, nobody does that in HK and Taiwan. The only people who even bother to learn how to write simplified characters specific to the mainland are students of linguistics. There’s just no reason to learn them. People can communicate just fine in writing with a mainlander without having to know any simplified characters.
I never said that one system can’t influence another. However, simplified characters are never going to replace traditional characters as the taught standard in HK or Taiwan. There’s no good reason for them to. Writers of both can coexist just fine without having to learn how to write the other’s system. The only advantage of simplified characters is that they can be written faster (they’re no easier to learn). That advantage is minimized by the fact that people rarely handwrite anything; they’ll just type it. Computers also make it easy to just convert a whole document into the other system if the writer knows the reader is picky about which type of characters he wants to read.
Ideological drivel. I see no relevance to this discussion, especially considering that HK and Macau kids still learn no simplified characters in school. Why would it be any different for Taiwan?
The number of Koreans or other foreigners studying simplified characters is irrelevant. They are not native speakers of the language and have no previous investment in traditional characters. I seriously doubt that everyone in Taiwan, HK and all overseas Chinese communities excluding Singapore are suddenly going to say “oh, well if it’s good enough for the Koreans, then it must be good enough for me. I better start learning simplified characters.” Yes, I think I’m going to start writing “the” in front of every English noun that doesn’t already have an article. If every Chinese learner of English does it, then why shouldn’t I?
What competition are you talking about? There is no competition. Users of both systems can coexist with each other. There is no good reason for why Taiwanese or HKers would want to learn the whole system of simplified characters. They’re not going to bother learning how to write any simplified characters beyond the traditional ones that people have used for hundreds of years. There is no barrier to communication. That’s like saying that even though there is absolutely no barrier to comprehension, everyone in Britain is going to start spelling like an American just because American English is dominant.
If that were true, then what do you think of motive was for simplifying the characters? So people could write letters faster? Or do you think it was simply a “revolutionary” idea that didn’t turn out to be all that was expected? I agree with the rest of what you said, but simplified characters are easier to learn. Although I spend 90% of my time reading material written using traditional characters, simplified characters are still easier for me to write. I’m not pro-simplified characters, that’s just my observation.
[color=blue][quote=“Jive Turkey”]I hear this argument in favor of traditional characters a lot. It’s the reason I learned traditional first. Nevertheless, I think it makes no difference. The reason I can read simple just as fluently as traditional is not because I knew traditional characters first and that helped me pick apart the simple characters. I never do that and most other people like me don’t, either. The way I learned to read simple Chinese fluently is simply by looking at the context. Sure, some simple characters look like the traditional form and that helped me a bit at guessing, but the same can be said going the other way; lots of simple characters look very much like the traditional form.[/quote][/color]
I couldn’t agree more. Looking at the context of an article is very helpful. However, by looking at the context, what you are effectively doing is making an educated guess, and learning traditional characters first does help you a bit. The reason that I claimed learning TC first makes it easier is because I, without putting any extra efforts towards learning SC, can read and understand articles written in SC fairly easily (most of them anyway). My friends from China on the other hand tend to ask questions like “what’s this word?” more frequently when they encountered TC. That’s why I reckoned learning TC makes it easier to understand SC than the other way round. But, yeah… it could be different for everyone. Ah well, that’s just my opinion anyway. : )
Having said that, I do realise TC is more complex so obviously it’s easier to learn SC if you only want to learn one of them… If you want to learn both, I do believe TC gives you the advantage.
If that were true, then what do you think of motive was for simplifying the characters? So people could write letters faster? Or do you think it was simply a “revolutionary” idea that didn’t turn out to be all that was expected?[/quote]
The idea was that the use of simplified characters would make the path to literacy shorter. The thinking was that because simplified characters have fewer strokes, they would be easier to learn. In numerous studies, that has been proven false. The reason they are not easier to learn is that they are still more or less the same as traditional characters: they are arbitrary symbols that have almost no relationship to the spoken words they represent. The number that need to be learned is high and most characters don’t follow a discernable rule for either meaning or pronunciation. At best, some of them contain clues for guessing pronunciation or meaning, but rarely both, and there is nothing to tell the learner which tone the syllable should take. Dropping a few strokes off a few hundred characters doesn’t make them any easier to learn; they still pose the same challenge for any person’s brain. This general conclusion is supported by the fact that kids in Beijing and Shanghai achieve milestones in literacy no faster than Hong Kong or Taiwanese kids. In fact, they are slower.
No, they’re not. It takes mainland kids the same or a longer amount of time to learn the same basic characters that Taiwanese or HK kids learn in traditional form. Yes, once you’ve learned simplified characters, they definitely make for faster writing, but they aren’t learned at any faster pace than traditional characters.
Yes, they’re also easier to write for plenty of Taiwanese or HK people who first learned traditional characters. That doesn’t mean that they are easier to learn.
My observation is the exact opposite (but still equally anecdotal). Among the mainlanders I’ve been around in south China, most of them can read traditional Chinese fairly well. Perhaps this is because they are exposed to a lot of traditional subtitles on HK TV programs. Also, their bosses are often from HK or Taiwan, so they might have to accomodate them. Hong Kong people usually have little trouble with simple characters, probably because they have been exposed to them; some HKers will turn their noses up at simple characters and play dumb, though. In my experience, Taiwanese people are the slowest (but still not handicapped) with reading simplified characters. I think it is because they just aren’t exposed to them. Except for common handwritten simplifications, they just don’t see many simplified characters in Taiwan. I think Taiwanese people are also the most likely to turn their noses up when they encounter simplified characters. It’s really difficult to know whether people actually don’t have a clue what a character is, or if they are just copping an attitude.
The only way to know for sure who can read the other’s system more easily is to design a reading comprehension test that requires the reader to guess at characters. I imagine that such a test would contain questions that require comprehension of “foreign” characters in order to answer the questions. It would have to be given to adults of comparable education levels and who had never been exposed to the other form of characters. My guess is that both groups would perform about the same. I really don’t believe that people who first learned traditional characters are quicker at picking up the other system.
[quote=“Jive Turkey”]Dropping a few strokes off a few hundred characters doesn’t make them any easier to learn; they still pose the same challenge for any person’s brain. This general conclusion is supported by the fact that kids in Beijing and Shanghai achieve milestones in literacy no faster than Hong Kong or Taiwanese kids. In fact, they are slower.
It seems to make sense that simplified Chinese characters are still Chinese characters, and so simplification will not lead to significant gains. However, the goal of simplification was to improve literacy, so using the rate at which elementary school students are taught characters is not a very good measure of the success or failure of it. Children who complete schooling will become literate no matter what the system (and if not, it’s not because of the script). I found one relevant quote:
[quote]During the preparation for their cross-cultural reading study, Stevenson et al (1984:) counted by computer the words in elementary textbooks in Taiwan, Japan and the United States, and found that by the end of six years’ schooling, children in all three cultures were expected to have a reading vocabulary of around 7000 words, whatever the writing system. However, the researchers did not appear to make comparisons of the intensity of the schoolwork in the three societies, or whether the children actually learned all the vocabulary that was set.
If you can link to any studies showing the ineffectiveness of simplification, I would be interested. But it seems that it would be difficult to find unbiased studies on this topic.
I see there’s a section in “Asia’s orthographic dilemma” titled “The futility of character ‘simplification’” but that section isn’t online.