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I Hate Hanzi

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As Gato mentioned here I'm a little stressed out lately. :help

First let me answer the obvious question: "If I hate them so much, why am I studying them?" Well, it turns out that I really enjoy speaking Mandarin and I am convinced that if I want to progress beyond the advanced-intermediate level than I am forced to learn to read so I have no other choice than to endure the torture of learning this ridiculous writing system.

Here is why I hate Hanzi.

They are not beautiful and if they are that's a bad thing.

The purpose of a written language is to convey a specific meaning to the reader, they are not paintings. If ten people look at a beautiful painting it is likely that there will be ten different meanings that will be ascribed to the painting. If I write an email to 10 friends and say "Let's meet at 8pm Friday, outside the movie theater." I sure as heck hope there are not 10 different interpretations.

Furthermore, the more intricate or beautiful a script the harder it is to get the meaning. Look at this text you are currently reading. Is it in an intricate calligraphic, brushed beautiful script or is it in some more utilitarian script? I would bet that about 98% or more of the people reading this are using a utilitarian script. The fancy scripts are only used for short passages where there is little meaning being conveyed and it is more of a painting.

Hieroglyphics are beautiful because I'm not trying to understand their meaning, I just enjoy their beauty.

Learning them is a painful processes of rote memorization

I have seen no evidence that there is a logical basis to the formation of the characters. Of course there is some logic in trying to guess the meaning of some of the characters, but I would say at best that is limited to 60% of the characters.

Furthermore, I see there are four facets to learning a character: Meaning, writing, pronunciation, and tone. For me, the two most important are the pronunciation and the tone. I know of no system that can make it systematic to learn the pronunciation and tones of 3000 characters. As far as my understanding, Remembering the Kanji (RTK), is only concerned with using mnemonics to learn the meaning and how to write the characters and I consider those the two least important aspects of characters.

The more one learns the harder it becomes.

Unlike many other areas of learning where the more one learns the easier it becomes, with characters it is just the opposite. As more and more characters are learned they start to appear similar to previously learned characters. Some of the time they have a component or radical that is the same, some of the times they look very similar but have a subtle difference.

With this newly learned character that looks like a previous character, there are six possible pronunciations for this characters and there is no method to remember what it is without rote memorization. Here are the possibilities of how to pronounce a new character that looks like a previous character, from easiest to remember to hardest:

Same pronunciation, same tone

Same pronunciation, different tone

Similar pronunciation, same tone

Similar pronunciation, different tone

New pronunciation, same tone

New pronunciation, different tone.

My head is about to explode from all this! :wall

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To me, the most difficult part about learning characters is the diminishing returns associated with learning characters as the number of characters you learn increases. It gets harder and harder to find the motivation to learn an extra 1000 characters when you know it will only increase the amount of material you can read by a small margin.

As far as learning the characters go, I also consider there to be 4 facets, although they are slightly different from yours. In order of importance to me, they are: meaning, pronunciation (note I don't make a distinction between tones and pronunciation as I include tones as part of the pronunciation, so different tones == different pronunciation), usage, and writing.

Personally, I don't think I'd find Chinese as interesting to learn if it wasn't for the characters.

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I have to do more writing by hand in Chinese in order to succeed with my course and I am scared despite the fact I like Chinese characters, no I don't hate Hanzi. They just disappear from my head, if I don't write them. Complaining doesn't help, so I have to work harder. Passively, perhaps I know between 1,500 and 2,000 characters but when it comes to writing I am able to confidently remember maximum 300.

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I don't really get your point about how writing is not supposed to be beautiful. Sure, art can be interpreted in different ways. But art is not the only thing that can be beautiful. A landscape doesn't have any meaning, but it can be beautiful. A building can be good to live in and yet beautiful. Different people have different handwriting, and some handwriting looks more beautiful than others, but writing something in nicer handwriting, or even calligraphy, doesn't mean the meaning is lost.

And hieroglyphs are written language just as much as Chinese characters are. You can't read them and feel no need to learn to, but a lot of people could and can read them, and they aren't hindered in that by the perceived beauty of the glyphs.

All that being said, I wish you good luck and much perseverance in learning the characters. Learning them can be a pest, that's for sure, but they can also be very useful. (And there are some gems. Check the last pages of the thread on 你 and 妳.)

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I can understand your anger at learnig Chinese although I am a Chinese speaking standard mandarin. It is said that Chinese is one of those most difficult languages to learn all over the world. I dont know whether or not it is right but i do believe that 'cause I can speak english (or chinglish) and a little Japanese. What I want to say is learning languages is always not interesting as you just began when you step into a higher level. Just endure it. Good luck.



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For me, it's not the characters that cause problems. It's the multiple meanings, and the way words are constructed.

I know the rules of stroke order. And the way my brain works, I remember that. I can see a new character, and tell you how to write it properly.

And, I know the meaning of a fair number of characters.

But, its when you use a character, combined with other characters, to make a word, that I get confused.

Without space between words, I can't always figure out where one ends, and another begins. Without that visual clue, I can't always figure out what I'm looking at. If there was a space between words, I'd be able to figure it out much easier.

Anyway... That's my contribution to the rant :)

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I completely agree with the part about getting more confused as you learn more hanzi. I learned to write around 300 hanzi in about 1 months time, I was following the book Rapid Literacy in Chinese (Zhang PengPeng). Then I learned another 300 which took me 3 weeks and now I have realized that I am totally confused and I absolutely dread learning the remaining 2400 hanzi which is supposed to make me literate.

The amount of time, money and energy needed for an average learner to learn Mandarin is simply astounding and infact I am wondering if all the effort is even worth it.

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I am wondering if all the effort is even worth it

That'll depend on why you're learning the language. If you're not finding it fun, and you don't need to learn it in order to not starve, or something else equally fundamental, then stop learning.

You should be finding it fun! If you really hate learning the characters, concentrate on something else (just speaking and listening; or reading if it's only writing you hate). Or pick a different language, such as French or Spanish!

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I am convinced that if I want to progress beyond the advanced-intermediate level than I am forced to learn to read

Why are you convinced of that?

Then I learned another 300 which took me 3 weeks and now I have realized that I am totally confused and I absolutely dread learning the remaining 2400 hanzi which is supposed to make me literate.

Curious, how is it that you are confused? Do you remember all 600 that you learned?

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I am convinced that if I want to progress beyond the advanced-intermediate level than I am forced to learn to read

Why are you convinced of that?

Because learning the sophisticated sentence structure and vocabulary needed for that level requires knowing how to read (assuming by "advanced" we mean being able to communicate effectively at a professional level). That's true in English and other European language. It's even more true in Chinese because of the bigger gap between the Chinese written language and spoken, which makes it harder to learn grammar and vocabulary entirely by listening.

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sthubbar, I understand your predicament :).

I think time is worth saving, so I'm not against simplification per se, but I don't like the way characters have been simplified (one can do better : whenever I think about it, 很烦恼). So I think there is room for improvement (I'm thinking shorthand with phonetic radicals (priority given to writing instead of reading) and characters with the same "spelling" but not the same meaning depending on the context - a price to pay I guess - for everyday use).

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Hm. Characters got easier for me the more I learned. Not that my retention rate is great if I don't practice, but I wasn't ever really intimidated by the number of characters (and since I'm learning simplified its not as terrifying of a task, if I lived in HK or taiwan I'd be scared). What is hard is sometimes how chinese people break up words and mix them into things that don't make sense to me. For example, lots of news article headlines, they can be tricky, even if the article contect isn't so tricky.

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I find hanzi intimidating (not so much for Japanese kanji anymore), but I love them. It's hard to say whether Chinese and Japanese would be better or worse with or without them, but there's no way around them.

Pronunciation and tone are the most important facets for me, but I still swear by the Heisig method. It's easy to get distracted by the idea that it "only teaches meaning and writing," but to think that way is to miss the big picture.

The most important aspect about RTK is that it gives the characters a specific, concrete place in your brain and strips out everything but what is essential for remembering the character: one unique keyword, and a mnemonic story to connect the keyword to the character itself. Trying to learn to recognize the character, learn several meanings, and at least one pronunciation and tone, all without any mnemonic to tie it to memory, you wind up with too many balls in the air. It's easy to fall flat on your face.

Once the character is firmly tied to memory, adding additional information (pronunciation, other meanings) becomes much easier, because you have an identity for the character and are just learning more about an old friend. And that is the strength of the Heisig system.

Similar characters are probably a problem for everyone, but again, RTK helps here too. Trying to distinguish 録, 緑 and 縁 simply on rote memory, you can go nuts but if you have three distinct mnemonic stories tying their component parts to three different keywords, it's near impossible to confuse them.

It's a shame that Remembering the Hanzi still hasn't been published, but it will be soon, and I highly recommend giving it a try.

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Hey all,

I think to be able to write characters out, over and over for several years, requires a little of a sado-mascochistic tendency, I have met those people who end class and say things "Oh boy 30 more characters about old sung dynasty slang to learn I can't wait!. " Yes, they used to scare me too.

I found making flash cards and testing the ones that you don't know over and over helps as you spend time on the hard words not the easy ones. Also break the charaters in to their radical parts to help remember them. I found it helps with writing as well as reading.

But the one thing that can keep you going is that written and use of chinese characters separates the beginners from the intermediates. The intermediates still have to spend long hours studying characters but they're used to it more and have stopped making excuses and don't procrastinate anymore about it.

I like to see the high drop out rate. People who come to the unversity and say I am going to only speak chinese (though there is no requirement to do this) and go to every class every day for the whole year. Then 3 months later you see them about once a week in class, and the other 6 days in the bar, explaining the benefits of Bar Chinese and night street food to you.

In your head, you know it was writing the Hanzi for hours every night that drove him to the bottle. That's when the hours of card making and hanzi writing pay off. You made it to intermediate student, others didn't. You've put in the time, you've gone distance, you've rocked the chinese. (there's still lots more Chinese to learn, but when you realize you've made it to intermediate level, that is a good feeling).

And I don't think learning characters gets easier, you just get better at dealing with it later.

Have fun,


P.S. It is also cool when you are able to read soft porn short stories from the bus station or the magazine duzhe 读者。 If you've done 2-3 years you can probably handle it.

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Hanzi-->汉字,right? don't hate her,love her,u will learn more chinese culture.ok?

i think it will more good affect if u create the friend feeling with 汉字. trust me.

if have any problem,u can contact.i am glad to help u.

this is my first time to come here,a new day.happy everyone.

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Interesting that there are blogs about "I hate Kanji" (the Japanese version of Hanzi). The frustration is sometimes for a different reason - inconsistency between reading and writing. Although the Chinese use more characters, the readings are much more consistent an din 95% or more - you learn a character, it stays with you!

Someone said - to learn Chinese characters - you have to love them - think about them, write them, analyse them, compare them. Learning Chinese thoroughly if you do it part-time is sometimes completely devastating on social life. It's a hard hobby, no doubt.

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It is also cool when you are able to read soft porn short stories from the bus station or the magazine duzhe 读者

Now there's an incentive I hadn't thought of!

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As a fellow student, I feel sympathy for the thread originator, and so I will phrase this question in the first person (as I have asked myself more than once):

Why did I set my mind on learning Chinese, if I had first intended to avoid frustration, anger, feelings of inadequacy, etc.? Obviously we all have our individual reasons to attempt the feat, or we wouldn't be here (although, I don't know, perhaps not everyone else feels those same feelings I mentioned!).

But nevertheless, it seems true that there are innumerable (to my small mind) languages and cultures in the world, most of which languages are more readily apprehended by English speakers than Chinese. For instance, despite an overwhelming imbalance in the hours of study I have devoted to learning Chinese, I have grown comparatively much more proficient at reading Spanish simply by regularly reading a weekly newspaper while eating meals! How embarrassing!

In a way, the lost opportunities for so little progress seem a tragic waste when I contemplate as a dispassionate observer, but obviously, from back in my own skin, learning characters and tones still seems worthwhile -- or else it is the feeling I would just waste time in some other worse way instead...


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In a sense I agree that to become an intermediate student/user of Chinese, one needs a strong command of characters. I mean, if you can't read, then you aren't a good all-around user of Chinese. But I don't necessarily agree that one needs to have a good command of characters in order to speak and understand well (and perhaps even to an advanced degree). I just don't think the relationship is that strong. Cases in point, illiterate people in China, and some ABCs in America, who can't read but who can easily understand TV dramas, movies and probably even the news.

Conversely, many people develop proficiency in reading and writing but would still struggle in everyday casual spoken interactions. (That goes not only for Mandarin learners but for English learners as well; I've met many graduate students from China in the U.S. who can read novels and newspapers in English, but have trouble understanding even basic English utterances when spoken at native speed.)

So yes, to be an intermediate or advanced all-around user of Mandarin, it's necessary to know characters well. But I would not overemphasize their usefulness in helping a person to speak and understand well.

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Another problem with not being able to read is that you'll have trouble using a dictionary, whereas looking up words in a dictionary is probably the more effective way to learn new vocabulary for intermediate/advanced learners. You are not be able to find someone to explain every new vocab to you orally, so not being able to use a dictionary will become a bottleneck to learning.

Cases in point, illiterate people in China, and some ABCs in America, who can't read but who can easily understand TV dramas, movies and probably even the news.

Period costume dramas using classical Chinese in dialogs probably will be hard to understand. News will be hard to understand, too, because of the advanced vocabulary and the bookish grammar/sentence structure.

Though there is a large gap between written and spoken Chinese, more educated speakers tend to use more bookish grammatical elements and vocabulary (i.e. those derived from classical Chinese, like chengyu's) when speaking. An illiterate person will probably find that kind of speech hard to understand.

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