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sthubbar

I Hate Hanzi

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atitarev

Theoretically, you are right, DrZero but people who go for the trouble and learn Chinese are not satisfied just to be able to understand and speak. You must create or get into a special environment for this - it's not easy to learn and pick up words without reading - a number of books, audio recordings, teachers who are going to explain the words to you without writing them down. Overseas born Chinese are a good example of this but many of them are unhappy about not being able to read and write.

There's not enough material WITHOUT characters and not very useful or interesting. This was discussed in this forum - learning Chinese without learning to read is not practically possible. I would emphasize that learning to read and/or to write characters seriously slows down your understanding and speaking, although they are different skills.

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gato

Just to add, most overseas-born Chinese have their mom and dad to explain new words to them, but that's not really as effective as being able to look up words yourself in a dictionary. Most of them have trouble carrying on a conversation in Chinese beyond simple topics.

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hamihaha

Sthubbar, do you on purpose say things contrary to the norm?

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

Chinese language is interresting because of the characters. It's not as melodic than Italian or French, more something like Dutch...

Learning them is a painful processes of rote memorization

Like every language or every skills. Ask a musician, ask a painter...

The more one learns the harder it becomes.

The more characters you learn, the easier it gets of course! You get familiar with all component. And the biggest part of chinese characters are not ideogram, but phonetics signs... then as easy to remember than any alphabet.

Susansu

It is said that Chinese is one of those most difficult languages to learn all over the world.

Try to learn German! The grammar is impossible... even for German!

Chinese is not a difficult language, but the first step is higher for European.

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sthubbar

Thanks everyone for not jumping all over me. Some of you even have similar frustrations. :)

DrZero, I am convinced that I must learn to read because I have never met an advanced level non-native speaker that can't read. I have also, never met a foreign born Chinese that learned Chinese by speaking to their family that is an advanced speaker. Those people are about at the level I am at right now. They can fool you into thinking they can speak Chinese though there are huge gaps in their knowledge.

Ari,

Characters got easier for me the more I learned.
I'm just curious, how many have you learned. I used to sorta feel that way. I am now hitting about 2300 and as I mentioned in the original post, the new characters are interfering with previous learned ones.

hamihama,

do you on purpose say things contrary to the norm?
Yes. :D The first comment about the beauty stems from my frustrations and also from the fact that most times people refer to the beauty of the characters it is to Chinese calligraphy. As most people on this board know, 90% of what is considered beautiful Chinese calligraphy is unintelligible to the vast majority of present day Chinese. Case in point, was out for a dinner with one of my highly educated Chinese teachers. There was a beautiful painting on the wall with tons of beautiful Hanzi calligraphy. I already knew the answer, but asked anyway, "What does that mean?" Her response, "Hahha, you have to be joking, I can recognize some of the characters, though have no idea what it means."
The more characters you learn, the easier it gets of course!
Are you native born Chinese learner? If not, how many characters have you learned?
...as easy to remember than any alphabet
:roll: I'm putting my money on native born Chinese or an extreme beginner. I could never imagine a second language learner of Chinese making such a statement.

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imron
the new characters are interfering with previous learned ones.
How is that you are learning new characters? Are you learning them from word lists, or are you learning them from the context of written material?

Personally I find it really difficult to just go through word lists to learn characters, and this is especially so if I come across similar looking characters during the same learning session (I run into the same interference problems you mention). As a result I try to pick up all new vocab from reading native materials. I find this helps a great deal as the context surrounding the word/character learnt helps me keep it separate it from similar characters (even when I encounter those characters during the same learning session).

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atitarev

Hamihaha, you are wrong :)

Phonetics seldom help to guess the correct pronunciation, when you know both the reading and which part IS the phonetic, then you can say, oh yes we know how to read it :)

German is easy, no problem with the grammar. Do you need help? And Chinese is hard even for Chinese, it's easy if you grow up with Chinese characters. Having said this, I know how to learn characters, only it's a long way for me before I become fluent... I learned German by reading simple books first, then more complex ones, like any European language can be learned.

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DrZero
DrZero, I am convinced that I must learn to read because I have never met an advanced level non-native speaker that can't read. I have also, never met a foreign born Chinese that learned Chinese by speaking to their family that is an advanced speaker. Those people are about at the level I am at right now. They can fool you into thinking they can speak Chinese though there are huge gaps in their knowledge.

This may be true. I'm not quite convinced. I study with pinyin only and I can communicate in a lot of situations. I feel that if I continue studying hard, then by the time I go back to China one year from now, I will be able to converse very readily about a broad range of topics. Will I be fluent? Well, there's no agreed-upon definition. Will I be discussing literature? Of course not. But I don't discuss literature too terribly much in English, anyway. And attempting to learn thousands of characters and reading literature would, I believe, slow me down in achieving my goal of sitting around and talking fluidly about whatever comes to mind next time I go to China. I hope I will be understanding approximately 80 to 85 percent of your average Chinese TV drama.

It is true, I believe that to become a truly advanced user of Chinese, one needs to read fluently. One is unlikely to have an advanced discussion of current events or technical topics until one learns to do that. What I am interested in doing is first achieving my goal of what I would call "practical fluency," and then, when I see that I've hit a wall, moving on to intensive character study and getting to that next level of being a truly sophisticated speaker (hopefully I will start on that goal next year.) I cannot see the point of bogging myself down until I have practical fluency, though. I guess I would call it putting the cart before the horse.

Bear in kind, I know many students of Chinese origin in the U.S. who have extremely sophisticated vocabularies because they've had to pass the TOEFL and, more importantly, the GRE to enter graduate school here, but they still lack practical fluency in English!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to a Chinese woman who happens to have many Chinese friends who come to our place often, so I get a lot of exposure to the spoken language, including idioms, vulgarities, etc. When I hear them, I ask what they mean and write them down on a flashcard. We also travel to China periodically and stay with her non-English-speaking relatives, so that helps too. It is in this environment that I think my approach works, and probably if I did not have these conditions, I would find pinyin study a little boring and focus instead on characters.

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gato
Bear in kind, I know many students of Chinese origin in the U.S. who have extremely sophisticated vocabularies because they've had to pass the TOEFL and, more importantly, the GRE to enter graduate school here, but they still lack practical fluency in English!

The Chinese system may provide a good example of how not to learn a foreign language, but doing exactly opposite of what they do is not really optimal, either. Consider many Europeans who learn English as a second language who can readily read, write, and speak English.

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hamihaha

Sthubbar,

I did not say chinese characters where beautiful neither where talking about calligraphy. I said interresting. I now start to like Chinese calligraphy (after 5 years), but I still consider arabic calligraphy as the top of the top, followed by french cursive.

I'm not a native Chinese speaker, and after 5 years, 2 years of hard work and 3 years of soft daily reading I can read fluently Chinese. I don't know how many chinese characters or chinese words I know, but when I read a magazine for example, I understand more than 95% characters, and guess the meaning of the 5% others.

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sthubbar

imron, I am still using this method. I think their website is currently down. We are reading stories and learning the new characters in the stories.

DrZero, I agree with your wish for fluency and not wanting to waste time on characters. When I first started studying I refused to even listen to anyone trying to teach me characters. I kept that philosophy for just about 2 years of studying. I can now see the "wall" you mentioned and that is why I started aggressively studying characters around the end of last year.

hamihaha, wow, so I 羡慕你. :mrgreen:

Since DrZero added some full disclosure, I can add a little more to enlighten what contributes to my frustration. Outside of surfing the web, I seldom read for pleasure. There was a period many years ago when I thought it was necessary to read so I went for about a year reading something like 5 magazines cover to cover and at least one classic literature book every month. That experience did not convince me that reading was something I like, I just learned that many of the "classics" are really bad, see "The Magic Mountain" by "Thomas Mann".

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gato
wow...what kind of magazine is that?

I think he's referring magazines in English, not Chinese. See his reference to Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain."

That experience did not convince me that reading was something I like, I just learned that many of the "classics" are really bad, see "The Magic Mountain" by "Thomas Mann".

Maybe you should try Hermann Hesse, another German.

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bomaci
The Chinese system may provide a good example of how not to learn a foreign language, but doing exactly opposite of what they do is not really optimal, either. Consider many Europeans who learn English as a second language who can readily read, write, and speak English.

I am one of those europeans but although we in Sweden learn English for 9 years in school I still feel that most of my English was picked up by watching subtitled American and English tv programs for years followed by alot of reading.

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sthubbar
wow...what kind of magazine is that?

Forbes, The Economist, Scientific American, National Geographic, Time, and Reader's Digest. Does "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" mean anything to you? :)

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zozzen

I get used to whine about learning language too, but my targets are european languages. While French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian share many common vocab and similar grammer rules, spellings are just different and divide into different "languages". Had Latin adopted European Characters 2000 years ago, I would spend much lesser time in learning to read more articles from this continent.

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JimmySeal

Not really sure what you're saying here, zozzen. What are "European Characters?" Latin was using the same alphabet 2000 years ago as it still is now.

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atitarev

Me too, I got very confused with the meaning of Zozzen's post. Zozzen, maybe, you need to read your post carefully and rephrase it, otherwise it's hard to understand what you meant.

BTW, it's grammar, not grammer :)

Although, http://www.pinyin.info site somewhat demoralises the will to learn Chinese characters by explaining how to do without them, the site has a lot of interesting thoughts. It's true that our speech is often affected by the writing system, e.g. why is "chance" pronounced the way it's pronounced? It's a French word and it should be "shahngss" but it's spelled with "ch". If Chinese adopted a phonetic script a long time ago, it would have a lot of words pronounced differently from the way they are pronounced now, especially onomatopoeia, foreign and dialectal borrowings. As the original poster said, far from 100% of characters are intuitive and can be explained. The Japanese reduced the usage of characters (kanji) for a reason - why write in Chinese characters words, which have no connection whatsoever with the meaning of the characters used, especially foreign words?

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zozzen

Not really sure what you're saying here, zozzen. What are "European Characters?" Latin was using the same alphabet 2000 years ago as it still is now.

Had there anything called "European characters" , "pictogram" or non-phonetic scripts, which had a loose relationship between spoken and written language, European might have a single set of written scripts to represent many different European languages. Learning alphabets seem to be easier, but difference in phonetics can often produce a new breed of language and it takes time to learn too. I'm not so keen in saying which written form is better, I just feel that it's like comparing apples with oranges.

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JimmySeal

The main difference between the situations in Europe and China are not the writing systems they use. The main difference is that Europeans read and write in their own languages while a large portion of Chinese do not. Anyone other than Mandarin speakers must learn to read and write in a word order they don't speak and hear, and to read and write words they don't use.

Europeans could do the same. They don't need a special writing system to do it. Europeans could all learn to read and write in Spanish, or French, or Latin, and it would be a lot faster and easier than learning 3000 separate characters and a special word order for using them. In fact, many people did use Latin in the past when they wanted to communicate across language borders, but now that place of honor has been replaced by English.

A complex writing system is nothing without the language behind it. The Chinese written language is ok for writing the dialects of Chinese because they share relatively similar vocabulary and word order, but just try and get Koreans and Japanese to read and write in Written Chinese. Not gonna happen.

Similarly, I don't think there could exist a phonetic/ideographic/logographic writing system that could be used by French, Germans, Hungarians, and Portuguese, that wouldn't require more extra effort than it saved.

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zozzen

"To use Chinese characters" and "To use Chinese characters to write Mandarin as lingua franca" shouldn't be mixed up. Brushed away political bias, Mandarin is only one of the Chinese "dialect" written in Chinese characters. Like Japanese Kunyomi, many Chinese dialect speakers also read Chinese characters in their own tongues.

While Europeans read and write in their own languages, it's true many Chinese do not, but it's more a political and cultural than linguistic issue. Some Chinese dialects has developed its own written style (like Taiwanese and HongKongese) but these are taken as polticial incorrectness in the Mainland China. So far the Proprogranda Minstry is still notorious to maintain "a cleanup on regional dialect appeared in newspaper". Perhaps it's too easy to adopt Mandarin as written language, vast majority Chinese seems not so eager to develop their own written form too.

But it doesn't mean that Chinese characters exclude this possbility. In the past, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese all developed its own system of mixing Chinese characters and locally invented script to write a lot documents. Although read in different pronunication, these documents can be roughly read, without translation, across different countries.

I don't mean Chinese characters are the better form of "lingua franca" than Latin or English. They're just different from many aspects. Direct comparison is often misleading, if not tricky. For example, those who suggest Latin is easier to learn than Chinese characters may oversee its conugation, declension, genders.

"Anyone other than Mandarin speakers must learn to read and write words they don't use." I don't get what you mean. Do you refer to different regional vocab? (like 夜宵 in Beijingese and 宵夜 in Cantonese? ) That just can't be avoided.

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JimmySeal
But it doesn't mean that Chinese characters exclude this possbility. In the past, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese all developed its own system of mixing Chinese characters and locally invented script to write a lot documents. Although read in different pronunication, these documents can be roughly read, without translation, across different countries.

Chinese characters can indeed be used to write different dialects and languages, but that doesn't mean they're going to be mutually intelligible. I think written Hakka is probably as difficult for a Mandarin speaker as written Spanish is for a French speaker. They have to learn that

系 means 是

唔系 means 不是

曼人 means 誰

etc. And a whole different word order.

Hardly a simple difference. So unless everyone writes and reads in the same written language (e.g. Mandarin), the benefits of the Chinese characters that you are touting don't exist.

A Chinese speaker might be able to pick out individual words from a Japanese text, but they would not grasp the overall meaning well, if at all. Similarly, a Japanese person trying to read Chinese would be completely and utterly lost. Simply writing in the same character set in no way ensures that people from different languages will be able to understand each other.

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