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I Hate Hanzi


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To add my experiences.

I've been teaching myself to read and can now read some newspaper articles. So far I've relied on rote memorization of characters and character combinations using flashcards.

It is more difficult now because as pointed out, there are diminishing returns and if you only see a character a couple of times, it's easy to forget.

A couple of weeks ago I took on a private tutor and after the first lesson he told me to go off and read on my own as there wasn't much he could teach me. This surprised me, as there are always new characters and combinations to learn.

He did recommend going "backwards" and learn to write. Initially I opposed the idea as I felt it was a retrograde step and it would slow down my attempts to learn reading.

Having thought about it and done some research I think he is right. I'm hoping to acquire the knack that Chinese children acquire through disciplined study.

The outcome (if all goes well) will actually make it easier to learn more characters, making it faster to push into the 3000-5000 range.

I'll post an update in a few months, if anyone thinks this might be interesting...

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The main thing to realize when learning hanzi is to not lose sight of the goal...the point is to learn to read, not to evaluate the system. The system won't change so you might as well get used to it. Practically, read, read, read. After your first 300 hanzi you should begin reading. You won't recognize everything, but things will start to come together.

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汉字帮我记住单词和单词的用法。汉字帮我自信地说话、写东西,不过因为汉字阅读中文书和报纸太难了。i love hanzi and i think that they are all beautiful(不过我更喜欢繁体字),but it is very funny when 连中国人也 can not write a chinese name without asking about the exact characters.

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I'm coming into this thread a little late, but I wanted to throw in my $0.02, since I'm not sure that anyone has brought this up in previous posts.

By way of background, I grew up in Canada, and attended Saturday morning Chinese school for a number of years, abandoned Chinese learning for many years and am now, in my 30s, starting to pick it up again.

The description in this thread of how non-native learners of Chinese acquire characters is actually very different from how I was taught as a child (but alas did not learn well enough or else my Chinese would be a lot better).

Here's what I learned: You should never memorize characters in isolation.

When we memory-practiced new vocabulary (生字), we would always practice in two contexts: (1) the entire word, and not the individual characters, and (2) the passage of text that the word is used in.

Thus, we would never memory-practice 感情 as the characters 感 and 情 separately, as we would learn the whole word itself. I suppose that over time, as we encountered words such as 感到, 感概, 感動, we would intuitively have learned the meaning of 感, from the context of the passage of text we were reading, and at the same time have memorized how to write the character. The important thing, from a pedagogical perspective, it seemed, was that we learned useful word units.

I do agree though, that it's easy to forget how to write characters if you do not use it on a regular basis, but I find that remember or being able to read characters is not that difficult, again, because I learned in the context of words, rather than individual characters.

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I don't hate hanzi at all! Quite the opposite, I think they are really beautiful and fun to learn. And yes, I would prefer to read everything in a beautiful script as opposed to something more utilitarian - I am an artist, I want everything to be beautiful. But seriously, I don't think hanzi are difficult or boring to learn. I really enjoy learning them. :D

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I only started seriously trying to learn Mandarin about 2 months ago, but I decided that I'd try to learn everything (writing, reading, speaking, listening) at the same time even if one of those was a huge bottleneck. (I'm learning on my mostly on my own.)

So far I think I've learned something like 200 characters and I'm only through lesson 3 in Integrated Chinese. I'm going rather slow and I've slacked off for periods, but at least I can actually actively recall and write all of the 200+ or so characters that I know :)

Part of the reason I'm going slow is because I'm still sort of trying to "learn how to learn." I feel like I'm not good at learning languages in general and so I'm spending a certain amount of time trying to correct that or otherwise become more efficient. Some things I'm noticing:

  • Writing seems to be the major bottleneck. I feel like if I weren't determined to actually learn to write everything I could learn to read much faster.
  • I have trouble just learning words without trying to learn something about the meaning of the individual characters in the words.
  • The more I learn the more characters seem like little "square words" of a sort that are composed of "roots." Once I know 木 羊 永 and can think of 樣 in terms of those characters suddenly things don't seem insanely difficult. I still get a little discouraged when I encounter something that just seems totally unique and one-off, but overall seeing patterns makes things easier.
  • I'm still sort of wondering how much effort it makes sense to put into learning parts of characters. For example, if I have the new character 衛 does it make sense to spend time learning 韋 and 行 even if I have no real "context" or use for those individual characters?
  • On another note I wonder how useful it is to try to learn additional words just because they're composed of characters that I already know. For example, I know 天, 安, and 門, so it seems natural to put 天安門 in my flashcard system to help give those characters more context. Later perhaps I learn 西 and wanting more context for it I add 西安 to the list. Those examples are proper nouns though so maybe they're less useful?
  • The whole "RTK" thing makes sense but I'm a bit disappointed at how the method doesn't really follow textbooks and learning characters in context. I wonder how hard it would be to look up characters in such a book as needed for a class or textbook lesson.

I am finding Anki SRS pretty helpful. I use the built-in Mandarin model that forces you do do "production" (writing) before recognition. Lately I've been trying to add at least 5 words to it per day, sticking mostly to the vocab in the textbook, and hope to increase that at some point.

Anyway just some random thoughts. I don't really hate hanzi even though they don't seem like the most efficient form of writing, especially when it comes to learning efficiency. For Chinese they are probably pretty appropriate though simply due to the large number of homophones. It's kind of interesting to be able to write "he" and "she" without being able to specifically say "he" or "she" :)

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amigo ,i complete disagree with you .i am chinese ,so i am using hanzi almost everyday .i think every language is unique ,every language has stupid part and beautiful part .you feel bad about hanzi ,i guess that is because you are so good about it .tell you what ,sometimes i feel learning english is the most diffcult thing in the world and i also have fun in it . friend ,this is language ,you cannot learn it in one day .be patience ,and if that is possible ,come to china .you can find a job here .you can feel the amazing chinese culture .

good luck for you hanzi .try harder .[

my email :forrest19860923@tom.com

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Chinese is very simple.

Now i am studying french. I think it is more difficult than Chinise

Asian people (those fluent in an East Asian language like Korean or Japanese) tend to feel this way.

I've never heard a European claim this.

French is really easy for anyone who has studied Latin. Which is most of Europe.

I got far more in three weeks of studying German than a year of studying Chinese. At least it feels that way.

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To fully understand Chinese, it is necessary to learn some traditional chinese culture and philosophies. A good book may interest you is called shuo1 wen2 jie3 zi4 which aims to give an explanation of many chinese characters and their origins. It was completed in Han dynasty, and became the foundation of later chinese character study. For instance, wen2 zi4 (means chinese characters), wen2 itself contains the meaning of drawing or painting, while zi4 contains the meaning of sound, or pronounciation. So wen2 zi4 originally means drawing with pronounciation, and it is fairly correct to say that almost every chinese character is a picture with sound.

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I am a Chinese, I see you studying very hard, I hope you can successfully learn Chinese characters. Do not hate it. In this gave him my blessing! Tell you a skill: difficult to learn Chinese characters, people with no end in sight. You learned some words will always have more生字stopped in front of the road leading to read. To overseas non-Chinese environment as an example, the children learn 800-900 words is not difficult, but the reading is smooth, very few left. So to the生字to learn and understand the characters have to learn to think. People most common misconception is a Chinese and Bingyinwenzi against each other. As everyone knows, the voice is the most basic elements of language, is reflected in the text, Bingyinwenzi. Chinese characters commonly used in more than 85% for the formation of the word. Chinese development is the main theme of voice, but by the way some special only. Chinese characters are not taking the sounds of letters written Road. Chinese mainstream following the syllables of the phonetic alphabet text line. The so-called phonetic alphabet, as the Japanese pseudonym, as is the integrity of the syllables, and not consonant and vowel arbitrary form themselves into the number. Phonography is only suitable for small syllable language. Chinese Table Italian unit is the basic word, and little syllable (400 ~), the development of Chinese characters used two methods to distinguish a homonym of the word, first fight vary, "ai", as an example, there are "love mourning Yi Yi" and several different fight. Table 2 is intended also to the "ai", as an example, the same pronunciation as "ai", the radical different in different words, pay Alas Egypt, and Italy form part of the logic and meaning of Chinese characters to strengthen the capacity of expression. Probably about 800 Chinese phonetic characters.

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Other than having to learn lots of unfamiliar vocabulary (removing the crutch of being able to guess the vocab from French to English) I also feel that Chinese is easier to learn to speak than French for a native English speaker (American, studied Latin for a year, quit when I decided I wanted to go to China). It's the minimalist grammar. I love it.

But writing it is insanely hard, and where I've been focusing my energy lately. I spent a year in China and was familiar enough with a few hundred Chinese characters, but not really well enough to read, but I learned basically how to speak. Now that I'm in Taiwan I do practice speaking to keep up speed and fluency and to insert the occasional new vocabulary word, but my study sessions have stopped being about spoken vocabulary and started to be about writing (traditional, though I'm happy I got a grounding in Simplified in China...though I find Traditional to be a thoroughly superior system unless one needs to dash off a quick note. For that, even Taiwanese often revert to simplified forms of many characters).

As the great John DeFrancis said, speaking Chinese is only about 5% harder than speaking French (for an English native speaker). Writing Chinese is about 500 times harder.

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Same pronunciation, same tone

Same pronunciation, different tone

Similar pronunciation, same tone

Similar pronunciation, different tone

New pronunciation, same tone

New pronunciation, different tone.

learning Hanzi also frustrated at time, but this gave me insight into English. Imagine how an English language learner feels.

dough ... that's d-oh

cough ... that's c-off

tough ... no, that's t-uff

though ... no, no, that's th-owe

thorough ... no no no no that is thu-ruh


this is what makes second language acquisition so fun.

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What I find most frustrating is how difficult it is to measure my progress. When I go running, I can time myself on my regular course. If I'm trying to lose weight, I can get on the scale each morning. If I'm writing an article, I can count up the words I've added each day. But reading Chinese started out being tough, it remains tough, and I expect it will always be tough, whatever level I reach. I was motivated by this frustration to create a character test that can be used to estimate how many characters you know. If you take it regularly using consistent parameters (the 72-item test is most accurate) it can be useful for establishing a benchmark and measuring progress over time. It doesn't make learning the characters any less painful, but at least there's some tangible sense of accomplishment when you first hit the 1000 or 2000 or 3000 character mark! The link is http://www.clavisinica.com/resources.html .

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  • 8 months later...
I am a Chinese, I see you studying very hard, I hope you can successfully learn Chinese characters. Do not hate it. In this gave him my blessing! Tell you a skill: difficult to learn Chinese characters, people with no end in sight. You learned some words will always have more生字stopped in front of the road leading to read. To overseas non-Chinese environment as an example, the children learn 800-900 words is not difficult, but the reading is smooth, very few left. So to the生字to learn and understand the characters have to learn to think.

I think this is a very important point. Take note that reading chinese smoothly requires one to have a feel of the language and therefore able to decipher the meaning of the character used in the given context.

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One more example of why I have a hard time shaking my dislike for this written language. Last night, went out to dinner with 6 native Chinese speakers, several of them college graduates. One gave a gift to the other and the recipient looked at one of the characters prominently displayed on the front of the gift. Not a single one of the six knew what was the character. A discussion followed and I ended up giving the answer, with the help of Pleco, of course.

What a ridiculous writing system. Never once have I had, seen or ever heard of such a discussion between native speakers of any script based language.

Let's be clear on what is going on here. We are not talking about being to understand what is written. Of course there are words in English that I can read and not understand. We are talking about not being able to make the sound that is represented by the written language.

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