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AJBryant

Learning hanzi -- the eternal dilemma of simple or traditional

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AJBryant

Hi, folks.

I'm new here, and I have a question.

I know the subject of simplified vs. traditional hanzi has been discussed before, but I think this is a different take.

When I first started studying Mandarin, I found myself -- well, stumped. I really found myself ambivalent (if that's really the proper word) over which one to learn. So much so, in fact, that it crippled my ability to learn the language. I realize that the PRC uses simplified, and that Taiwan, Hong Kong, and traditional literature uses trad forms. Since my primary interest was in reading historical texts, it seemed that traditional would be the way to go -- but almost every dictionary I found used simplified hanzi. Likewise, most of the websites (including this forum) have incredible amounts of SIMPLIFIED hanzi instead of tradional.

So I find myself wondering... did other people find themselves hobbled by their inability to decide which to do? Is the only way around this really to learn both at the same time?

I'd really like to hear the experiences of others who had to face the decision, and how they made their choices.

Tony

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muirm

What I did was learn to write traditional and read simplified (which took minimal effort). That way, I could read both, hand-write the cooler of the two, and type either (since you just have to know how to read and speak to input Chinese in pinyin).

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shibole

I just started and decided to go with traditional for a few reasons:

  1. My brother, who is fluent in speaking and reading, encouraged me to learn with traditional since traditional characters often provide better meaning and phonetic clues than simplified. It seems a bit ironic, but that's what he said.
  2. It's probably easier to learn simplified when you already know traditional than the other way around.
  3. Like you I'm interested in old text. Specifically I carve [pop=Chinese seals/zhuànkè]篆刻[/pop] and am interested in seal characters and other ancient characters, which are of course closer to traditional. Also, some of the forums and sites that I eventually want to read on these subjects are in traditional characters.

I'm sort of trying to learn both at once, but I'm only really focusing on Traditional. I have flashcards that come with both simplified and traditional on the front, but I only practice writing the traditional. I'm using the traditional version of the textbook that I have.

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lilongyue

I think it really depends on what your motives for learning Chinese are. It's probably best to just learn both. If you want to be able to read simplified and traditional, I think it's better to start with one, doesn't matter which is first, and then focus on the other later. Chinese characters are tricky, and it will take a lot of time and energy to master them, whatever form you choose to learn.

I started with traditional, but since I live in Mainland China and am studying here in a university, I've been learning simplified exclusively. Since the difference between two characters can be as slight as a dot or small stroke (both traditional and simplified), I found that I couldn't guess or read certain simplified characters whose traditional forms I already knew. A few easy examples being 变-變, 从-從, 后-後, 么-麼. Honestly I prefer traditional, but I can always study traditional later. Despite my preference, I have to admit that simplified are easier to remember, simply because the characters have fewer strokes.

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abuck

I have been learning simplified from the beginning. Writing Chinese was complicated enough for me without adding more strokes :) However, just through watching movies with traditional subtitles, I've been learning a few traditional characters. I guess time will tell if I will need to study traditional hardcore, but so far I'm concentrating on simplified and hoping that's what I'll see in most places in mainland China. Interesting question!

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yonglin

Just depends on what you want to do with your Chinese, as stated above.

I've only ever learnt simplified (because all my teaching took place in China or outside China but with mainland teachers, and exclusively with learning materials printed in the PRC). I used to find it really difficult to decipher traditional characters, but then I started chatting with this real nice taiwanese guy :lol: and set my sogou to traditional (it's got a lot of errors tho, like, it'll interpret "toufa" as 頭發 rather than 頭髪), so now I got more and more used to them and don't fear them anymore. Actually, once you've learnt to recognise the most radical simplifications (which often are of very commonly used words), you'll be able to guess almost all of the rest (by character components and context). The point is that the transition simplified-->traditional need not be 100 times as difficult as traditional-->simplified, as some people make it out here. In addition, some simplified characters are really more intuitive than their traditional counterparts, e.g., 泪 and 淚, so it goes both ways.

Handwriting is another issue though, and if you really want to learn how to handwrite traditional characters, I suggest you focus your early learning to that.

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imron
It's probably easier to learn simplified when you already know traditional than the other way around.
I think it's really much of a muchness. I've only ever learnt simplified, but can usually read traditional without too much trouble (albeit at a slower speed). Learn whatever you think you'll end up using the most, and once you have a good grasp of that, learning to recognise the other form isn't going to be too difficult.

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AJBryant

I should have mentioned that I *do* speak Japanese (I have a master's degree in Japanese, as a matter of fact). I just find learning sometimes THREE different ways to do the same character a bit frustrating. ;)

Thanks for the comments, though. Food for thought.

Tony

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thph2006

I think being practical is a good approach. If you think you'll spend most of your time in mainland China then starting with simplified just as the Chinese kids do would make a lot of sense. If your goal is to spend most of your time in Taiwan or mingling with the Chinese communities in the USA then traditional is the right way to go.

Personally, I've become a convert to the belief that the most important thing is mastering the spoken language first, so that's what I spend most of my time on these days.

Cheers!

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gato
Since my primary interest was in reading historical texts, it seemed that traditional would be the way to go -- but almost every dictionary I found used simplified hanzi. Likewise, most of the websites (including this forum) have incredible amounts of SIMPLIFIED hanzi instead of tradional.

What do you mean by reading historical text? Do you mean primary material (originals or copies thereof) for academic research? Those would be in traditional, and in that case, you should learn traditional first. If you mean second-hand historical texts, then there are plenty of historical texts printed in simplified characters published in China that you can order.

As for reading internet material, you can always use a converter to convert simplified to traditional. See "Tong Wen Tang" listed at http://www.filination.com/blog/2006/10/11/top-firefox-extensions-to-help-you-read-chinese-online/

and http://tongwen.mozdev.org/#english-info

I concur with the others that it's easy to learn one form once you are fluent in the other. It would probably take only a week's practice for someone fluent in simplified characters to be fully comfortable reading traditional characters. Learning to write in the other form, of course, would take much longer.

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lilongyue

AJBryant - If it won't pull things too far off topic, I'd like to hear your comparison of learning Chinese after have learned Japanese. You already know at least several hundred Chinese characters, right? One of my best friends here in China is Japanese. He's also a classmate, and I know he struggles with Chinese.

I've always found Japan really fascinating. I haven't been to Japan yet, and would like to learn the language some day.

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AJBryant

I've found that -- since my focus has generally been in reading -- that when I read (past tense -- I am REALLY rusty) Chinese, I was reading it in a kind of pidgin Chinese/Japanese/English (depending on in what context I was more familiar with the character). Of course, this wasn't out loud. This was how I was "hearing" it in my mind.

It played holy hell with trying to read out loud in a classroom situation, but when I was doing a translation on a test or an assignment, it really posed no problem.

The thing is, I can *say* many things in Chinese that I can no longer read or write -- likewise, I can "read" many things that I can understand but have no idea how to READ or say out loud.

I feel severely crippled, linguistically speaking. But that is, in fact, simply based on the fact that when I first started studying Chinese I was so hobbled by my inability to "decide" or focus on a writing style that I never really adapted to one or the other.

Tony

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lilongyue

Are you able to go to a Chinese speaking country? That would probably be the best solution to your problem.

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AJBryant

Not for anything beyond a vacation -- and that would be pushing it right now. (Ah, budgets...)

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JimmySeal

In my personal opinion, I think PRC's sweeping reforms of hanzi were an arrogant and probably manipulative move.

As a result, I feel that in order to be able to utilize all of the available learning resources while living outside of a Chinese-speaking country, I have to be comfortable with both writing systems, so I am learning both. But, I am placing a higher focus on the traditional characters: My flashcards for individual characters usually have the traditional, simplified and Japanese versions (with one or two omitted if they are the same), and my word flashcards use only traditional characters.

That's how I'm going about it.

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plexus

I studied simplified for a year in my home country, and am now in Taiwan where I'm learning the traditional forms. This wasn't too hard.

The most annoying thing I find is that through simplification some characters have been merged. This left me in doubt in the beginning which of the two forms I had to use in what context. e.g 里or 裡.

My point of view is to just focus on what my school/textbook/place of residence is using. If I'll ever reside in the PRC for a while I'll just practice my simplified again for a few days/weeks and I'll be fine.

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lilongyue

I forgot to mention that for traditional dictionaries the Far East Book Co. makes excellent books. Also have simplified versions. Taiwan based company, but has US distribution. You can google it and find the website of the U.S. distributer.

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Emily2008

what a nice question it is ! I'm a junior majoring in teaching chinese as second language.The question surprised me,because I believed that all foriegn friends choose the simple.my suggestion is that you should memorize strokes and radicals first.you see,the traditional characters is the basic of the simple,and why my govermoent made such a policy?easlier to learn and to communicate.when I learned my second language,english,I must to memorize 26 initials and was told "you" but not "thee".

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adrianlondon
I believed that all foriegn friends choose the simple

Many people are learning simplified now, because China has become trendy. Lots of people I met in Beijing were learning Mandarin because they thought it would be useful for business. Not many were like me, just learning it for fun and because they fancied spending half a year or more in Beijing.

People working in Taiwan can usually get by with English. People who have been there a while know traditional characters, but learning is slow due to the fact that until recently the schools wouldn't use pinyin.

People working in HK just use English.

People working in Singapore just use English, and translate into Singlish if necessary ;)

Oh, and before someone else tells you, the phrase "foreign friends" tends to make us foreigners roll our eyes. We're just foreigners. Same as the people generally living their lives in Beijing that I saw were "Chinese". They're not Chinese friends, until I've met them and we've become friends.

my suggestion is that you should memorize strokes and radicals first

There's a debate about whether learning the radicals in isolation first is of any benefit. I don't believe it is, but other differ. Certainly the Chinese themselves don't learn that way.

What do you mean about learning the strokes? Do you mean how to write each stroke? That's more for calligrapy, isn't it?

was told "you" but not "thee".

That's more like comparing modern and classical Chinese, I think. Or saying that 我的书 is correct but not 我之书.

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shibole
There's a debate about whether learning the radicals in isolation first is of any benefit. I don't believe it is, but other differ. Certainly the Chinese themselves don't learn that way.

I've been trying to learn radicals as I encounter them in new characters. I've been less concerned with pronunciation and more concerned with "oh, that's a radical" and the stroke order. Not sure if this is the "right" thing to do but that's what I've been doing.

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