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How many people here can read and write Chinese characters?


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I grew up in England :D and I am chinese but I can read and write chinese characters, my parents taught me since I was little. Except I know a bit of trad and a bit of simp but neither of them very well, if you see what I mean! :wall

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I have seen very very few able to read and write Chinese characters even when there have been many people learning Chinese.

In the 70's I conducted a simple experiment that seems to support this proposition.

The experiment went as follows...

I observed about 20 different western 4 year honours Chinese language graduates reading a Chinese children's novel.

3rd and 4th grade Chinese educated primary children, on average took about 5 minutes per page. Every honours grad tested took more than 2 hours to read a page. The grads spent most of the time bogged down in dictionaries.

Whe I discussed this outcome with the heads of the language schools, the common reply was along the lines of.....

"If we taught Chinese properly the students would quit."


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You should remember that many four year BA Chinese graduates (at least, this is true in the UK) will not have studied any chinese at all before the start of their degree. To study French at a UK university you generally need an A/B grade A level in French, and many students will have started learning French at age 11. But to start a BA Chinese course at say SOAS, you do not need any prior knowledge of chinese. I just don't think you can hope to close that gap over a four year course, especially when only one year is spent in a chinese speaking country.

On the other hand, I know a few people who have done four year BAs in this country, and some of them have pretty impressive chinese reading skills. Two hours seems a bit excessive for one page! But then, a lot of chinese graduates would probably be more comfortable reading an article on chinese politics or even classical chinese rather than a kids book. Kids books are not the most accessible for an adult learner.

just a few thoughts,


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Character aren't that bad/ When I first started learning I would just try and tackle the long lists of vocab. Apply them in context is the way forward. So instead of picking words from a list I'll look for them in texts and grasp them that way!

Obvious but I certainlt didn;t do it this way when I started!

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Teaching Chinese properly

They meant ... teaching Chinese so that the students were literate in Chinese at the end of the degree.

Their ideas of literacy were to be able to write more than 2000 characters, recognise 3000 and have a vocab of 10,000 words and expressions. The need to read hundreds of Chinese books and novels was also mentioned. Reading selected articles in the Chinese newspaper every day as well.

I think they would have liked their students to attain the same Chinese literacy level as the English natives studying French, Spanish or Italian.

For background to this.....

In Australia unpopular or difficult university courses don't attract students. Lack of students means funding cuts and the staff lose their job. There are real incentives to keep the courses nice and comfortable.

Regarding the year in China... I think the UK is on the right track.

In Australia the high school year 12 Chinese syllabus prescribes 440 characters. At University year 1 there are about 700 characters on the syllabus. Year 2 university about 1000 characters 1500 words. Year 3 1200 characters 2000-2500 words.

For comparison, in HK primary 1-6 there were more than 2500 traditional characters in the Chinese syllabus (in the 50s and 60s). Chinese book reading started in earnest in primary 4.


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mph, what you said about what unis should do and why they don't is certainly accurate.

As an earlier poster pointed out, though, someone majoring in Spanish or French at uni probably studied the language for 4-6 years already. And of course, Spanish and French are much, much closer to English than Chinese. Chinese find Japanese easier than Westerners do in my experience. Japanese ought to, but . . .

I think of my adults students in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan who have had a minimum of 6 years of English before they meet me. Most still can't make heads or tails out of a simple newspaper article. Learning a language well is mighty hard, especially if one is not in a country where the target language is spoken. Reading is that much more complicated.

Yet, I think reading is very good practice for language learning. I recommend advanced foreign learners of Chinese use 200-300+ page children's books from Taiwan. They have Zhuyin Fuhao next to every character which makes for great reinforcement and/or ease of look up. There are also some slightly easier books to start out with. The easy ones can be started when someone knows maybe 1,500 characters, and the others 2,000. I don't know, maybe less. And don't forget 國語日報 in Taiwan. That newspaper rocks!

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