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Why Learning To Write Chinese Is A Waste Of Time

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rezaf

Chinese University students often know what the characters should look like, but just can’t write them. Computers are one of the biggest reasons.

See here

Isn't it amazing?

It's not just students. Even educated Chinese teachers often make mistakes. It's a disaster for this country but it's not an excuse for not learning to write hanzi ;)

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anonymoose

It's a disaster for this country but it's not an excuse for not learning to write hanzi ;)

Why is it a disaster? Has society suffered as a result? That's what technology does. People have generally lost the skill of using an abacus and a slide rule since the electronic calculator was invented. The world didn't come to an end then either.

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adrianlondon

Many people who do calculations have a calculator. I wonder how many people who need or want to write quick notes have easy access to a computer and printer.

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Altair

I think either extreme is bad: never writing characters or just writing characters.

I, personally, focused first on writing characters and then on recognizing them and reading them in context. This is when I felt I could actually begin to use Chinese for anything practical. Now I have returned to learning to "write" them (with my finger, not a pen or brush). I also have begun to use Wubizixing 五笔字型 for fun and to reinforce all the little details of writing characters that I had begun to forget or ignore.

If you never learn to "write" characters at all, you will also have some difficulty:

1. looking up characters you don't know how to pronounce,

2 looking up characters arranged by stroke count in some resources,

3. learning to recognize cursive characters or 草书

4. reading characters where contextual clues may be scarce (e.g., classical texts)

5. producing characters in some contexts where pinyin input is not available or not as practical (e.g., devices using stroke input methods)

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Glenn
Chinese University students often know what the characters should look like, but just can’t write them.

I'm of the firm belief that if they can't write it they don't know what it should look like. They may have some idea, but knowing what it should look like would mean they can reproduce it exactly in their heads, and if they can do that, they can write it.

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anonymoose

Many people who do calculations have a calculator. I wonder how many people who need or want to write quick notes have easy access to a computer and printer.

People who, as a result of over-use of computers, have reduced ability to write characters generally do have easy access to a computer.

Furthermore, I've never met anybody who's Chinese has degraded to such an extent that they cannot jot something simple like a "quick note" down, and on the occasion that they forget how to write a particular character, they more often than not have a mobile phone that they can look it up on.

As I alluded to before, theorising what a disaster the over-use of computers has been is fine, but until one can demonstrate that it has had a concrete negative consequence, then it is a baseless argument.

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gougou

They may have some idea

But that's usually all that is needed to read - passive recognition.

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Glenn

Yeah, I didn't mean to argue that. I just wanted to say that only a passive knowledge doesn't allow for active (re)production, and if you can't write it, it's because you don't know what it should look like.

[Edit] Or maybe I should have just defined "knowing what it should look like" as an ability to accurately and completely reconstruct the character in your mind's eye, which would then allow you to write it correctly. Without that, you don't know what it should look like (to my way of thinking). I hope that doesn't confuse my point any further; it was supposed to offer elucidation.

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rezaf

It's not the same thing. You are right if you are a foreigner who wants to learn some Chinese for fun but If you work and study in China there are lots of situations that you need to use your handwriting. Even if we consider using computers, typing pinyin is not faster than writing with your hand. Usually you have to search the choices until you can find the character that you want which is time consuming, so I really can't call typing pinyin an advance in technology. Pinyin doesn't have anything to do with the shape of the characters so if you don't write characters it gradually affects you recognition ability and you might not be able to choose the right character even with all your technology. I recommend that you have a look at the link chinopinyin has provided in his last post. That guy didn't know whether to choose 翻 or 番 as a 量词 for 事业. As you see both are pronounced fan, which means that with or without typing pinyin this guy might make a mistake. There are some sofwares that can give you the right choice if you type yifanshiye together but it is not always possible for all the words as there are lots of different situations for 同音词 in Chinese. I use digital pen on my computer and mobile and I find it faster and more comfortable to use.

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anonymoose

Even if we consider using computers, typing pinyin is not faster than writing with your hand. Usually you have to search the choices until you can find the character that you want which is time consuming, so I really can't call typing pinyin an advance in technology.

I recommend that you have a look at the link chinopinyin has provided in his last post. That guy didn't know whether to choose 翻 or 番 as a 量词 for 事业. As you see both are pronounced fan, which means that with or without typing pinyin this guy might make a mistake.

Even if what you say is true, that hardly constitutes a "disaster".

But I disagree that typing pinyin is not faster than writing by hand. Also, the speed depends a lot on the software used. Many allow you to imput just the initial, and if you write several characters, it will often be able to determine the correct ones.

Writing by computer also has another advantage. Even someone who has excellent handwriting will still not be able to write every character. I mean, find a chinese person who can write 喷嚏 just off the top of their head. But using a computer, it is very easy to type out even obscure characters like this.

Anyway, I'm not a native speaker, so maybe someone else would like to comment on which is quicker.

And as for your example of the guy who didn't know whether to choose 翻 or 番 as a 量词 for 事业, it's not really relevant to this argument. This argument is about forgetting how to write a particular character. If that guy didn't even know what the correct character should be, then that demonstrates a more fundamental lack of understanding of Chinese, just like some people use the wrong words (for example "there" instead of "their" and so on) in English. That has nothing to do with use of computers.

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gato

There is no disaster. You have to think about the vast majority of people who didn't write anything on a regular basis before the use of cellphones and computers. Even before the electronic age, lots of people were forgetting how to write after leaving school and not practicing. Even in the 1980s, formal education might have been ended at elementary school in the countryside and junior high school in the cities for most people. Nowadays, the people who would have forgotten how to write by hand anyway in the old days can still write electronically. So there is actually a net gain of people who can write rather than a net loss.

The loss that does exist is among educated office workers, who would have had regular practice of writing by hand before and now write mostly electronically. This loss has to be balanced against the gain by non-white collar folks who wouldn't have been able to write much of anything before (because of forgetting due to lack of practice).

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rezaf

Each time you write a character by your hand it helps you not to forget what it looks like over the time which means that it is at the same time practising your recognition ability, whereas each time you use pinyin you are skipping this natural chance to practise and one day you might not be able to recognise the right character at all.

Saving a standard form of language and words for the majority of the society is very important. Because language is what connects you to your culture's past and enables you to communicate with other people. If saving the standard form of the languague wasn't important there wouldn't be so many organisations for making standards in languages(not just in Chinese). The problem in dictation that the Chinese society has might be small today but if it grows it will affect the standard form of the language which is a disaster.

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rezaf

There is no disaster. You have to think about the vast majority of people who didn't write anything on a regular basis before the use of cellphones and computers. Even before the electronic age, lots of people were forgetting how to write after leaving school and not practicing. Even in the 1980s, formal education might have been ended at elementary school in the countryside and junior high school in the cities for most people. Nowadays, the people who would have forgotten how to write by hand anyway in the old days can still write electronically. So there is actually a net gain of people who can write rather than a net loss.

The loss that does exist is among educated office workers, who would have had regular practice of writing by hand before and now write mostly electronically. This loss has to be balanced against the gain by non-white collar folks who wouldn't have been able to write much of anything before (because of forgetting due to lack of practice).

In the past the society didn't need reading and writing so much because it was mostly about doing farm work but now the society is about education and using technology which has raised the bar for the average need of language ability. You can't make this kind of comparison.

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gato

In the past the society didn't need reading and writing so much because it was mostly about doing farm work but now the society is about education and using technology which has raised the bar for the average need of language ability. You can't make this kind of comparison.

Can't someone make a similar argument that because of technology, you don't need to write by hand now? B) We would be back to the starting point of the discussion.

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anonymoose

Each time you write a character by your hand it helps you not to forget what it looks like over the time which means that it is at the same time practising your recognition ability, whereas each time you use pinyin you are skipping this natural chance to practise and one day you might not be able to recognise the right character at all.

What basis do you have for this assertion? I really don't accept it. I could equally say that, each time you write a character by computer using pinyin it helps you not to forget how to pronounce it over the time which means that it is at the same time practising your reading ability, whereas each time you use your hand you are skipping this natural chance to practise and one day you might not be able to pronounce any characters at all.

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rezaf

What basis do you have for this assertion? I really don't accept it. I could equally say that, each time you write a character by computer using pinyin it helps you not to forget how to pronounce it over the time which means that it is at the same time practising your reading ability, whereas each time you use your hand you are skipping this natural chance to practise and one day you might not be able to pronounce any characters at all.

Actually you are agreeing with me. I guess that you agree that writing hanzi is a natural practise for recognition of characters, and writing pinyin is a natural practise for pronunciation. The problem is that this argument is about recognising characters not pronunciation. Furthermore we are talking about the Chinese people not foreign students and pronunciation problem is not the main problem of native speakers.

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anonymoose

Actually, I was only using your form of the argument to counter what you had said. I don't really believe it.

I do agree, however, that one needs to distinguish foreign and Chinese users of Chinese.

For Chinese people, I don't think writing by hand will have a significant influence on their ability to recognise characters. Most people will read a lot more than they write. Indeed some people probably rarely write at all, be it by hand or with a computer, yet they are still able to read. So where we disagree is that, you believe people who don't write by hand will eventually forget how to read, and I'm saying that not writing by hand may lead to a decline in writing ability, but will not have a significant effect on reading ability. (EDIT: And I don't think it will have a disastrous effect on society as a whole either.)

As for foreign learners, yes, I think practising writing will improve recognition of characters, although it is not an indispensable step, as Renzhe has stated from his own experience.

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gougou

I guess that you agree that writing hanzi is a natural practise for recognition of characters

From what I've read, I don't think many people disagree with that. What they disagree with is that this is the only or best way to learn recognizing characters and, and here we're back to the title of the original paper, whether that is time-efficient or not.

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rezaf

Actually, I was only using your form of the argument to counter what you had said. I don't really believe it.

I do agree, however, that one needs to distinguish foreign and Chinese users of Chinese.

For Chinese people, I don't think writing by hand will have a significant influence on their ability to recognise characters. Most people will read a lot more than they write. Indeed some people probably rarely write at all, be it by hand or with a computer, yet they are still able to read. So where we disagree is that, you believe people who don't write by hand will eventually forget how to read, and I'm saying that not writing by hand may lead to a decline in writing ability, but will not have a significant effect on reading ability. (EDIT: And I don't think it will have a disastrous effect on society as a whole either.)

As for foreign learners, yes, I think practising writing will improve recognition of characters, although it is not an indispensable step, as Renzhe has stated from his own experience.

First of all can you explain why you disagree with "Writing hanzi is a natural practise for recognition of characters, and writing pinyin is a natural practise for pronunciation"?

..........................................................

There is a huge misunderstanding in here that I think I should make it clear before we continue. Writing characters from the book many times is just a reasonable method of practise and is not the definition of knowing how to write. Knowing how to write and recognising a character are not two different things. Knowing how to write and recognising a character both mean that you know all the components in the character and their right place in it. If you can recognise a character you can write it and if you can write a character you can recognise it. So as Renzhe mentioned he can write a lot of characters if he wants, without ever practising to write them before. So the common goal of writing and recognising a character is (A)to know it's components and (B)their right place.(I didn't include sroke order in the definition because it's not that important and anyway it is easy to learn afer writing a few characters)

Personally I beleive that writing the characters by hand increases your speed because you add your muscle memory to help your visual memory but you can do it whichever way you want. For instance you can write it just in your imagination without using your hands. So when you guys mean that it is not important to know how to write you either mean that the A part is not necessary or the B part is not necessary. If A is not important how can you recognise 赢 and 羸? If the B part is not important how can you recognise 部 and 陪?

I said it is a disaster because I am thinking about the future. Right now the modern technology is new and most people who use it have done a lot of hand writing when they were in school, but gradually we are seeing a group of people who are losing their abilities in writing and even a little bit in recognising as a result of typing pinin. If this group grows then there will be a day when many people won't be able to write the standard form of the language. I think you should read this story to know sometimes how important even one zi can be: 临海洪佥事若皋《南沙文集》,谓方书金银玉石铜铁,俱可入汤药,惟锡不入,间用铅粉,亦与锡异,锡白而铅黑,且须锻作舟粉用之。明名医戴元礼,尝至京,闻一医家,术甚高,治锡一块。元礼心异之,叩其故,曰∶此古方尔。殊不知古方乃饧字,饧,即今糯米所煎糖也。嗟乎!今之庸医,妄谓熟谙古方,大抵皆不辨锡、饧类耳!余谓今之庸医,不特未识古方也,即寻常药品,亦不能辨其名,有书新会皮作会皮,盖不知新会是地名也,有书抚芎作抚川芎,盖不知川与抚为二地也,此皆余所目见者。

Can you explain why you disagree with "writing hanzi is a natural practise for recognition of characters, and writing pinyin is a natural practise for pronunciation"?

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anonymoose

First of all can you explain why you disagree with "Writing hanzi is a natural practise for recognition of characters, and writing pinyin is a natural practise for pronunciation"?

I don't disagree in principle, but I think in actuality the effect is insignificant (for native speakers). Just like doing taiqi breathing exercises is practice for breathing, but it doesn't mean we will forget how to breathe if we don't do them.

Knowing how to write and recognising a character are not two different things. Knowing how to write and recognising a character both mean that you know all the components in the character and their right place in it. If you can recognise a character you can write it and if you can write a character you can recognise it.

So how come most mainland Chinese people can recognise and read traditional characters, but they can't write them?

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