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Why Learning To Write Chinese Is A Waste Of Time

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Shi Tong

Using the HSK lists is probably the best idea I've heard so far..

Seems to me like some text books teach very strange things first, instead of teaching the basics.. for example, using the text book I bought, it taught me 加拿大 totally out of context. Knowing that 加 is to add, 拿 means to hold and 大 means big is much more useful and teaching 加拿大 first out of context. Why not teach 加油 (to ADD fuel/ oil), 拿着/拿好 (HOLD it/ HOLD well or properly), and 大头 (big head), and then teach the word for Canada later when you already have these building blocks? I always consider Chinese as a mathematical language which add things up which makes sense.. for example, I remember these words 英国 is the land of heroes, 美国 is the beautiful country- because they have things I can relate to them.

And what's the point in learning something like 太极拳??

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Scoobyqueen
Anyway any activity that you do with your brain makes you smarter and the harder the activity is the smarter you can get.

I would be very interested to hear about the scientific evidence for that.

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yonglin

Shi Tong, I think most textbooks start with some simple phrases, such as "Hi, my name is NN and I'm from MM". The textbook probably taught you "Canada" because it's quite common that Chinese learners come from the Canada. I see no problem learning the words 英国 or 英语 before learning 英雄. I sure use 英国 and 英语 more often than I use 英雄. If you learn Chinese starting with the only the simplest and most basic words, it will take a very long time before you will be able to put together a sentence.

I think the word 太极拳 should not be taught to absolute beginners, but I don't see why it should not be taught to continuing beginners. It's actually a very common leisure activity in China, and is similar to learning, say, the word "football" or "baseball" if you're learning English. Surely this is beginner level vocabulary...?

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jbradfor
I would be very interested to hear about the scientific evidence for that.

Agreed!

I've heard that brain activity (e.g. learning a foreign language, crossword puzzles) helps slow the degradation to intelligence that comes with age, but I haven't heard that it actually makes one smarter.

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rezaf

For this memorising technique you need a very clear image of the characters in your mind which means all the elements and and where they are. If you have that image it means that you are able to write it whenever you want. I'm not sure that reading the characters without enough practise in writing can give you that image.

Those HSK books have a very limited range of vocabulary and examples. I mean if the ultimate goal is to learn all the common words a Chinese knows the best way is to learn all the words(=a dictionary). It might take 2 or 3 years but at least you know where you are and when you finish everything.

I would be very interested to hear about the scientific evidence for that.

Brain is a huge instrument ready to serve us and the only problem that we have in using it fully is that the neuron connections are not strong enough. For me the definition of becoming smarter is to enhance those connections and building new ones. By using your brain's functions these neuros eventually arrange themselves in a better way so that the process can be done as fast as possible and even new connection's can be built. Many of our abilities can affect each other because they use similar areas in the brain. It is like building roads between cities. After the connection is built hourses, cars, trucks etc(=our different abilities) all can use the road.

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renzhe
Those HSK books have a very limited range of vocabulary and examples.

It's around 9,000 vocabulary items. That's a good start.

From then on, you can read and acquire vocabulary pretty easily.

I mean, I know that I'm known for advocating rote memorisation at times, but memorising a dictionary is quite extreme. You must be the first person I've heard of who attempted to learn a language like that.

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Glenn

I think you'd be quite a bit beyond the lexical knowledge of a native speaker if you really did learn all the words in the dictionary. For example, I probably only know 1/10th of the more than 300,000 English words in the Webster's American Unabridged. It'd be mighty impressive if you pulled it off, though, that's for sure.

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jbradfor

I'm stilling waiting for the scientific evidence, not bad analogies. Also, don't confuse intelligence with other brain aspects such as skills, abilities and memorizing facts.

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rezaf
It's around 9,000 vocabulary items. That's a good start.

From then on, you can read and acquire vocabulary pretty easily.

I mean, I know that I'm known for advocating rote memorisation at times, but memorising a dictionary is quite extreme. You must be the first person I've heard of who attempted to learn a language like that.

All the HSK vocabulary books that I found were small. Certainly 9000 words is a good start, but I couldn't find that book. Also I don't learn everything in the dictionary. I select the more useful words and interesting ones and their examples and write them down in my notebook. I think I will end up somewhere between 15000 to 18000 words in about 3 years. (Maybe 22000 according to my current speed, I really doubt that an educated native speaker uses more than that unless it is a complicated scientific or literary work)

Edited by rezaf

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rezaf
I'm stilling waiting for the scientific evidence, not bad analogies. Also, don't confuse intelligence with other brain aspects such as skills, abilities and memorizing facts.

What is your definition of being smart?

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Glenn

I'm guessing it's similar to mine: the ability to learn, to solve puzzles/problems, see whole pictures (similarities and differences), and to connect many different pieces of information and get some meaning out of them. Well, maybe that's just a starting point for a definition. Although perhaps that's more a definition of intelligence, which seems to me to be more precise a word than "smart". Anyway, you may find this interesting: Theories of Multiple Intelligence.

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Shi Tong

I'm considering this:

Going through my 3000 character dictionary and writing down all of the characters which have a similar phonetic component (like 埃,唉,挨).. my dictionary also has "2 zi words" and chengyu's for these words, so 埃及 is a good example.

I'll write down the word itself with the most commonly used 2 zi word with it and write down it's pinyin and definition.

Obviously the radical to the left of these words will help me remember what the word is about (like the earth next to 埃, the mouth next to 唉 and the hand next to 挨) the fact the pronunciation matches will help me to remember how to write it and say it.

On subject.. I think the reason I get annoyed by being taught 加拿大 is because of it's completely out of context shoving into the vocab.

If the "lesson" went something like - "A Canadian went to put fuel in his big car, holding the nossle of the fuel pipe he pumped the fuel in and then paid".. I'd have several reasons to remember all of the words involved.

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freipole
I think it's very relevant to the topic. The study found that "brain training games do not improve overall brain power, a scientific study launched by the BBC suggests." This contradicts the claim that writing characters boosts general intellectual abilities.

Writing (or reading for that matter) characters is not a "brain training game". So that BBC study cannot be said to contradict anything character-related.

But still this study actually seems very weird. First of all it's bad science. With the error in measurement that big it does not mean that the method failed, it means that they have no idea how to measure it. Yes, sure, they proved that there wasn't a 100% score increase (was that even possible?). But they can't know if there wasn't a smaller effect, say 3-5% percent. Which brings us to another problem. Read the conditions. Six weeks! Does not that sound like too short a time to expect any significant improvement? But there's more. They "trained" only three times per week. For 10 minutes a day! Do you seriously expect to see an improvement after a learning marathon of ... 3 hours total? Thinly spread over six weeks? If they were studying characters they wouldn't be able to write "thank you, teacher"!

So the only thing that this piece of "TV science" proves is that TV and science don't mix well.

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c_redman

Writing (or reading for that matter) characters is not a "brain training game".

Try Skritter. Learning to write characters is very game-like. Committing that learning to long-term memory using SRS or other another technique is possibly a different cognitive skill, so you may be correct in that sense.

I think that any mentally challenging activity that keeps the mind active is going to be helpful in some way. But I don't feel that there is anything special about writing Chinese characters that makes it better than anything else, including reading those same characters.

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rezaf
But I don't feel that there is anything special about writing Chinese characters that makes it better than anything else,

There are other ways to trigger your visual memory and ability but learning the characters can help you learn Chinese which is more useful than learning any other visual stuff.

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evasiege

I haven't bothered to read all the posts so sorry if I am repeating crap.

Referring to the original topic and to answer whether or not the skill of writing has any use in the real world outside of a classroom environment, I would say not really (or any use that is worth knowing more than 200-300). Writing is arguably the most time consuming thing to learn, and in the end, the least useful. Only in the case of caligraphy do I think has some intrinsic value, but you don't really need to learn how to write do that that either. I would also say that people who can write characters will find legitimate reasons for while its useful and people who can't/don't will find legitimate reasons for why it isn't. That being said, I am in the second group. I basically decided not to learn to write (from memory) about 6 months or so after I started studying the language. I know stroke order, but can only write about 20-30 characters from memory. The other issue, as to whether or not writing helps with reading and recognizing characters is a lot more complex as I think as already been talked about so far. Basically, I've been taking university classes and doing self-study for roughly 3-4 years now and I found that the way the mind works when studying Chinese varies hugely between learners.

It seems a lot of people think that learning to write enhances the ability to read which I think is false (for me anyways). Also, I don't think that only by writing can you learn components of a character. Character recognition is not just seeing the character as a whole, but can also include seeing and understanding its various components such as radicals. Many people I know seem to think that if you can recognize the components when you see them written, then surely you can write them down from memory, which is also false(in my case). In the classes that I took in China, I was the only student not able to write, yet I was able to recognize just as many characters and break them down WITHOUT being able to draw from memory, and we have all been studying the same amount of time. It has nothing to do with intelligence, just different methods and the way your brain functions. For instance, just by looking at it I know the character 爆 bao consists of the radical 火 huo (fire) and 暴 bao (violent) to make (explode). And in 暴 there is 日 ri 共 gong and, actually the one in the middle I don't know. Anyways, ask me tomorrow to write it and I won't know where to start. I personally found that this kind of flash memory isn't really enhanced by learning to write and is what I use mostly to read. It seems to be a completely different function in the brain. Though I do occasionally have trouble recognizing just single out of context characters I must admit, but it's not such a big deal that I would want spend time learning to write. In my opinion, people learn to write because it is fun and interesting, and think it is central understanding Chinese characters. However, if/when they feel it isn't as useful as they thought, will make up excuses to defend the time and effort they put into it.

Its interesting actually because many people (Chinese and other) will ask me once they hear that I can speak some Chinese, if I am able to write, but never do they once ask if I am able to read. For some reason it is natural to think that needing to write a language is central to being able to understand it or allow a person to appreciate it more. I don't think this is true at all.

BTW, I recently took and passed the level 4 HSK without the ability to write from memory at all. I plan on taking the level 5 at the end of the year or early next. Don't think the level 6 is possible because of the writing portion, but we'll see.

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Chinadoog

Learning how to write isn't half as time consuming as learning how to speak, listen or read well.

I think that a lot of people who can't write much Chinese are under the impression that to learn how to write is so time consuming that they just won't ever get around to doing it, while a lot of people who can write have realized that it really isn't that time consuming.

In my opinion, learning how to write is useful and can be enjoyable. By the time you can write 500-600 characters off the top of your head (which is easily doable in less than a month if you can already read a lot of characters), you'll be able to write whatever you want in mostly characters with some pinyin thrown in.

Although learning how to write isn't a necessary part of learning how to speak and read, learning to write is doable with only 10-15 minutes of practice a day and in the end will be worth it.

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aristotle1990

Wouldn't pinyin be quicker and more accurate for taking notes during meetings, unless you're really good at writing characters?

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realmayo
I'm still waiting for the scientific evidence

I wonder how much science scientists would get done if they weren't allowed to speculate or discuss ideas that were unproven.

More on topic: it's probably unnecessary to say that for most people a thorough knowledge of characters is better than a weak knowledge, and that learning to write them should provide that thorough knowledge; I wonder if just learning to recognise them would *inevitably* give the same thoroughness of understanding, but I reckon that with some care and attention it would.

I peaked at learning how to write about 2500 of the things, but I've now stopped testing myself on them (via SRS) so I'm sure my ability is falling: because I so rarely have to actualy write (as opposed to type) the only way I was getting any practice writing was when testing myself using SRS, and the time this began to require each day got too much for me (about 40 minutes). So now I just stick with reading, not writing. I certainly don't regret the initial time I spent learning how to write, though I do wish I'd made the decision to stop practising writing six months earlier than I actually did.

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chinopinyin

Texting and typing are making it harder for Chinese people to remember how to write those characters that took them so much hard work to learn. I found quite interesting this Los Angeles Times article

Do you feel that you tend to forget how to write characters?

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