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realmayo

Can you write lots of Chinese characters?

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realmayo

I know there are lots of people who have great speaking, listening and reading skills, who struggle to hand-write characters from memory -- this includes Chinese people who've fallen out of the habit of writing (versus typing) and consequently forget how to produce certain trickier characters, and foreign learners of Chinese who've realised they don't really need to write by hand and so have opted to use the time saved by not learning writing on other things.

When I started studying reading/writing, I used to test myself on writing new characters and vocab just as much as I tested myself on reading them. I guess I was at around the 2000 character mark when I switched to only testing recognition: I needed to focus on building up my vocabulary, and spending time every day writing out characters and words was too time-consuming. Naturally, I've since forgotten how to write most of those.

But now I'm starting writing again: only individual characters, not words. This is because I'm increasingly finding that I forget or mix up characters when I'm reading. Most commonly, if I see a familiar two-character word, I will recognise it, but if I see one of the characters from that word in different two-character word which I'm not familiar with, I might forget the meaning & pronunciation of that character. These days I can only squeeze an hour or two studying into each day, so I'm not as exposed to Chinese as I was when I was in China.

Given all that, I'm interested in fellow forumites' experiences -- are there plenty of people who've persisted with making sure they can write most of the characters they recognise? Or have most people decided there's not much point? I know this is quite a well-worn topic, but I'm less interested in the argument about whether writing is worthwhile or not, and more just to see if it's unusual to spend time on it these days.

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Olle Linge

My own journey is somewhat similar to yours, I think, but perhaps with one important difference. I switched to only recognition once I had finished all the textbooks in the series I was using at the time, which comprise around 3500 words or something like (not sure about the actual number of individual characters though). I switched to only recognition simply because I read/type Chinese a lot more than I write it by hand. A practical decision, in a way.

However, I did keep practising handwriting those 3500 words. This was a decision based on the idea that "well, I should at least know how to write basic stuff". This seems to have worked quite well until a year or so, when I finally decided that teaching Chinese was a good idea. I think it goes without saying that I have to be able to write Chinese by hand quite well in order to teach Chinese. Still, since I've taught only sporadically and only beginner levels, I haven't launched the handwriting project fully, yet, but I will do quite soon. I also plan on taking more advanced courses taught in Chinese, in which handwritten Chinese will be quite important (exams, for instance).

So, for me handwriting is obviously necessary, but I think that my original approach would have been preferred if teaching Chinese is not one of the goals. I.e., yes, it's okay to focus only on recognition once you've reached a certain level, but I would still argue that it's useful to maintain a core vocabulary which allows you to write everyday words.

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chaiknees

When I started learning Chinese, handwriting was an item of the daily schedule like learning new words, reading the texts in the textbook, practise grammar etc. Every evening after coming home I wrote all new characters of one lesson into a little notebook. As well, while using Anki when the definition was given I also tried to write the answer on paper.

After a few weeks already, after comparing effort (increasing time-consumption) and benefit (of course it is nice to be able to handwrite notes), I decided to give it up. As I am not a full-time student but rather have a full-time job and just learn in my spare time, I had simply no other choice - unfortunately.

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Hugh

I have no choice but to learn to write all characters we cover because my university exams have to be answered in Chinese. I really do think Skritter ( www.skritter.com ) is the best way to keep on top of it.

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skylee

I think the skill of writing Chinese by hand is essential, at least in my work environment. I mean, what can you do when you need to urgently finish a Chinese speech/article when you are stuck in a meeting and have no access to a computer?

When I learnt Chinese (a long time ago), common people did not use computers. So everyone wrote by hand. It was normal, and necessary. I now usually type so I can no longer write as much as I used to (my hand gets tired easily, and I cannot recall how to write some of the characters, and the handwriting gets ugly). But many people I know still cannot / do not type in Chinese (the reasons could be discussed in another thread), so they still need to write whenever they need to communicate in writing (or if they can choose they type in English).

PS - I wonder, is it true that there are still (remote) places in China where computers are not as common as in bigger cities and people do need to write?

PS2 - My apologies if this post is boring / irrelevant. I note that as I am not a Chinese learner my posts can be irrelevant sometimes.

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johnk

I spend about a hour a day writing characters. I am not so sure about how useful it is, I got into the habit because I found it relaxing. I guess it takes all kinds. :D .

There have been a few times in China when people did not understand me speaking but I could write what I wanted to say.

I am not sure if that is more of a reflection on my speaking ability or on my writing ability. But it sometimes caused a bit of a stir. :-?

The teachers at the school I attended seemed to think I was pretty unusual too.

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lansu

哦, Skylee, 可别那么谦虚啊, I've read hundreds of your posts, never bored, always enlightened ....

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Ludens

I'm not sure how useful my reply will be, because I haven't even hit the 2000 characters mark, but I learn to write every character I learn, by writing down every English to Chinese SRS-card. I don't feel I really know a word unless I can write it from memory.

I'm sure this makes my recognition of the characters stronger too, but I'm also sure I could have learned a lot more words and characters if I only focussed on recognition.

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Scoobyqueen

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this realmayo.

My reasons are: I would like to be able to take notes or quote when someone says something in meetings or at conferences. This is most efficient done in the language in which the messages are delivered (regardless of the language that is spoken). Pinyin to me is not the same. It has to be hanzi. I have therefore been putting myself in situations closest to those I need in real life when learning to write. For example, I will be listening to news readings and then try and write down word for word what is being said. Over time this has turned into note taking so that you don't need to write down every single word. however, writing down every single word in the beginning although frustrating has paid off. I have found this a useful way of learning but with somewhat slow progress. Making the same mistakes over and over again also reinforces the learning - I mean you get tired of getting the same word wrong again and again and that actually helps remember it. It may seem odd but over time it seems as if one almost develop a personal relationship with each character.

I find it is better to to write a full sentence or a word rather than individual characters as it provides context plus knowing one hanzi of a word and not the other is sometimes not useful.

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Meng Lelan
I think it goes without saying that I have to be able to write Chinese by hand quite well in order to teach Chinese.

Yes.

I am applying to a master's program in Chinese Pedagogy and have to be able to write characters. I also had to take a written proficiency exam to get my teacher's certificate in Texas and computers are not allowed at all for that exam, just pen and paper. Which is why I put in at least 30 minutes a day on Skritter just to keep up with writing.

But many people I know still cannot / do not type in Chinese

Same for me, some of my Chinese friends are deaf and never learned how to type in Chinese. I'm not going to go into a long discussion of deaf education in China, but schools for the deaf in our generation focused on basic skills of reading, (hand)writing, and math and did not have the resources to teach how to input Chinese in computers.

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Brian US

My handwriting is almost non existent, so I'm grateful the new HSK test may be done on a computer. I have the mindset of learning quantity over quality. I know it will hurt me in the long run, but taking shortcuts hurts so good.

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MBL

Brian, are you sure the new HSK test may be done on a computer? I really wish this to be true, where did you read that?

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Brian US

My friend took the HSK last semester in Beijing with a computer. The downfall is you can't go back like you can in the written one. I don't know the details, so it might be location dependent.

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rezaf
Given all that, I'm interested in fellow forumites' experiences -- are there plenty of people who've persisted with making sure they can write most of the characters they recognise? Or have most people decided there's not much point?

I do a lot of handwriting everyday first of all because I need to write lots of things for my exams, notes, essays, reports,... , and secondly because it helps me in memorizing and studying my textbooks.

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Silent
I have the mindset of learning quantity over quality. I know it will hurt me in the long run, but taking shortcuts hurts so good.

It of course depends on your level and situation. I feel however that taking shortcuts is not necessarily hurting progress in the long run. My Chinese skills are very unbalanced because of short-cuts! Had I not taken shortcuts I most likely would have 'dropped out'. The way I study gives me very imbalanced skills, but if gives me a sense of progress and as a consequence motivation. For Chinese there is a fairly loose connection between oral and written skills compared to other languages. Consequently I believe that concentrating on one and later adding the other doesn't hurt that much. It surely hurts less than dropping out:)

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Olle Linge
I am applying to a master's program in Chinese Pedagogy and have to be able to write characters. I also had to take a written proficiency exam to get my teacher's certificate in Texas and computers are not allowed at all for that exam, just pen and paper. Which is why I put in at least 30 minutes a day on Skritter just to keep up with writing.

I'm also planning to apply for a master's program taught in Chinese and will be required to write a lot in Chinese. Practising writing individual characters is of course important, but have you found any other strategy to be useful? I mean, recalling individual characters is one thing, but not very similar to writing answers on an exam. I mean, I can come up with a lot of methods (summarising articles, taking notes, transcribing radio shows, writing letters, etc.), I was just wondering if you've tried anything you found particularly useful/fun/stimulating?

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lansu

I often write letters to my daughter and send them to her as e-mail attachments ...

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Ogräs

I don't know that many characters yet but already feel that handwriting is something I don't want to skip, I doesn't really matter to me if I forget how to write some characters from time to time but I have to write them to be able to really memorize them, otherwise I just end up confusing characters with each other (even if they don't really have anything in common more than that they look a little bit alike) and I forget them so much easier. On top of that I really love to write and I prefer quality over quantity when I study even if it's so tempting to move forward faster but then I know I'm just going to forget everything and have to re-learn later.

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jbradfor

I think my experience was similar to realmayo's and Snigel's.

When I first started learning, I had to learn how to write as well. This was probably up to about 1000 characters. Then I went on my 15 year break from learning Chinese, and when I picked it back up, I had forgotten how to write pretty much everything except 一 二 三, and I didn't try to learn to write. Now that I'm at (maybe) 3500-4000 words, I do find some sets of characters get combined in my mind, and learning to write would probably help me distinguish them. However, at this point I don't think it would be worth the time, so I'm not. Maybe in a couple years I might take up the pencil again, but it would be only for fun and personal satisfaction.

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Meng Lelan

I was just wondering if you've tried anything you found particularly useful/fun/stimulating?

To Chinese torture myself, I memorize a paragraph in Chinese taken from a text, any text, and handwrite it out character by character from memory. It is unuseful, unfun, and unstimulating, but it works for me like it has ever since 1986.

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