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Jaxx Morton

Do you think its really worth remembering how to write characters?

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Jaxx Morton

I've talked to my Chinese friends and they tell me that they very rarely write characters because of computers these days.

 

You can take the HSK on a computer now also so that solves that.

 

If you learn to recognize the character but not right is that good enough?

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Demonic_Duck

"Good enough" is very subjective. If it's good enough for your own requirements, then it's good enough. Personally, one of my long-term study goals is to be able to write reasonably well (and ideally, beautifully) by hand, but in the short term I don't place much emphasis on it, because I think improving my oral fluency and listening comprehension are much more important.

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Lu

Depending on what you want to use your Chinese for, you can probably get by without learning how to write by hand. BUT you need to realise that if you never learn to write, you are basically illterate. If you're comfortable with that, fine. But even in today's digital age, situations where you need to handwrite do occasionally come up, and you will feel (and indeed look) stupid in such situations. 'Hi friend, can you write 'happy birthday!' on this birthday card for my girlfriend? I know we just discussion quantum physics and Tang poetry in Chinese, but I don't actually know how to write.'

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anonymoose

As Demonic_Duck said, it's really subjective. I mean, is it really worth learning Chinese at all? It depends on what you want to do with it. Personally, learning to write by hand for me has been indispensable. But on the other hand, I could have chosen a different path in life which would not have required writing by hand, or indeed Chinese language at all.

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Demonic_Duck

It's also worth mentioning that at the very least it's generally a good idea to learn the basic rules of stroke order, so that you can search for unfamiliar characters in your smartphone/tablet dictionary by writing them in by hand.

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Steingletscher

Learning to write forces you to closely look at each character closely and learn all of the details. Such small details, such as a small curve in one stroke (in 贝 and 见 for example), can be only only difference between two characters. Most importantly, you have to start analyzing them and seeing them in terms of their parts (the radical plus the components), which are much simpler rather then taking the character as a whole. Learning the stroke order, which is easier to learn by hand rather then pure memorization without ever using it, takes it a step further by breaking the parts down into mere dots and lines, whose relationship to each other (in a geometrical sense) is revealed in the stroke order (at least that's my opinion). The characters, along with the components and radicals, cease to be taken in as a mass, which makes it easier to absorb new characters. In knowing the stroke order and the structure of the characters, it is way easier to memorize them since you can break them down into their simplest parts. Even characters like the infamous "biang" become a piece of cake to remember, and learning traditional characters as well becomes a lot easier.

 

At least focusing on learning to write the first 1500 or so. By then the stroke order should be intuitive and you are familiar with most of the components that are commonly encountered so as to start seeing patterns in their structure. Unless you come across a very unusual character, you should be able to just look at any character and know how to write it without having to look up the stroke order. I've probably learned over 3,000 characters by now, and though I rarely write out the new ones I learn, it is a piece of cake when I have to.

 

So, yes, learn to write. I find it fun, but maybe that's just me since I also enjoy writing in English.

 

A question I have is, are the results I said above not exclusively from learning to write, but merely what happens after you learn many characters? If so, does learning to write merely speed the process up?

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Shelley

I have to agree with all that has already been said, and I would like to add that learning to write characters is the best way for me to memorise them.

 

Also the biggest plus for me is that I actually really enjoy learning to write characters. This was the main reason I started learning Chinese, I wanted to be able to read and write a completly different language.

 

Try adding writing to your normal study and if you really can't cope then stop, but as has been said you should at least learn the basics.

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kdavid

I've lived in China for more than seven years. I'm also completing an MA in Chinese history at a local university.

 

I can probably count on two hands how many times I've been asked to write something by hand. It just never happens.

 

I actually did learn to write, and could write quite a bit, several years ago. However, as I don't take the time to write by hand daily, I've forgotten it all.

 

So, there's another example of "never" having to write by hand. I imagine this would be much different if I was in a different line of work, however.

 

While I'd love to have beautiful handwriting, it's just not practical (for me).

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OneEye

As a counter example to kdavid, I'm doing an MA in Chinese Philology and Linguistics in Taiwan. My teachers have me copying out 說文解字 by hand. 楷書 and 小篆 for each character (nearly 10,000 of them), plus their 古文 and 籀文 forms when they exist. Mercifully, its sans definitions except for the 540 radicals. I write until my hand hurts every single day. I also take notes by hand in class, write in the margins of books I'm reading, on printouts of the texts I'm researching, etc. I'm taking an interpretation class, and of course I have to take notes during interpretation, too.

 

Essentially, I write by hand all day every day, and I'm glad I learned how to and that I have decent handwriting, because sometimes my classmates have to read what I write. I could just imagine telling people that I'm a grad student in the Chinese department who can't write Chinese.

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tysond

I think writing by hand is nearly as useful as it has ever been for most people.

Writing shopping lists, taking notes, brainstoming on a board, writing your name on an ancient historical site - it's all still done by hand.

I guess writing letters is the big thing not done by hand anymore.  Frankly that died with the telephone.

 

I guess people now spend a lot of time updating their status with their last meal, sending text messages saying "just left the house", writing documents and reports, entering search terms, putting street names into map lookup tools - which skews the scales towards saying the majority of input can be done electronically.  Actually soon the amount of textual input that you are doing may also be dropping as a lot of that stuff is shifting towards video and audio (and location detection and other input methods).  I am quite annoyed that lately it can be hard to find a game strategy guide now that is not a series of videos.

 

In Chinese writing is also uniquely useful for writing down what you are trying to say (often done in the air or writing on your hand).   If you can't write it's quite hard to understand this as stoke order is super important. 

 

Amusingly the other day an older Chinese gentlemen wanted to ask me a question, but seemed to decide I probably couldn't speak Chinese, so he wrote it for me instead.  He wrote the character 美 on his hand (for Meiguo - America) and looked at me questioningly.   I guess his reasoning was that if the foreigners can't speak Chinese I guess maybe they can at least read it :-)

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xuefang

In my opinion one should at least learn to write some basic characters in order to learn the stroke order. I think it's also useful to learn the radicals and how characters are composed of different components. All of this will help you to read and memorize characters. They can also help you to sometimes guess the meaning or the pronunciation of a character.

I personally learned to write the characters also, but haven't written much during the whole 2013 as we weren't required to write our essays by hand anymore. I'm a bit worried I will gradually forget how to write characters and that would be a big shame as I like beautiful handwriting and would like to improve mine.

Also if I'm later going to teach Chinese I really need to be able to write by hand too. I need to find a good way to keep praticing my hand writing, pen on paper.

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lechuan

I learned to write because:

1) It helped me to remember the characters better, especially similar ones.

2) I can quickly use a handwriting IME for new characters that I don't know the pronunciation for

3) Skritter made it easy.

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li3wei1

Traditionally, the Chinese place a higher value on the quality of a person's handwriting than Western cultures. Westerners think of someone's handwriting being sloppy as completely detached from his or her knowledge, up-bringing, 'culturedness'. The Chinese don't. So calligraphy by some famous general will be preserved and given a place of honor because it's assumed to be good, and when talking about someone, the quality of their handwriting will be as legitimate a topic as how they dress, how well-read they are, how much poetry they can recite from memory, etc. A bit like the importance that people in the UK put on accents and spoken grammar. I would not be at all surprised if handwriting plays an important role in hiring decisions.

I don't know if this attitude has changed in recent years with all the computer gadgetry, but I'm sure it lingers on in older people. If your handwriting is messy, or non-existent, they may not say anything, but I suspect they will drop you down a peg or two in their esteem. They'll give you allowances for being a foreigner, but conversely, if a foreigner produces neat, elegant written characters, they'll get double points.

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roddy

Perhaps, but how are you going to engineer a situation when they see your handwriting? "Lovely to meet you, Professor. Hang on, let me just move your tea cup while I jot down a shopping list."

 

There's little point in remembering how to write unless you need to do it regularly - in which case you probably will, as you'll be doing it regularly. I can't see there's a good return on time invested for anyone else. Spend on the time on better listening skills, or job-specific vocab, or.... anything you'll actually use. 

 

I think, unlike say pronunciation, this is something you can afford to skip and worry about later. If you don't learn pronunciation properly, it'll hamper you for the rest of your life, up until the point you decide to fix it, when you'll have a dreadful time eradicating ingrained bad habits. If you don't learn handwriting properly it'll be a minor inconvenience a couple of times a year, but at least you won't be actively making things worse by constantly doing it wrong.

 

There's an argument to be made that tablet and smartphone use makes it easier to maintain a writing habit. I'm curious though as to how those finger / stylus motor skills would translate to actual pen and paper.  

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Ruben von Zwack

I'm just travelling in China and being able to write is a life saver for me. If I weren't able to quickly scribble street names, signs and stuff onto my phone, and have the pronunciation and meaning pop up, I would have to spend I-don't-even-know-how-much longer, asking others for help and directions and pronunciations.

quote li3wei1:

"but I'm sure it lingers on in older people. If your handwriting is messy, or non-existent, they may not say anything, but I suspect they will drop you down a peg or two in their esteem. They'll give you allowances for being a foreigner, but conversely, if a foreigner produces neat, elegant written characters, they'll get double points."

Oh, that would explain why it's been such a conversation starter recently when someone noticed I was writing down something in (neat, cause I'm old-fashioned) Hanzi. As you say, it seems important to middle aged to elderly people.

But now that I am typing this I remember the fact that I can write quickly and neatly and don't ask for pinyin was also quite a big deal to my Chinese teacher in Beijing who was 31.

Not saying the latter is important for everyone, of course.

But being able to write on the phone, I think, is.

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skylee

Re #16, I am all for learning to hand write Chinese. But why is the ability to write essential for imputting in a mobile phone? Handwriting is one way to input characters. The other ways include pinyin input and input by strokes. Is it because you don't know the pinyin of most words?

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Ruben von Zwack

Yes, when the character is completely unknown to me, and I don't know the pronunciation neither.

About the input by strokes, I'm not sure what that means, stroke count? That is neat of course but writing to me just seems faster and Pleco forgives minor writing mistakes.

For example, I was looking at the big display sign in a trian station the other day, and from a distance, you sometimes just can't make out if those are 2 strokes close together or just one.

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skylee

I see.

 

If you use google pinyin input (and also sogou I think) on your phone, it supports input by strokes. There are five types of strokes, heng (H), shu (S), dian (D), pie (P), and anything that bends (Z), and you just have to press the five keys according to the stroke order of the character. When using googel pinyin input on a pc, this can be done by first pressing "u" and then the letters representing the strokes.  Take a look at posts #11 and #12 of this thread -> http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41646-does-using-the-ime-to-type-chinese-have-to-be-a-pita/page-1#comment-314221

 

I have a friend who insists on using handwriting to input in her phone.  She sees it as a practice to help her remember how to write.  I have no objection to that, except that it is quite slow and could be frustrating during a chat.

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Ruben von Zwack

Thanks! I will look into that. For simply writing, like in a chat, I agree that handwriting is too slow and tedious.

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