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TheWind

Considering not learning to write --- looking for input

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li3wei1

As I said above, teaching is an area where you often have to write on a whiteboard, and you don't necessarily know what you're going to write in advance. Many business meetings and/or presentations probably involve similar situations, where you may want to get up and illustrate something, and add words here and there. Technology may catch up and allow us to somehow do this with pinyin or voice recognition, but not yet. Writing in margins, on post-it notes, on sticky labels, on bottles and jars, or even the chalkboards in restaurants and greengrocers. Filling out forms. Then there are all the times that you hear a name, and it's a homonym, and you ask 'which Wang', and they whip out their hand and sketch the character with their finger. There may be work-arounds for some of these, but they'll involve tech, electricity, and non-portability. Maybe there's a market for a very small printer that attaches to a mobile phone and spits out small sticky notes printed with chinese characters.

 

So it's probably not the main requirement of any job, but it comes in really handy (sorry) for quite a few.

 

I myself have put handwriting on hold in favor of reading, for now, because I don't plan on getting a job in China anytime soon, but for teaching, I make sure I can write all the characters that I might want to put up on the board.

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LaoDing

Good handwriting is the mark of literacy and learning in China, of a cultured person, and even working class people show great skill in 汉字. My handwriting is horrible even in English, my native tongue, and twice as worse in Chinese, though I know all the strokes, even a lot of cursive ones. But my clumsiness and lack of balance in writing has always been a source of embarrassment to me. I wish I could write 'normally' but after a couple of decades I'm afraid it's probably a lost cause.

But sometimes I do find Chinese people who write more or less as poorly as me- ha!

The computer destroyed much of my hand writing memory, and I'm now working hard to get it back again. One thing that helps is using a trackpad instead of pinyin, but when I'm in a hurry I go back to typing. I think most Chinese people prefer typing pinyin over the trackpad as well, but I'm not sure. I'm curious as to how it's affecting their writing skills. 

Aside from filling out forms, obviously you can get by in modern China comfortably without handwriting and just using some digital device like a cell phone. But there's an elegance and gracefulness to writing by hand that just can't be replaced. And knowing how to write really impresses and pleases almost any Chinese person you'll meet. And after all, it really only boils down to about 300 radicals, a lot of which are just variants or composites of others.加油,加油!(written on trackpad)

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querido

Just info: All of the few Chinese people I know personally write into touchscreens. Some of them also know a shape-based system such as Cangjie. None of them can type a Romanization. 

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stapler

Of the Chinese people I know under 35, all of them use pinyin input. Everyone I know over 35 tries (and often fails) to use handwriting input (borderline illiterate in terms of writing , certainly don't understand pinyin)

 

I've never seen a Chinese person as impressed that I can write characters as they are when they see I can use chopsticks.

 

Most Chinese university students seems to have trouble handwriting characters that aren't particularly common. From memory the last failure I saw was a student from Beida forget how to write 詭

 

I practice handwriting because I enjoy it. It's one of my favourite "learning Chinese" activities. But I definitely acknowledge it's not really useful in the modern world - particularly knowing more than the basic characters. If I didn't enjoy it I'd quickly cut it from my routine.

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GotJack

I have been learning Chinese for around 3 years and am really pleased with my progress. I made the decision at the beginning to completely ignore reading and writing. After about a 1 year, it became really frustrating to not be able to read, because I couldn't text people or read basic messages. As such I decided to start learning characters so as to read them (note still not putting any energy into writing). At this stage my reading is as good as my spoken and listening. Also I can easily write on any mobile phone or computer because i can input the pinyin and choose the character. I have no regrets at all in never learning to write, and it has never once has adverse effects for me. I personally believe it to be a really ineffective form of learning, and have had contact with many people who are able to write well, but struggle with conversation and I often consider this to be a really sad state of affairs. 

 

So in summary I would actively encourage you to not learn writing. I think unless you want to get a job that specifically is based on your mandarin (ie Chinese teacher or Translator) then it really is a highly inefficient use of time and energy that is much better grappling with other things.

 

Essentially I think you need to make the personal equation in your head, is it worth the amount of time for the amount of use you can garner from writing in the future. For me personally that equation was no way, and my time investment was better spend in vocab, grammer learning etc. Is the occasional need to write on a whiteboard, or fill out a form in Chinese worth spending many many hours? thats for you to decide

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AdamD

Of the Chinese people I know under 35, all of them use pinyin input. Everyone I know over 35 tries (and often fails) to use handwriting input (borderline illiterate in terms of writing , certainly don't understand pinyin)

This is incredible. Last year on a Taiwan 高鐵, a local woman wanted to write text on my phone. I gave her the pinyin and zhuyin keyboards but she had no idea what to do. I opened Pleco HWR and it took her aaaaaages to write a couple of characters.

Most Chinese university students seems to have trouble handwriting characters that aren't particularly common. From memory the last failure I saw was a student from Beida forget how to write 詭

It's easy for learners like us to forget that this can happen. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen an educated first-language Chinese speaker rewrite a character because they got something wrong the first time, even if it's just one or two strokes going the wrong way.

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somethingfunny

Let's not forget that for every Chinese person who mixes up 带 and 代, or can't remember the difference between 买 and 卖, there are just as many native English speakers mixing up "your" and "you're" and not being able to spell "indefinately".

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LaoDing

I've never seen a Chinese person as impressed that I can write characters as they are when they see I can use chopsticks.

 

Really? No matter how crappy I write Chinese people always say to me, "Wow! You can write Chinese!" They're surprised, impressed, etc. 

Being a foreigner you're just going to get the stupid chopsticks compliment from time to time. I don't believe it's meant to be sarcastic, although It is racist/ethnocentric. Then again, where in this world is there no racism? Anyway, the poster's remark seems like a cynical thing to say to me.

I guess my point is that learning to write Chinese is a huge challenge and something you can be proud of having achieved. Chinese people, for the most part in my own experience, tend to be very encouraging.

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li3wei1
and not being able to spell "indefinately".

 

Yeah, I keep spelling it 'indefinitely'. :conf

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somethingfunny

Shame on you, try being less "in-defiant" in the future.

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realmayo
for every Chinese person who mixes up 带 and 代, or can't remember the difference between 买 and 卖, there are just as many native English speakers mixing up "your" and "you're"

 

I think the above is true for mixing up 的、得、地. But the cliched phenomenon of Beida graduates being unable to write "sneeze" in Chinese or language professors forgetting how to write equally simple words on a blackboard in front of a full class .. this is a feature of Chinese characters that is absent in abc languages.

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lips

Forgetting how to write uncommon or seldom-used Chinese characters is no different from forgetting how to spell uncommon or seldom-used English words.

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querido

This thread shares a problem with our many infamous threads about "fluency": each person posts with an implied "domain of discourse" in mind without stating it explicitly. Anyone interested (in case you don't already know)?

 

From Boole's definition of "domain of discourse", snipped from Wikipedia, made relevant with my comments in square brackets:

 

"In every discourse, whether of the mind conversing with its own thoughts, or of the individual in his intercourse with others, there is an assumed or expressed limit within which the subjects of its operation are confined. The most unfettered discourse is that in which the words we use are understood in the widest possible application, and for them the limits of discourse are co-extensive with those of the universe itself ["I want to remember how to write every hanzi that has ever existed" or "I want to have fluent use of every possible utterance in the language"]. But more usually we confine ourselves to a less spacious field ["some practical number that I want to remember how to write" or "I want to be fluent with everything spoken in NPCR 1"]".

 

Practical applications (domain of discourse in square brackets):

Even realmayo, who made the best arguments "against" (so to speak), said: "For me, best would have been to memorise the writing for [a few hundred, maybe 1000], and hold off memorising any more until I was happily reading novels and newspapers every day". And as eddyf said: "Learning to write by hand [(those characters) you already know how to read] isn't really that hard in my experience." And I, who like realmayo regret letting my skills get unbalanced in the past, could say as I already have: "I'm focused on listening comprehension and conversation, and I find that my progress is so slow that learning to write [only those words with which I already have some conversational fluency] is, comparatively, really easy. 

 

I'll restate what I said one last time: If I let my rate of progress in the hardest skill for me, listening and conversation, act as a speed limit, then I find that learning to write [those words] keeps up easily, almost incidentally. And that is my own decision in this matter. Incidentally, since I started over in Cantonese (traditional characters and some special "Cantonese" characters) this number of words for me is somewhere within realmayo's agreed practical limits [a few hundred, maybe 1000], see? Although I posted "for" and he posted "against" (so to speak), we both agree that this is a practical number! (And I think we both warn against too many too soon for the same reason - your skills will get unbalanced.)

 

So, let the original poster pick a number that seems "worth it" (a question which no one else can answer for him/her) (hint: it WILL be somewhere between "none of them" and "all of them"). Then he/she will have already answered the question "Is it worth it to me to learn to handwrite [that number]?".

By the way, TheWind, when I saw that you wrote "if I'm going to learn it then I should learn it right" in bold italics, I can imagine how you feel about that. But while you could choose [none of them] you would still learn some along the way (as you said you already have), and if you choose [all of them] you'll never get there. So you WILL make a practical compromise, despite yourself. Good luck. :-)

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TheWind

Wow, I log on this morning and I have 40 notifications! It'll take me some time to read these when I'm not so busy. thanks everyone. 

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Video Vocabulary

So I've been studying for about 1.5 years and am at a pretty decent level, that is except for my writing. I can type it and read it, but I have trouble hand writing it.

I used to struggle with handwriting just like you when I was using Pinyin keyboard, once I've deleted Pinyin keyboard and moved to 笔画 keyboard on my phone and 五笔 keyboard on my computer I stopped forgetting 汉字。

Deleting Pinyin keyboard might resolve your issue as well ))

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realmayo

Forgetting how to write uncommon or seldom-used Chinese characters is no different from forgetting how to spell uncommon or seldom-used English words.

 

 

Really? Character-based writing is fairly different from abc-based writing. So why is it a surprise that there are differences?

 

From the classic text http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html

 

 

One could say that Chinese is phonetic in the way that sex is aerobic: technically so, but in practical use not the most salient thing about it. Furthermore, this phonetic aspect of the language doesn't really become very useful until you've learned a few hundred characters, and even when you've learned two thousand, the feeble phoneticity of Chinese will never provide you with the constant memory prod that the phonetic quality of English does.

 

Which means that often you just completely forget how to write a character. Period. If there is no obvious semantic clue in the radical, and no helpful phonetic component somewhere in the character, you're just sunk. And you're sunk whether your native language is Chinese or not; contrary to popular myth, Chinese people are not born with the ability to memorize arbitrary squiggles. In fact, one of the most gratifying experiences a foreign student of Chinese can have is to see a native speaker come up a complete blank when called upon to write the characters for some relatively common word. You feel an enormous sense of vindication and relief to see a native speaker experience the exact same difficulty you experience every day.

 

This is such a gratifying experience, in fact, that I have actually kept a list of characters that I have observed Chinese people forget how to write. (A sick, obsessive activity, I know.) I have seen highly literate Chinese people forget how to write certain characters in common words like "tin can", "knee", "screwdriver", "snap" (as in "to snap one's fingers"), "elbow", "ginger", "cushion", "firecracker", and so on. And when I say "forget", I mean that they often cannot even put the first stroke down on the paper. Can you imagine a well-educated native English speaker totally forgetting how to write a word like "knee" or "tin can"? Or even a rarely-seen word like "scabbard" or "ragamuffin"? I was once at a luncheon with three Ph.D. students in the Chinese Department at Peking University, all native Chinese (one from Hong Kong). I happened to have a cold that day, and was trying to write a brief note to a friend canceling an appointment that day. I found that I couldn't remember how to write the character , as in da penti 打喷嚔 "to sneeze". I asked my three friends how to write the character, and to my surprise, all three of them simply shrugged in sheepish embarrassment. Not one of them could correctly produce the character. Now, Peking University is usually considered the "Harvard of China". Can you imagine three Ph.D. students in English at Harvard forgetting how to write the English word "sneeze"?? Yet this state of affairs is by no means uncommon in China. English is simply orders of magnitude easier to write and remember. No matter how low-frequency the word is, or how unorthodox the spelling, the English speaker can always come up with something, simply because there has to be some correspondence between sound and spelling. One might forget whether "abracadabra" is hyphenated or not, or get the last few letters wrong on "rhinoceros", but even the poorest of spellers can make a reasonable stab at almost anything. By contrast, often even the most well-educated Chinese have no recourse but to throw up their hands and ask someone else in the room how to write some particularly elusive character.

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Flickserve

Really? Character-based writing is fairly different from abc-based writing. So why is it a surprise that there are differences?

From the classic text http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html

nothing wrong with that is there? I think its rather naive to expect Chinese writing to be as easy as English or French. OK, so forgetting words happens to more commonly used words. Not unexpected if you have a different system.

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realmayo

I agree completely. Native speakers of Chinese forget how to write Chinese words in a way which doesn't happen to native speakers of English writing English words. Pointing that out isn't the same as advocating that the Chinese writing system be abolished, nor should it mean people go all defensive or relativist.

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lips

But you'd be hard-pressed to find a a Chinese writing the equivalence of "definitely" wrong, or the contraction of "you are" wrong or writing "lose" wrong.

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