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Do I need to learn the writing system?


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ian.harris1

 I've learned all of the characters I know so far by getting a mental image of the characters on my screen In my memorization studies. However, I realize that I don't have any knowledge of the characters components or how to write them. Should I incorporate the writing system in memorization. P.S I only know a hundred or more characters

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alantin

Learning the 200 radicals will make remembering and making sense of them a lot easier and they'll stick better when you see two or three different components instead of 10 random squiggles. https://hsk.academy/en/learn/the-chinese-radicals

 

So yes, I warmly recommend learning how the characters work. You'll run into trouble otherwise at some point with similar looking characters.

I also recommend a systematic approach for learning the characters so that you keep building on previous knowledge. See Heisig Remembering the Hanzi and/or Mandarin Blueprint and see how like them.

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mungouk

Personally I'm strongly against this idea of "learn the radicals" first, which has little value today... this goes back to when learners had to use paper dictionaries, and learning radicals was a pre-requisite to being able to look up words in dictionaries that are arranged in that way. These days we're all using electronic dictionaries (apps, or web-based) which mean you can input characters or whole words using pinyin, drawing on a screen, or whatever.

 

I would also argue that it's not really necessary to learn how to write characters, but rather focus on reading them. Many might disagree.

 

On the other hand, it's much more useful to focus on learning about components (which are not necessarily radicals, although they could be), including thinking about which components are sound-components, meaning-components, which are both, and which are neither.

 

Plus, remember that learning Chinese isn't about memorising X-hundred characters... it's about learning about how the language (and the culture) works.

 

 

 

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Shelley

I would agree that its not necessary to memorise the radicals but I do think you should be familiar with them and how the whole radical thing works as they can be a good clue to meaning or sound.

I would strongly suggest you learn to write characters, this is very good to aid memorising them. There is a thing called "muscle memory" which is very useful.
Once you have learnt a couple of hundred I found it got easier to learn more, I don't focus on being able to write them all from memory all of the time but just knowing how the writing system works helps round out your knowledge.

 

My personal opinion is that if you can't write but can speak, understand and read you are missing the one thing to make you actually fluent in the language. I found learning to write is fun, informative and useful.

There is a lot out there to help, many apps, textbooks and more so just pick one or two and if you like them stay with it. I would disagree with using a mnemonic method such as Heisig becuase you are just putting another layer of unnecessary stuff between you and the final goal. Just start writing, use something like Hanzi Grids https://www.hanzigrids.com/ and a decent text book with stroke order and see how you get on.

Pleco has stroke order and animations, it should be in every Chinese student's toolbox so if you don't have it - get it. https://www.pleco.com/

I think you might just find writing is enjoyable.😊

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Demonic_Duck

 

1 hour ago, Shelley said:

I would agree that its not necessary to memorise the radicals but I do think you should be familiar with them and how the whole radical thing works as they can be a good clue to meaning or sound.

 

It seems like you're referring to sound and meaning components, rather than radicals. The list @alantin posted is specifically of radicals, so I wouldn't recommend it as a learning resource unless you're interested in ways of indexing old dictionaries.

 

This article is a good explanation of the difference: https://www.outlier-linguistics.com/blogs/chinese/getting-radical-about-radicals

 

As for learning to handwrite, I do think it's worthwhile to learn at least the basics (stroke order rules + the most common few hundred characters), but you can stop prioritizing it at a certain level if you're not bothered about being able to handwrite for its own sake or to take exams etc. The most common computer-aided input methods are basically Pinyin + recognition, handwriting is a completely separate skill.

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alantin
1 hour ago, Demonic_Duck said:

I wouldn't recommend it as a learning resource unless you're interested in ways of indexing old dictionaries

 

Thanks!! 😂

Radicals have served me well, but then again I DID begin my journey with the Chinese characters with a paper dictionary. 😂

The point being that learning how the different components come together to make up a character is useful and helps in remembering them. I personally haven't made much effort to learn sound and meaning components. Everything has meaning and knowing the meanings is, at least for me, helpful for remembering the characters. Sound is trickier and can easily have distorted over a millennia, and in case of Japanese also when loaned from one language to the other, so I mostly trust in exposure in remembering the sounds. Often it is quite apparent which component lends the sound though.

 

I also wouldn't recommend sticking only to a radical list or a sound/meaning component list in order to learn the components. Heisig method/list for example is especially geared towards memorizing the characters and not to explain or index them.

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Demonic_Duck
3 hours ago, alantin said:

Everything has meaning and knowing the meanings is, at least for me, helpful for remembering the characters.

 

Yeah it's possible you can still use the meaning of sound or empty components as mnemonic devices. For example, lots of people learn 美 as a beautiful sheep that is big, even though its true etymology is a person (written like 大) wearing a beautiful headdress (written like 羊).

 

Even if using meanings of non-meaning components as a mnemonic, it's often useful to know where it's an etymological connection and where it's not, as this helps you spot patterns in how characters are constructed. It's possible that learning 吗、妈、码 as mouth-horse, feminine-horse, stone-horse will be helpful, but it's probably much more helpful to remember them as mouth-ma, feminine-ma, stone-ma. Not necessarily either-or, you can do both if you find it helps.

 

3 hours ago, alantin said:

Sound is trickier and can easily have distorted over a millennia,

 

It's true that sound distorts, but meaning does to an equal extent and with equal frequency. 大 originally meant "adult human", a meaning that is completely lost to modern Mandarin Chinese. Characters are also frequently loaned based on sound alone, with no regard to meaning at all. 南 was originally a picture of a musical instrument, nothing to do with "south", but the two words were pronounced similarly so it got loaned*.

 

3 hours ago, alantin said:

in case of Japanese also when loaned from one language to the other

 

Depending on whether it's the On or Kun reading, it might be closely related or not related at all. The Kun readings aren't distortions of the On readings, they're native Japanese words that got loaned Kanji based on meaning and completely ignoring the original sound. I guess a similar process has probably (?) happened in Chinese too, but only very rarely, and I couldn't confidently give an example — maybe something like 率 being both shuài and lǜ?

 

*None of this stopped me from originally learning 南 as a grave (with a cross on top) for a sheep that lost its hind legs in the south.

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alantin
46 minutes ago, Demonic_Duck said:

The Kun readings aren't distortions of the On readings, they're native Japanese words that got loaned Kanji based on meaning and completely ignoring the original sound.


I was referring to the on-readings. The characters weren’t imported all at once but the process took hundreds of years during which both languages kept evolving. As a result some modern on-readings are very close to the modern Chinese readings while others require a lot of imagination to see any resemblance. I find the former very helpful for remembering character readings while the latter not so much.

 

consider for exampke a word like 电话/電話 (dian4hua4/denwa) in which both use Japanese on-readings that are very close in sound to the Chinese reading. Interesting trivia: in Chinese the word itself is actually a loan word from Japanese. Or the Japanese word 丈夫 (joubu) which in chinese is read ”zhang4fu”. The sounds have similarity but it is not as apparent.

 

Others off the top of my head

内容 (nei4rong2/naiyou)

状况 (zhung4kuang4/joukyou)

非常 (fei1chang2/hijou)

 

 

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mungouk
21 hours ago, alantin said:

Everything has meaning and knowing the meanings is, at least for me, helpful for remembering the characters.

 

And then there are hanzi like this, which always trip me up... (But thanks to Outlier Linguistics, for the useful explanations, I'm getting there.)

 

 

(I always look at this and think: "Hmm, dog plus some kind of creepy-crawly thing...".  WRONG.)

 

 

Spoiler

tmp.thumb.png.b4e947fa05e3af736acb3a74c7e374f1.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

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mungouk

btw @Demonic_Duck and @alantin — I just started studying Japanese again (for the third time), so any discussion of kun'yomi vs on'yomi pronunciation of Hanzi would be really interesting.... maybe worth starting a new thread on that?  I'm particularly interested in the process of learning Kanji if you already speak Chinese (and have been hassling my own Chinese Japanophile students about this!). 

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alantin

@mungouk,
Sure! Please, make a thread!

Although my situation is reverse to yours; learning Chinese while already speaking Japanese. And my reading Japanese is pretty much as rusty as it can be as it's already a decade since I did any serious study of the written Japanese and my immediate needs have always emphasized spoken language.

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amytheorangutan
On 6/5/2021 at 5:16 AM, ian.harris1 said:

I've learned all of the characters I know so far by getting a mental image of the characters on my screen In my memorization studies. However, I realize that I don't have any knowledge of the characters components or how to write them. Should I incorporate the writing system in memorization. P.S I only know a hundred or more characters

I didn't learn components or how to write them deliberately when I started. I still don't know how to handwrite but I recognise quite a few characters now maybe around 1800-2000 ish. I just started randomly and then after learning a few hundred, I started to see the pattern. I think if you just started and only have a vague idea of how Chinese characters work, I highly recommend you watch these 4 videos called Chinese Characters Explained 1-4 in my personal opinion it is very useful to know what you're dealing with in the big picture and will help you choose what kind of method you want to use to memorise the characters in the long run. If you can't be bothered watching all 4 videos, just watch the 4th video Chinese Characters Explained Part 4: How most characters work but I think it's worth it to watch all 4. 

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mungouk
19 hours ago, mungouk said:

I'm particularly interested in the process of learning Kanji if you already speak Chinese (and have been hassling my own Chinese Japanophile students about this!). 

 

OK a new thread on Learning Chinese before/after/at the same time as Japanese as an L2 is over here:

 

 https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/61284-learning-chinese-beforeafterat-the-same-time-as-japanese-as-an-l2/

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On 6/5/2021 at 6:42 PM, Demonic_Duck said:

As for learning to handwrite, I do think it's worthwhile to learn at least the basics (stroke order rules + the most common few hundred characters), but you can stop prioritizing it at a certain level if you're not bothered about being able to handwrite for its own sake or to take exams etc.

I agree with this. If you don't learn to write at all, you're functionally half-illiterate, and you don't learn a language to become illiterate in it. Learn at least a few hundred characters, the stroke order rules, and the main radicals and components, and you get a lot more fluent in reading as well, because you then understand what's going on with the characters and why they consist of this or that radical+component. And you should at the very least know how to write your own name and address, birthday greetings, and other such things, even if you're not interested in being able to hand-write a whole essay.

 

So yes, if you want to learn Chinese, you need to learn to write the characters.

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Insectosaurus
5 hours ago, Lu said:

If you don't learn to write at all, you're functionally half-illiterate, and you don't learn a language to become illiterate in it.

 

While I agree few have illiteracy as their primary target for learning a language, there are a huge number of language learners that really don't need writing. At all. I'm one of them. I will probably learn to write in the end and I am working a bit on it, but do I need it? Probably not. The only reason I'm practicing writing is to be able to read historical handwriting, and I think many learners will never need to do that.

 

5 hours ago, Lu said:

And you should at the very least know how to write your own name and address, birthday greetings, and other such things

 

And to whom am I going to send it? Language learners don't all live in a Chinese speaking society.

 

5 hours ago, Lu said:

So yes, if you want to learn Chinese, you need to learn to write the characters.

 

Are you suggesting native speakers who can't write, but read and speak, don't know their own language? Or does it only apply to foreigners? I think perfection the only acceptable long term goal is an unhealthy view of language learning. I have no problem whatsoever recognizing characters while reading novels, and yet I can't write them down even if someone held a gun to my head.

 

Now, if all you are saying is "If you want to live in China, learning to write might be a good thing", I have no problems with that.

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NanJingDongLu
10 minutes ago, Insectosaurus said:

Now, if all you are saying is "If you want to live in China, learning to write might be a good thing", I have no problems with that.

I live in England, and I rarely handwrite in English. I don't even remember the last time I bought a pen.

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Insectosaurus
5 minutes ago, NanJingDongLu said:

I live in England, and I rarely handwrite in English. I don't even remember the last time I bought a pen.

 

Which is why I said it "might" be a good thing. 😉

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NanJingDongLu

I only say that to support your claim that handwriting proficiency isn't important.

 

Personally, I believe that you need to write characters at first so that you understand how they work which will help with being able to identify differences in similar characters. This is because you will be able to more easily identify why a Chinese reader would think those characters are different. However, you don't need to be able to remember the stroke order (or even how to write) every character you learn as you progress.

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The point that muscle memory helps you to recall characters is very relevant... but for me, I just found it slowed down my learning too much.

 

Like others have mentioned, I hardly ever write in my mother tongue using a pen any more.  So it doesn't seem worthwhile spending so much extra time on something like stroke order when I could be learning to write using pinyin IMEs instead, and making better use of my time in reading, speaking and listening.

 

For me, understanding "how characters work" is about sound components, meaning components and composition rather than how you actually write them with a brush or a pen.

 

That said: I've just signed up for a calligraphy class 😜 

 

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NanJingDongLu
7 minutes ago, mungouk said:

For me, understanding "how characters work" is about sound components, meaning components and composition rather than how you actually write them with a brush or a pen.

For me, learning radicals is secondary to learning what is on the top half of this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stroke_(CJK_character)

 

If you don't know that there are only 6 possible ways to move your pen/brush in chinese, and aren't familiar with the most common combinations of these strokes, it's hard to get a feel for how Chinese characters work. It's why Chinese character tattoos done by non-Chinese speaking tattoo artists sometimes look so awful.

 

Then again, you're right that knowing the most popular radicals is very helpful for remembering which character is which, such as for words like 渴 and 喝.

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