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is writing characters really necessary to learn the language?


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I have been studying for a few years but find writing characters difficult. With modern technology I never hand write my native language. What do experts say on this? Can I learn the characters by reading? Or using my phone or computer to create characters? Thanks.

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Yes, you can learn characters without ever writing them, either on computers or by handwriting.  Just as you can learn to read without speaking or learn to speak without reading.


I don't think I could write even the simplest words legibly in Chinese, but I can read at a level halfway between HSK 4 and HSK 5.

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this depends on what you mean by learning characters and what you want to do with the language.


In my opinion handwriting is not required but it is helpful for remembering words and nuances between them. I find that when I only focused on reading, my recollection of the characters would be more vague also when typing them and I would rely on the context more in recognizing them instead of relying on the character itself. Now that I’m writing them by hand, I have a firmer grasp of them and it has also helped me better learn words and sentence patterns (grammar), and also to notice typos when the IME gives me wrong characters.


As a side note, I only practice writing sentences and not individual characters outside of context.

You can learn to speak without learning to read, but illiterate people rarely have very large vocabularies. Reading, writing, listening and speaking reinforce each other and writing, especially by hand, is the most deliberate output exercise there is. It activates your passive vocabulary gained from listening and reading and so it also helps your speaking.


However, studying handwriting also requires significant time investment, so it may make sense to invest that time on the other skills if you feel that it is something not that important to you. And typing is also a very good substitute, though it does not force you to pay attention in the same way as handwriting, as the IME guesses the characters for you.


In summary, I think you can skip writing if it isn’t something you need that much and by reading a lot of content you will learn to recognize the characters in context, but developing a good feel for the differences in similar characters may be more difficult or take longer. Handwriting also has it advantages, but it does require significant effort.

Just don’t confuse you disliking it with it not being useful. There seems to be lots of people out there arguing that the tones aren’t important or handwriting doesn’t matter etc., while what they actually are saying is that they don’t want to put effort into them for whatever reason. 😅

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I've been practicing writing for years and filled up workbook upon workbook then at one point realized that I preferred to use the limited study time to improve the other skills. 

I do think however that a basic understanding of how to write characters and get the right stroke order is useful. I still use the writing tab on Pleco as the main way to look up characters I don't know. 


I recently watched this video on youtube with tips from this blogger, her spoken Mandarin is impressive and she advises not to "waste time" learning to write characters (minute 2:36 if you can't be bothered watching the whole thing):


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I learned handwriting mostly by writing down example sentences in a notebook while studying vocabulary.  I didn't think of learning handwriting as a separate task---it's what I used to learn other aspects.


Handwriting is used for making notes, dictation exercises, doing homework, etc.  It helps you pay attention to character components, and at a certain level, learning to handwrite a character is mostly a matter of remembering which component goes where.  It's also useful for learning how to read handwritten characters, and if you're ever going to give a speech, perhaps you'll need to write characters on a whiteboard.


You can write on the HSK test paper (the paper one), such as during the listening section so you don't forget things, or during the reading section to indicate parts you've already read.  I also note that the HSK 3.0 Standards lists handwriting as a required task, listing out the characters students are expected to be able to handwrite, although the recent HSK 7-9 exam didn't have a handwriting component.


I see people on YouTube practice handwriting individual characters over and over, which I feel is a total waste of time (I did it early on---I forgot everything the next day).  I think this is what people envisage when they baulk at the idea of learning Chinese handwriting, not merely writing down the example sentences they find useful.

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