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xuechengfeng

How important do you consider writing for a foreigner?

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xuechengfeng

I know that Chinese people still need it (although I'm guessing increasingly less with computers), but how useful is it for a foreigner? I'm sure it's helpful to know certain aspects of it and some of the basics, but is it really that necessary to master many characters? When will I ever be in the situation to write Chinese characters, outside of studying in school? Obviously, reading them is necessary, but writing?? I figure the Chinese dept. must find it not very useful because our first-year, we had to listen to tapes then write down what we heard, and after about 500 of them, we moved into doing compositions at home, so basically, you can just look up what you don't know/forget.

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Shadowdh

Personally I feel its quite an important part of learning and getting to know the language... it also helps that learning a character cement the character into my memory and thus makes it easier to read later...

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xuechengfeng

Yeah, I know what you're saying, I just get discouraged because I studied so long and hard to drill a certain character into my brain. Then, I don't use it for a while, and I can't remember how to write it for the life of me. Quite depressing. :cry:

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Shadowdh

I know what you mean... its even worse when you have only just learned a character and then forget it the next day... DOH...

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Long Zhiren

Do you mean just writing, or reading as well?

In all of my language studies, reading/writing always led the way for speaking/listening. I have to write and read it before I have much confidence in using it in conversation. I can't settle for just pinyin either for fear that the homonyms will get me.

Writing lags because I don't write much and forgetting how to write them happens very quickly. Typing it is much easier! This seems to happen to native Chinese as well.

Reading and character recognition is by far easier and thus my present preferred way to grow my working Chinese vocabulary.

I'm envious of those who have the talent to learn by just merely listening. However, I'm really skeptical of how well they can advance their vocabularies. They constantly confuse words if they can't read or write. There's constant guessing as to which words are which. I believe the situation is hopeless for them until they start writing/reading.

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ange9s

I'm sure you could learn without reading and writing, I know a lot of ABCs that speak and comprehend fluently but can't read a whole sentence. I can't remember characters so well unless I write them, though.

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Chinapage

I know that American people still need it (although I'm guessing increasingly less with computers), but how useful is it for a foreigner? I'm sure it's helpful to know certain aspects of it and some of the basics, but is it really that necessary to master many words? When will I ever be in the situation to write English words, outside of studying in school? Obviously, reading them is necessary, but writing??

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wushijiao

I think ideally it would be great to learn to write well. As Shadowth said, it can help in the reading process as well. I suppose in most schools you need to know how to write.

However, I also think there’s a good argument to be made for putting off learning to write (by hand). I think the argument is fairly simple: all the hours that you spend in the first year in writing a character over and over again could be better spent in listening speaking and reading. Chinese has 189 radicals and about 1,800 phonetic components. Getting familiar with most of these as fast as possible is also beneficial for guessing the meaning of new characters. I also think it’s good to get a huge amount of hours listening and then speaking under your belt as fast as possible. Also, you don’t really need to know how to write in order to read. Personally, I was at the point of not really being able to write, but still being able to read books. In short, some linguistic theorists think that there is a core groups of words, phrases, and grammar that form every language, and a beginner should try to learn it ASAP. The more intense the studying is in the beginning, the better, and, some might say that although the hours spent writing characters have some intrinsic value, they could be better shifted into other areas so as to better improve your whole Chinese ability.

Also, I think once you get into the more intermediate stages, in addition to new vocabulary acquisition, I think a good way to measure your daily performance is comprehensible input per day (reading and listening that you understand) and quality output (ie. correct speaking) per day. Basically, the bigger your vocab, the more you will be able to understand. As you understand more, a wider variety of stuff will go from “too hard” to “comprehensible”. As bomocai’s post showed, once you can understand the basics of something (ie a soap opera or short story, novel, newspaper article…etc) then you can learn new vocabulary from it. In other words, at some point you get caught in a beneficial cycle of learning, but you must first have a big base of practice (which might take hundreds of hours).

This whole argument hinges on the fact that it is possible to re-learn how to write later on. I think this is possible. In late February I decided to take the HSK advanced, which includes writing an essay by hand. I then spent about 1-3 hours per day writing. I then stumbled upon a book that I really liked “Learning Chinese Characters from Ms. Zhang: 张老师教汉字;汉字识写课本” 张惠芬, 编者. (I’d recommend that book for people re-learning how to write due to the usefulness of its practice exercises). After that book, I wrote a bunch of random stuff, trying to do essays by hand. Every time I didn’t know a useful word or phrase, I’d write it over and over again. To make a long story short, by the end of April I was able to spit out a handwritten essay that was a long as most other people taking the test. Granted, it was aesthetically the ugliest piece of crap the HSK people will ever see, and, in fact, learning how to write well at the beginning so as to write aesthetically well may be a good enough reason to learn to write from the start. In any case, I was able to do it. So, I think it is possible to learn to re-learn to write later on, if you choose to do so.

Just my two cents. I’m not insulting people who think writing is best learnt at the start, just saying it can be a matter of priorities. Also, every learner has a different learning style, so writing may be appropriate for some people.

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gato

Elementary schools in mainland China now also treat reading and writing differently. Teachers now recognize that students don't necessarily have to be able to write every character that they are taught. It's a good idea to get students to learn to READ as many characters as quickly as possibly so that their reading vocabulary at least match the size of their oral vocabulary. Even Chinese characters for everyday words like "arms" (胳臂) and "knees" (膝盖)are fairly complicated to write. When you break through the 2000 character mark, you can move on to much more interesting reading material.

As I posted in another thread, mainland children are typically required to recognize 1600-1800 characters and write 800-1000 by the end of second grade, recognize 2500 characters and write 2000 by the end of fourth See http://www.chinese-forums.com/showthread.php?p=68810#post68810

Here's a vocab list for grades 1-4 for one particular textbook series listed by grade level (about 2700 characters for reading and 2000 for writing):

http://www.ywcbs.com/UpFile/UpLoadFile/A%B0%E6%D0%A1%D3%EF%C9%FA%D7%D6%B1%ED%B5%DA1%CC%D7.pdf

Here is a vocab list for grade 1-3 for a series of experimental textbooks (which means that they are more demanding).

http://www.ywcbs.com/web/more.asp?i=25&title=2&press=1&press3=0&press4=0&press5=0&press6=0

2006年春季双册教材(小学语文S版)生字表

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xuechengfeng
Do you mean just writing' date=' or reading as well?

In all of my language studies, reading/writing always led the way for speaking/listening. I have to write and read it before I have much confidence in using it in conversation. I can't settle for just pinyin either for fear that the homonyms will get me.

Writing lags because I don't write much and forgetting how to write them happens very quickly. Typing it is much easier! This seems to happen to native Chinese as well.

Reading and character recognition is by far easier and thus my present preferred way to grow my working Chinese vocabulary.

I'm envious of those who have the talent to learn by just merely listening. However, I'm really skeptical of how well they can advance their vocabularies. They constantly confuse words if they can't read or write. There's constant guessing as to which words are which. I believe the situation is hopeless for them until they start writing/reading.[/quote']

I only mean writing. Reading is without a doubt important.

I know that American people still need it (although I'm guessing increasingly less with computers), but how useful is it for a foreigner? I'm sure it's helpful to know certain aspects of it and some of the basics, but is it really that necessary to master many words? When will I ever be in the situation to write English words, outside of studying in school? Obviously, reading them is necessary, but writing??

I think there's a pretty clear difference between learning how to write out a romanized alphabet and Chinese characters.

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rose~

I am in a pretty wierd situation myself concerning writing (not reading).

My Chinese is at about high-intermediate level, but actually when it comes down to writing, my writing is much lower, I can only write very basic sentences by hand. I actually live here in China, but the when I write Chinese I always enter it on the computer. So my handwriting hasn't progressed and it probably won't do unless I decide specifically to make an effort. It's not something I'm proud of, but at the same time it's almost no hindrance either. I suppose I could buy a writing input pad to force myself to write.

Handwriting does however come in need for things such as HSK or University courses as others have said. I do plan to learn but have found it the most difficult area to progress in. In addition to this, I used to have appalling handwriting in English which took me years to make look neat and tidy.

Personally, I was at the point of not really being able to write, but still being able to read books.

Exactly my situation now, although most people don't believe it! Glad (in a way) to know I am not the only one!

Thinking about handwriting generally, there are scarcely any situations where I write in English either anymore. The only time now is making notes.

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PollyWaffle
My Chinese is at about high-intermediate level, but actually when it comes down to writing, my writing is much lower, I can only write very basic sentences by hand. I actually live here in China, but the when I write Chinese I always enter it on the computer.

hey, me too... i don't feel so bad now...

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wushijiao
So my handwriting hasn't progressed and it probably won't do unless I decide specifically to make an effort. It's not something I'm proud of, but at the same time it's almost no hindrance either

Hehe. The few times I have needed to write something by hand (for forms or whatever), I've just typed the pinyin on my phone, recognized the character, and then copied it down on to the paper. It looks stupid, but it works. :D

It’s interesting to see what gato said about how primary school kids learn to recognize more characters than they can write. That makes sense. Also, all people of all nations learn listening and speaking first (as babies), rather than writing. When learning a foreign language one shouldn’t copy the exact methods that children use, but it’s not bad to use it as a rough model. On the other hand, I think Chinese teachers might subconsciously use the methods they used to learn to read and write as a model for teaching laowais. That’s inappropriate because a 5-year-old Chinese kid already has a decent vocabulary and listening ability the day before s/he learns how to read or write, while a foreigner is starting at zero. In short, when learning Chinese, foreigners have different learning priorities than Chinese people. I’d be interested to what research has been done in this area.

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Josh-J

Regarding schoolchildren learning to read more than they can write, I'm sure you'll find MANY native english speakers that can read more than they can spell correctly. I realise that often not knowing how to write a chinese character can mean not being able to write it at all, but there is still a comparison. I see people all the time misspelling words - sure, its still understandable but its still a mistake. If you show them the correct spelling they'll understand it - they can read more than they can write. I suspect computers with spellcheckers are a cause of this.

About learning to write, well, I'm sure you could manage without. As people have said, computers make handwriting less important. But, call me a traditionalist, I see it as a great shame that people are losing their handwriting abilities. Personally, while I'm sure PinYin is great as a learning tool, I would much prefer a prevalance in stroke/component-based computer input rather than PinYin. I'm not Chinese, of course, and as of yet I've never been to china, but my opinion is pretty firmly against PinYin as an input tool outside of school - It seems likely that at this rate, characters will eventually be lost altogether.

Anyway this is drifting off-topic.

Personally I consider learning to write very important, as a kind of stand against the rising loss of handwriting abilities. But for practical purposes I suppose its (unfortunately) not that important ;)

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wushijiao
Personally I consider learning to write very important, as a kind of stand against the rising loss of handwriting abilities. But for practical purposes I suppose its (unfortunately) not that important ;)

That’s an interesting idea. I’ve read articles about how Chinese calligraphists worry that the next generation won’t care about the art, and won’t know how to appreciate it. For bragging sake alone, I’d love to say that I could efficiently use stroke input methods on a cell phone. Oh well. I can't.

Then again, some commentators on Chinese stuff have argued that Chinese people have long been under the spell of those who were“educated”, because learning to read and write took a decade or so. In other words, some Chinese people highly valued literate people, compared to other cultures in which learning to read and write didn’t take nearly as long, thus making being literate a lot less impressive. In other words, characters were seen by some as an barrier maintained by elitists who had a monopoly on culture and politics. Lin Yutang, the Chinese Mark Twain (roughly), even said that if the Chinese language had developed a few more final consonants, thus necessitating an alphabet, commoners wouldn’t have had such a sense of awe for literate officials, and Chinese history might have ended up completely differently.

In any case, now in the digital age, as long as a person can speak Mandarin, he or she can express an opinion fairly easily with a computer. Finally, the laobaixing, the oppressed masses, can unite together with other recently awakened members of proletariat, and they can communicate and fulfill their dream of overthrowing those capitalist, bourgeois controllers of production!

http://mp3.baidu.com/m?f=ms&rn=&tn=baidump3&ct=134217728&word=el+pueblo&lm=-1

Seriously though, I think if most Chinese schools start requiring students to type their assignments, there might be a shift in the attitudes towards being able to write. Writing by hand may be seen as fairly unimportant. Who knows if this will ever influence the HSK people to allow students to write with by computer?

Also, sorry for drifting off topic. :oops:

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Josh-J
In other words, characters were seen by some as an barrier maintained by elitists who had a monopoly on culture and politics.

Yeah I am somewhat torn between a more efficient writing system and the characters. Well, personally I would prefer the continuing use of characters to, say Pinyin or something, but I'm not sure what I would think if I was actually Chinese - part of the attraction of characters to me is that they're NOT an alphabetic system. Both because I can show off by knowing them since they're percieved as being very difficult, and because I don't see why everyone should use the roman alphabet, its more boring that way...

On a more relevant note, I think the problems associated with remembering characters could be effectively removed simply by learning a non-phonetic input system. I think there are several posts about that on these forums. That way, you could write by hand, and type on the computer with no problem (well, aside from learning the input method).

Wow I'm in an evangilising mood today..

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Quest
because learning to read and write took a decade or so.

I think 十年寒窗 included much more than just learning to read and write characters.

Lin Yutang, the Chinese Mark Twain (roughly), even said that if the Chinese language had developed a few more final consonants, thus necessitating an alphabet, commoners wouldn’t have had such a sense of awe for literate officials, and Chinese history might have ended up completely differently.

Chinese had final consonants... many are preserved in dialects, characters work just fine with final consonants. I think the Chinese were aware of the "alphabetical" approach as were the Koreans and the Japanese, but Chinese characters held such a prestigious place in Chinese history, 四海之外皆蛮夷, it would have been impossible to convince anyone back then to abandon the characters in favor of anything the "barbarians" use. (even today)

Also an intersting side story from McDull, why the Chinese did not use paper in the toilet: it would have been unthinkable for them to treat paper, in the ranks of 文房四宝, as toilet garbage. It was this stubborness that prevented them from breaking the feudal paradigm.

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wushijiao

Well, I think saying a decade was wrong on my part. For example, Mao Zedong could read ancient literature before he was 10.

But, studies have shown that less than 40% of American college graduates aren't literate enough to understand a newspaper editorial. Even in today’s China I would imagine that similar statistics would emerge. And if you go back to ancient times in which people not only wrote in traditional, which is slightly harder to write, but also to the times in which 白话文 didn’t exist, then I wouldn’t think that functional literacy would exist after a few years of learning, except for the exceptionally bright. Even today, if you ask, say, the average college student to tell you the meaning of an ancient text, they may not know. Why? Because, as almost every source I’ve ever read has said, the only way to really understand 文言文 is to read a gigantic amount, which in the case of the 科举, would at least take quite a few years.

Of course, the crucial question is how one defines literacy, or being able to read. No matter how one defines literacy, Chinese ends up harder than other languages. For example, if you define it as being able to read simple instructions, how to read a recipe…etc, then languages like Spanish or Korean, languages in which the spoken language almost exactly mirrors the written language and one simply needs to learn the alphabet, will beat Chinese. Although, even though Chinese has disadvantages, it might be possible to be literate in a year or two. If literacy is defined as being able to understand more complicated documents that draw upon the wisdom of the a language’s literary heritage, I think Chinese would still be harder than most European languages because Chinese’s rich and extended heritage (as far as stories and idioms) generally extends far back, at least until the Qin, whereas most European languages’ literary life came about around 1500 or so. I admit that I might be completely wrong about that.

I don’t think having a rich cultural literary heritage is bad at all (in fact, it is probably the best reason to learn the language), but it does prove to be a barrier for those who are foreign or young.

Also an intersting side story from McDull, why the Chinese did not use paper in the toilet: it would have been unthinkable for them to treat paper, in the ranks of 文房四宝, as toilet garbage

Hehe. T.K. Ann tells the story of having to pick up all trash that had Chinese character and dipose of it in seperate bins, compared to regular trash. This was back in the 1910's or '20's in Hong Kong, I think.

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Language Guy
I think there's a pretty clear difference between learning how to write out a romanized alphabet and Chinese characters.

No, there's a difference in DIFFICULTY in learning it. Learning the writing of a language does much to help you start thinking in that language.

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skylee
Also an intersting side story from McDull, why the Chinese did not use paper in the toilet: it would have been unthinkable for them to treat paper, in the ranks of 文房四宝, as toilet garbage.
Hehe. T.K. Ann tells the story of having to pick up all trash that had Chinese character and dipose of it in seperate bins, compared to regular trash. This was back in the 1910's or '20's in Hong Kong, I think.

First you put them in a 字紙簍 (some people, like my father, still use this term), and then, as McDull says, burn them in a furnace at a 惜字亭, and then dispose of the ashes in a river.

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