Friday, 13 January 2012

Should I learn characters or Chinese writing?

If you are about to start learning Chinese, or just started learning Chinese, my advice is not to learn the writing yet. If you are Japanese (and perhaps some Koreans) who are really good with Hanzi 汉字 'Chinese characters', then straight away to use Hanzi from day one.

Fluency is more important than literacy when learning a foreign language, in my opinion. Learning a foreign language is a psychological game and languages are for communicating with the native-speakers. Once you gain a bit of confidence in conversing the basics in Chinese, then your morale will be higher to keep you going to conquer the next level which involves writing. Many people dropped out after a few months of learning because the writing drags them down, despite how it interesting the characters are.

I recommend you learn with pinyin for speaking first. Then after one year (or 100 hours of lessons), when you feel confident in handling a conversation to get to know a person, order in restaurant, ask for directions, or buy something in a shop with Mandarin, then start learning the characters (radicals, structure, stroke, etc.). Bear in mind and embrace the fact that your writing will always be behind your speaking skill, until you are in the really advanced level  - and that is good news!! Stay positive - look at how much you have learnt and you know instead of how much you don't know :)

By the way, in this digital era, being able to recognize and type Chinese (with pinyin) is more than sufficient - not even Chinese write much nowadays. Do not be so harsh to yourself to memorize how to write every single character.

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