Knowing Chinese makes you sexy, rich and happy :)

To handwrite or not to handwrite

May 22, 2011 – 6:39 pm

It seems like it takes forever to learn to handwrite Chinese characters. Currently I’m in Europe, so handwriting and reading is my focus. However I’m asking myself, is it worth it?

For the HSK test

The HSK test requires knowledge in handwriting Chinese characters. This is especially true for the higher levels of this test, namely HSK 5 and 6. I have to find out how much handwriting in need to pass this test. I’m sure handwriting will NOT be my strong point here, but I do need to pass the handwriting section. Yes I do want to do the HSK test at somepoint in the future. People like certificates ;)

Who is handwriting anyway?

Most text is written on the computer today. So why even bother with handwriting Chinese characters. And if I’m somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and I need to take some notes with a pen and paper, I can still do it in English. I’m not a journalist, who needs to write down word-by-word notes.

It feels so incompete

This is the worst part I guess. I was asked if I can understand English a few times in my life. I answered yes. Yes meaning I can listen, speak, read and write it. What would my answer be for Chinese in 2 or 3 years from now? Yes, but I can’t write. That sounds like I picked up the language somewhere on the street, but never got any formal lessons in it. So strange. Also, there is some part inside me that says, that I should be able to write.

It takes up so much time

It takes to much time to lern to handwrite. Soooooo much.

I think we have talked about the ability to handwrite in Chinese before. But I haven’t found a final answer for myself, this topic is still going around in my head.

  • Should I learn to handwrite Chinese characters?
  • If yes, how many characters should I learn?

Please advise.

  1. 8 Responses to “To handwrite or not to handwrite”

  2. My suggestion: let it come naturally.
    You should learn reading characters by writing them a few times. So if you have to learn a new character, write it 10 or 20 times, then you can at least read it.
    If you want to advance more, copy whole texts rather than just single characters.

    But don’t go for a certain amount of written Chinese characters – this will just make you stubornly study for a goal that once you’ve reached it will be meaningless. Remember: you’ll forget about 60 percent of all characters after two month of not writing again!

    By Aremonus on May 22, 2011

  3. Should I learn to handwrite Chinese characters?
    If yes, how many characters should I learn?

    I guess the answer is to some extent defined by the need to pass an HSK test. My guess is that most people I know, with a good command of Mandarin, never took one. It may be a useful piece of paper if asked for by employers or whomever, but not otherwise.

    But I think the real importance of handwriting lies in the support fine-motor skills can provide. Think of a mobile-phone caller with a headset. He may talk much more convincingly by making the same gestures as he would in a face-to-face discussion, as silly as his gestures may be looking to onlookers who aren’t involved.

    I guess the buzzword in this context should be haptic perception. Chinese is no easily accessible language. Every medium to make it more intelligible to oneself should be used extensively, and handwriting is one of those media.

    By justrecently on May 24, 2011

  4. Hehe – try reading hand-written faxes, MKL. That’s very haptic, too! :-)

    By justrecently on May 24, 2011

  5. I don’t think it is so important to pass HSK. Frankly speaking, from what I’ve experienced, most employers have never heard of the HSK in their entire life and even those who have (including myself) do not really know what an HSK 6 means. It’s just focused too much on studying and too few on communicating.

    So what most employers do is just asking questions like “Can you negotiate in our field in Chinese?”, “Can you read Chinese news papers?”, “Can you talk fluently in an everyday environment?” They trust your own judgement and will just fire you if they figure out that you aren’t capable of doing your job well enough. At least that’s how it works in Switzerland, in China or in the US – I’m aware of the rather annoying anti-firing-laws in Germany and don’t know the situation there.

    So if it is just for an exam, don’t learn those characters. It’s not worth it. But if it is for remembering them and being able to improve your reading skills, too: go ahead!
    For me, writing is still the most efficient way to learn the reading :)

    By Aremonus on May 25, 2011

  6. Thanks for your comments. I will not comment on each point. Just this:
    Certificates are not worth that much, I agree. On the other hand I perform better when I’m trying to reach a very specific goal, like “pass HSK 6″. I have often problems reaching vague goals like “be able to read a newspaper”. This is not only true for learning Chinese. I have observed this many times in my life, I guess that is my personality.

    MKL, you are right, studying Chinese characters in detail is a very emotional process, and I do admit I like this emotional part of learning the language. If my goal was to maximize monetary profits, then I would learn law, not Chinese.

    I know I should learn more vocabulary, but I got tired of learning new words. Learning to write is just so much more relaxing than loading more new words into the brain. Maybe I just feel guilty because I focussed so much on learning to write recently instead of memorizing more new words?

    Thanks for your input :)

    By Hendrik on May 25, 2011

  7. I’m not sure if I’m much of a help here, but wanted to share my experience.

    I agree with you that HSK is good when setting goals. And on some point you might need to have an official certificate of your language skills. Or just put it on your wall where you can admire it! ;)

    I never thought not learning how to read and write. Also while learning to write it also helps memorizing vocabulary. For me learning to write is a must because I’m doing a BA in Chinese language, but what about to you and others who maybe don’t need to write?

    I really don’t have an answer for you and I guess it depends on your needs. Tricky point is to know what kind of skills you need after 5 or 10 years.

    Maybe learn enought just to pass HSK? Then you have basic writing skills but no need to write a novel by hand in Chinese.

    By Sara on May 28, 2011

  8. Most frequently used 3,500 Chinese characters: 99.5% (Coverage rate)

    Therefore, if you know about 3,500 Chinese characters, you should be able to handle normal Chinese listening, speaking, reading and writing tasks.

    By Aihua on Jun 2, 2011

  9. Ah, 3500. That’s all. Sounds like I could do this next weekend.

    By Hendrik on Jun 2, 2011

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