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Is it necessary to learn Chinese characters?


As we all know, Chinese uses characters as the basis of its written system. This aspect makes it quite different from most other languages. This characteristic has also become a barrier for westerners to learn Chinese. Some individuals decide not to learn the language at all because they think they could never master it. Others are brave enough to get started but decide to learn only to speak. Every year I get students who ask me the same question: "Should I learn characters?" So today we will talk about learning characters. Hopefully, it will help you to decide on a strategy!

众所周知,汉字是汉语书写系统的基础,而这一点正是汉语与其它语言的主要区别。同时,汉字也成为西方人学习汉语的障碍。一些人认定自己永远都学不会汉字,因而决定不学汉语,而有些人很勇敢地学习汉语,但是只想学习讲汉语。每年,都会有学生问我同样的问题,"我要学汉字吗?"所以,我们今天就来谈谈汉字学习的问题,希望能够帮你做出决定。

Should I learn characters?

我要学汉字吗?

To answer this question, first ask yourself what your goal is.

要回答这个问题,首先得问问你自己的目标是什么。 

1. If your goal is short term, i.e. a trip or greeting to your Chinese business partner, the answer is "NO". Obviously you only need some survival phrases. It just isn't worth it.

如果你学习汉语只是一个短期目标,比如为了旅行或者与中国商务伙伴之间的问候,那么你可以不用学习汉字,因为显然你只需要一些应急词汇,不值得为此去学习汉字。

2. For a long term purpose, i.e. mastering the language or passing the HSK test, the answer is "YES". You might think you don't need to master the language 100% if you just plan to spend 1-2 years in China, so do you really need to learn characters? The answer is still "yes". Despite what you might think, it will make your Chinese learning easier and not the other way around. A few reasons here:

而如果你有一个长期目标,比如为了掌握这门语言或者通过HSK考试,那么你就需要学习汉字。如果你只是计划在中国一两年,你可能认为你不需要百分百掌握这门语言,那么你真的需要学习汉字吗?答案仍然是肯定的。不管你怎么想,学习汉字会让你的汉语学习变得轻松,反之,不学汉字,你的汉语学习就会变得困难。这里有几个原因:

1). You can't survive in China without reading characters. Although we all learn pinyin, you seldom see anything written in pinyin in China. You can't even recognize a sign without knowing characters.

在中国,看不懂汉字,就没办法生存。虽然我们都学了拼音,但是你很少能看到用拼音书写的东西。不懂得汉字,你连路牌都看不懂。

2). The spoken language is more confusing if you don't know characters. 致癌 (zhì'ái) and 治癌 (zhì'ái) are exactly the same in pinyin, but one means "to cause cancer" and the other means "to treat cancer". The more words you learn, the more trouble you will have.

如果你不懂汉字,更容易造成口语中的混淆。致癌(zhì'ái) and 治癌(zhì'ái)的拼音完全相同,但是前者的意思是"导致癌症",而后者的意思则是"治疗癌症"。你学的词语越多,麻烦就会越多。

3). Understanding new words will be easier if you've studied the writing. If you know characters, you can guess the meaning of new words. For example, if you know "车chē" (vehicle, A1 level) and "马 mǎ" (horse, A1 level), you can probably get "马车 (mǎchē)" is "carriage". If you only know pinyin, there are six characters marked as "mǎ"; it will be hard for you to figure out which one is relevant. As you see, you will be able to make out Chinese words when you are able to recognize the characters. So I suggest you learn characters from the very beginning!

学习汉字书写让你更容易理解新词语。如果你认识一些汉字,你就可以据此猜测新词语的意思。比如,如果你认识"车"(chē, vehicle)和"马"(mǎ,horse),你很可能就会猜出"马车"的意思是一种运输工具。而如果你只认识拼音,因为汉语里念"mǎ"的汉字有6个,你会觉得很难确定哪一个才是正确的。由此可见,如果能够辨认汉字,你就能够理解汉语词语的意思,因此我建议你从一开始就学习汉字。


How should I learn characters?

如何学习汉字?

Now you make your decision. Writing characters is a bit like drawing a picture. Even Chinese kids need to learn for several years before they master it. You may be wondering, "How can I do it?" Don't worry—we have tips here!

现在,你要下定决心。汉字书写有点像画画。中国小孩子都要花好几年才能真正掌握书写。你可能会问,"那我该怎么办呢?"不要着急,这里有几个妙招。

1. Learn rules and strokes for handwriting first. Although there are thousands of characters, there are only 4 main types of Chinese characters and only 8-40 (depending on how you count) strokes used to write these characters, and the order is rule based. For example: always write from left to right, from top to bottom, and from outside to inside.

先学习书写的规则和笔划。虽然汉语里有上千个汉字,但是可以主要归纳为4类,由8-40个(取决于你的算法)笔划按照笔划顺序规则构成。比如,汉字书写一般是由左往右,从上到下,先外后内。

2. Learn radicals and components second. Along with strokes, radicals and components are also very helpful. For example: the radical "氵" (three drops of water) is always on the left side of a character and it usually implies the character is somehow related to water. If you learn a new character with it, you can memorize it as "the left part is three drops of water".

接下来学习汉字的偏旁部首与部件。与笔划一样,偏旁部首和部件也是非常有用的。比如,"氵"(三点水)通常出现在汉字的左边,暗示该汉字与水相关。如果你学了一个带"氵"的新字,你就可以比较容易的记住它,因为它的左边是三点水。

3. Recognizing characters is much easier and more important than handwriting. Two reasons here:

认识汉字比书写汉字更容易、更重要。原因如下:

1) Before you can write, you need to know how to read. That's the same principle in language learning.

在你懂得书写之前,必须先懂得读。这是语言学习的普遍规则。

2) You can type characters if you can recognize them. Like this:

如果你认识汉字,就能够打出汉字。比如:

You only need to choose which one you want. Even Chinese people type characters more than they handwrite nowadays. This can save you a lot of time and energy.

你只需选择你想要的汉字。如今,中国人更经常采用打字而不是书写,因为这样省时省力。

Of course handwriting is still useful for memorizing what characters look like, so having a piece of paper and a pencil around is still a good idea. 

当然,书写汉字对你记住汉字的形状还是有帮助的,所以随时备好纸笔仍不失为一个好主意。


The article is translated and editted by Chinlingo. Please indicate the source for any use, reproduction or transfer. 

本文由Chinlingo编译后发布,如需转载,请标明来源。

2016-06-21

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