As Chinese has become one of the most popular foreign languages in the world, more and more people are learning Chinese. Most of the learners, however, all face a common issue: Remembering Chinese characters is not easy; writing the characters is a even harder chore. Let’s go through some of the common questions and determine the importance of character writing in Chinese learning.
Is there “Chinese Alphabet”?
Have you heard of “Chinese alphabet”? I was surprised when I first heard of it. Does Chinese really have alphabet? The answer is NO.
Unlike the phonetic languages like English, Chinese is symbol-based language. Written Chinese has no alphabet; it is instead a vast collection of characters with distinctive pronunciation. Unlike other phonetic languages in which the phonetic letters indicate the pronunciation of the word, Chinese characters do not give out hint of their pronunciation based on their parts.
Is Pinyin Chinese Alphabet?
Because it is hard to figure out the pronunciation of the Chinese characters just by looking at them, Pinyin was introduced to help learners to know how to pronounce correctly. Pinyin is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. However, Pinyin is not a Chinese alphabet.
According to Wikipedia, “clusters of letters – initials (声母; 聲母; shēngmǔ) and finals (韵母; 韻母; yùnmǔ) – and not consonant and vowel letters, form the fundamental elements in pinyin (and most other phonetic systems used to describe the Han language. Every Mandarin syllable can be spelled with exactly one initial followed by one final, except for the special syllable er or when a trailing -r is considered part of a syllable (see below).” You can find the complete list of initials and finals on Wikipedia. As you can see it by yourself, Pinyin system looks like phonetic system, but it is not the same at all.
We feature a very good course on Pinyin. If interested, please visit HERE.
Isn’t Pinyin Enough in Chinese Learning?
In learning spoken Chinese, Chinese words and phrases, Pinyin is extremely helpful in terms of getting to know the pronunciation. however, Pinyin was created to help people master the pronunciation of the Chinese characters, but not to replace them.
One Chinese character normally does not form a word. In most cases, a Chinese word is composed by 2 or more characters. Pinyin represents the pronunciation of single characters, therefore it does not give the whole picture of the words.
When a learner reaches a certain level, pinyin actually becomes confusing. There are only around 420 different syllables in Pinyin system. And there are more than 10,000 Chinese characters. Because each syllable in Chinese represents one character, these 420 syllables of pinyin actually represent the pronunciation of all the characters in the entire language!
Take “ma” for example. “ma” can mean “Mother”, “linen”, “horse”, “to scold” and more. If you try to remember all the meanings in association of the single syllable, it is a mission impossible.
Instead, if characters are the basic unit of knowledge, then the chance of getting confused is much lower. So to establish a solid foundation of Chinese learning, Chinese characters are a must to learn.
Should Children Learn Chinese Characters?
Believe it or not, children learn Chinese characters much faster than adults do. Children have the elephant’s memory and they haven’t learned to associate a language to one set of phonetic system yet. So for them, Chinese characters are like anything else they learn.
Should Children Learn Writing Chinese Characters?
Chinese characters are fun. They are full of cultural insight and they are a form of art. Children should learn how to write Chinese characters, well, step by step.
Like sight words in English, children can start to learn the simple and commonly used characters. Recognizing the characters is the first goal; knowing how to write them is the next target. Once the child knows how to write the first 200-300 characters, writing is not a problem we need to worry about any longer. It is simply part of the Chinese learning experience and children accept it quite well.
And the more characters children learn, the more enjoyment they get when they see the meanings behind. The beauty of Chinese can therefore be revealed and enjoyed.
Writing in the Right Stroke Order
When a child learns how to write, she should learn to write in the right order. There are certain rules in Chinese character structure; writing in the right order makes it easy for children to learn the characters.
(source: wikipedia )
One Writing Worksheet for You to Start
Here is one writing worksheet for you to start the practice. In this worksheet, children can practice to write the following 10 characters: 人, 口, 大, 中, 小, 哭, 笑, 一, 上, 下.