Writing characters worth learning?

January 29, 2012, 03:37 PM posted in General Discussion

Hey guys!

This question is probably not very original but it has been bothering me ever since I started learning Chinese. I simply cannot make up my mind if it is worth for me to really learn how to write the characters. It would, of course, be cool to be able to write the characters, but at the same time it seems to me it a task of Herculian proportions and a skill that is very quickly forgotten. I have been doing Skritter on and on for about a year and have learned to write maybe around 1000 characters or so. But it really bothers me that I have to practise daily and I simply cannot imagine myself doing this for the rest of my life. My aim is really to read and not really to write. Maybe it would be better to focus on more on just character regognition and not so much on being able to write every single character? What kind of approach does other people have here? 

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January 29, 2012, 05:03 PM

I really feel you on this one. When I first started learning Chinese almost 4 years ago, I chose to learn how to read, speak, and write all of the characters in each new lesson. As you can imagine, writing took up a huge chunk of my time. I have since abandoned this strategy, and although I can now write about 2000 characters, I haven't added many characters in the past two years or so. It's just not important to me to be able to write everything that I can read.

There are those who will say that learning to write the characters is very helpful to be able to read them, but once you have reached a certain level, I don't think it's that helpful. I will sometimes forget how to write some of the most common characters, but I would never forget how to read them.

I did take the New HSK 5 recently which has a written portion that would have been impossible to pass without being able to write. If you want to be able to take the HSK in the future, I would continue to at least maintain your writing skills. I have heard that you may be allowed to type on the HSK test, but I'm not sure if this is true.

If you're not planning on taking the HSK test, I think it's basically a personal choice whether to continue or not. I don't see how not being able to handwrite characters will hold you back in many ways. I personally choose to maintain my writing because I can do it in about 15 minutes a day, and like you, I just can't decide whether or not I'm ready to give it up. I figure that most days I can spare 15 minutes to practice, and it would feel like such a waste to lose a skill that I spent so much time working on.

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January 29, 2012, 07:26 PM

Babyeggplant: thanks for your reply. Yeah I think you are probably right. Writing the characters is useful up to a certain point but after reaching a certain level just maintanence of characters already learned seem to be sufficient. Learning how to write all characters in every lesson just seem to be an unrealistic goal for most students. After learning a basic number of characters time is probably better spent improving reading and recognition skills.  

I might take the HSK in the future, so I might just go through the basic HSK lists on Skritter, many words which I know already. But I will not add any more words from Chinese Pod or other textbooks, and I will instead spend more time with the flashhcards. And I will maintain the words I have already learned. Like you said, 15 minutes a day seem to be worth spending on it.  

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January 30, 2012, 03:34 AM

Yes, I suggest work on writing the most common charaters, like the top 1000 or 2000, but of course, there are characters that are so similar that it is good to learn their parts by writing that may not even been in the top 2000, such as

临lín(arrive) 监jiān(prison) and 蓝lán(blue) among many others that look like that.

or, my biggest enemy,

既jì(since, already) and 即jí(immediate)

... I really didn't get them down until I wrote them over and over, also with their common 2nd character (such as 既然jìrán) and of course make sentences, but helps later when you come across them in the newspaper or other reading material.