Venting: The Difficulties of Going from Simplified Characters to Traditional

I hope this can serve as a warning to other fellow learners, here’s my ramble about an area of my Chinese study that has really seen better days.

Although moving from China to Taiwan has had an overall benefit to my Chinese progress, it has not been without its complications.

The biggest complication comes in the form of characters.

Over the course of the first year and a half of my Chinese studies I became familiar with both reading and writing around 2500 perhaps up to 3000 simplified characters. I was happy with this and was able to read and understand plenty of texts as long as they weren’t too packed with specialised vocabulary.

Knowing that I’d be dealing with traditional characters when I arrived in Taiwan, I spent a month before the move devoting a huge amount of time to Skritter, revisiting all the characters I had previously learnt; only this time they had way more strokes. Ultimately it wasn’t as difficult reading these new characters as I had anticipated, and at this point I feel as though I’m pretty close to where I was previously with the simplified set. Note however that I did not and still have not attempted to hand write them. Perhaps this was a big error on my part.

An extreme example of a complicated traditional character: “biáng” contains a whopping 58 strokes

Being less than devoted in my recent history of studying, I have not been note-taking like I used to. My focus has been on listening and speaking, both of which I have done quite informally through ways such as watching TV, eavesdropping on the MRT and conversations with my girlfriend.

However now feeling like I’m stuck and not sure how to improve I decided to crack open a textbook to bring back some method to my madness, and this is where I’ve found a glaring problem I’m not sure how best to overcome.

I opened the book to chapter one, loaded up the audio file on my laptop, opened my notebook and put my pen to the paper and then realised…how am I supposed to do this?

Start the gruelling task of learning to write thousands of traditional characters? Simplified characters? Pinyin?

What’s rather tragic is now it has been so long since I scribbled down characters…it seems I have forgotten to write all but the most common ones (we’re talking really common like 我,你,是,就 and去).

In the moment I ultimately decided to just write down pinyin figuring it was better to the alternative of not writing anything down at all, but I really didn’t feel good about it as it was if I had taken an enormous step backwards, reminding me of my very early days studying the language when I would write pages upon pages of pinyin.

Old notes: I filled up two of these folders with hundreds of pages of pinyin sentences and vocabulary

My dilemma is that I’m not really enthused at the thought of learning to write traditional characters, especially in this digital age that’s only going to get more tech reliant. Perhaps I should indulge in this thought and go digital with my note-taking, typing up notes instead of clinging onto old fashioned methods.

…On the other hand, the whole process of writing down the characters in the past seemed to help with my recall in reading and to a degree speaking.

I’ll be the first to admit this problem is not due purely to the transition between character sets, but also from neglecting this aspect of the language for such a long time. I now want to fix it but I don’t know where to start.

I’d love to hear  from anyone that’s been in a similar situation and find out how they dealt with it, or perhaps those who experienced  the reverse – going from traditional to simplified (in my head this sounds a lot easier to deal with but I could be mistaken).

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