Why I’m Learning to Write and not just Read Characters

Back when I began learning Chinese I originally made the quick decision that I would not concern myself with writing characters. After all, isn’t everything on our phones and PCs now? How often do we actually write in our own language?

I initially thought this way, as my goal was to be able to communicate in Chinese to be able to get by living in the country independently.

A Change in long term goals

My goals have transformed quite a bit as I’ve continued to learn. I have now committed myself to the (extremely) long term goal of becoming fully fluent in the language.

How fluent is fluent though? For me, my goal is now to be able to bring my Chinese to a level where it’s not too far from where my native English abilities sit. That involves being able to write words.

I haven’t set myself a time limit because this isn’t a goal that really has an end, I’m going to enjoy the journey and stay patient.

I’m under no illusion to believe that I’ll finish my one year course in Haikou and be even 10% of the way towards completing my goal.

I’m still fairly old school in that I believe writing is an essential part of any language, so this is the most obvious reason for me to learn it if I’m ever going to become “fully fluent”

Here’s 6 other reasons why I’m learning to write hanzi.

Writing characters helps to improve reading skill

Anyone that’s studied characters, even a little, understands that the majority of characters are made up of components and radicals. Recognising the DNA in these characters can help you to make educated guesses as to what an unknown character means.

Learning to write these radicals and components, and ultimately characters, provides you with more associations to remember.

When I picture a character now, my mind creates a visual animation of it being constructed in the correct stroke order. This gives you yet another sensation to help remind yourself of what something means.

For example, many times during reading I have seen a character that I can’t immediately recall its sound or English definition, but I know I can write it. In my head I can then imagine writing it stroke by stroke and more often than not, the sound and translation will suddenly pop out of my subconscious out of nowhere.

This is a strangely rewarding phenomena to experience.

The “cool” factor

It’s a shallow reason but I’ll take any motivation I can get.

I just think it would be badass to be able to write fluently in Chinese, to most people even being able to write a few hundred characters looks like an almost impossible feat, and serves as one heck of a party trick.

I’m not a show off, honest!

Chinese characters transcend local dialects

There’s definitely a practical use if you are living in China. Being able to write hanzi increases the number of people you can potentially communicate with.

Also, if you ever find yourself not being understood, you can try writing it down if all else fails.

Technology makes it easier than ever

When I say technology, I am of course referring to Skritter. I could write pages and pages declaring my love for this app, I went from a Candy Crush addict (level 790, you mad?) to a hanzi writing fiend.

It’s hard to imagine how people back in the day learned to write characters, I have done a fair amount of writing on good old fashioned pen and paper and it takes an incredible amount of organisation and dedication to effectively learn this way. Skritter does it all for you. It’s SRS at it’s finest.

It’s fun!

Lastly and most importantly…I find it fun!

I imagine this is related to the convenience and addictiveness of Skritter, but learning characters is actually really enjoyable to me.

I get an odd pleasure from testing my memory, despite small bumps of frustration.

Trying to perfect my characters to get them looking “pretty” is also a weird obsession I have.

Should you Learn to write?

These are just my reasons, there are plenty of others.

Many people have a passion to learn about Chinese culture and history, I have looked into this a bit myself and know that there’s a lot of hidden gems to be discovered through characters. So this could be one of your motivators.

There’s also probably an upshot to doing business if you are able to write, though that hasn’t been something at all on my mind.

On the other hand many don’t bother to write at all. I can understand this as I felt the same for a while. If your goals don’t change like mine have, then I don’t see it as a huge disadvantage not to write.

Sticking with speaking keeps things fairly casual, adding reading makes it difficult, adding writing makes it a hardcore vocation that’s not for the faint hearted.

I’m glad my initial goals in Chinese did not include writing, as it may have been too overwhelming to do at the very start. Writing alongside wrapping your head around the pronunciation of the language would be incredibly challenging and I think looking back it’s a good thing to delay touching pen to paper.


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