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A majority of Chinese speakers today find it hard to write their mother tongue

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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 04:10
Japanese to English
+ ...
Not just China Aug 12, 2013

It's happening in Japan as well, for the same reasons. Just the other day, some people I work with were complaining that their handwriting of kanji has deteriorated to the point of elementary school students, mainly due to the heavy use of smart phones and computers which automatically convert kana syllables into characters.

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:10
English to Spanish
+ ...
How do Asian Languages Affect Progress? Aug 12, 2013

My language knowledge is restricted to languages using the Latin alphabet (English & Spanish), which is easy to handle. All the letters we need may be found on the keyboard and there are not very many. But I just cannot imagine having to deal with the ideographic characters found in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, just to mention a few. How do they handle that on a computer and in other areas? Even reading would not be easy for a lot of people as mentioned here. It must be very complicated. If people find it difficult to read and write their own language that could be extremely negative. Is the way their languages are written hindering their progress? I would really like to see some comments because surely here we have people who are very knowledgeable on the subject. It has always intrigued me and I am totally clueless.

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:10
English to Polish
+ ...
Probably true for every country these days Aug 12, 2013

Then again, perhaps not. There's plenty of bad writing coming from professional writers or at least people who have to write in their professional life, but then education is more widely available than it used to be, so there may've been some general improvement, perhaps it's only that bad writing gets more exposure nowadays.

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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 03:10
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Are you sure we are talking about the same thing? Aug 13, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Then again, perhaps not. There's plenty of bad writing coming from professional writers or at least people who have to write in their professional life, but then education is more widely available than it used to be, so there may've been some general improvement, perhaps it's only that bad writing gets more exposure nowadays.

We are talking about people who can write perfectly well, but cannot "write" - as in they can type a perfectly written essay on the computer, but just don't remember how to write the characters with a pen.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:10
English to Polish
+ ...
Sorry, my bad Aug 13, 2013

Lincoln Hui wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Then again, perhaps not. There's plenty of bad writing coming from professional writers or at least people who have to write in their professional life, but then education is more widely available than it used to be, so there may've been some general improvement, perhaps it's only that bad writing gets more exposure nowadays.

We are talking about people who can write perfectly well, but cannot "write" - as in they can type a perfectly written essay on the computer, but just don't remember how to write the characters with a pen.


Though even then, I think handwriting is dying slowly.


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 03:10
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Alphabetic languages Aug 13, 2013

True, but if you can't spell a word in an alphabetic language, you can't type it. But you don't necessarily have to know how to hand-write a Chinese/Kanji character to be able to type it.

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:10
Member (2008)
Italian to English
HAndwriting Aug 13, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Though even then, I think handwriting is dying slowly.


I fear you many be right- I hardly ever write anything by hand any more, and when I do, I discover that I'm seriously out of practice. So this problem is not restricted to Chinese or Japanese.

[Edited at 2013-08-13 08:22 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:10
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, I believe that Aug 13, 2013

Lincoln Hui wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Then again, perhaps not. There's plenty of bad writing coming from professional writers or at least people who have to write in their professional life, but then education is more widely available than it used to be, so there may've been some general improvement, perhaps it's only that bad writing gets more exposure nowadays.

We are talking about people who can write perfectly well, but cannot "write" - as in they can type a perfectly written essay on the computer, but just don't remember how to write the characters with a pen.


Chinese characters are quite hard to write, especially that you are even supposed to remember the order of the stokes. I know maybe forty. They are fascinating, but quite complicated if you don't write, not type, everyday.

It is also true what Lukasz said, however -- many people don't know how to write (things like essays or even letters) in any language. Many use their own indiolectic expressions only, instead of a more standard language, even in formal contexts.


[Edited at 2013-08-13 09:54 GMT]


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Matthew Olson
Japan
Local time: 04:10
Japanese to English
How do Asian Languages Affect Progress? Aug 13, 2013

Henry Hinds wrote:

My language knowledge is restricted to languages using the Latin alphabet (English & Spanish), which is easy to handle. All the letters we need may be found on the keyboard and there are not very many. But I just cannot imagine having to deal with the ideographic characters found in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, just to mention a few. How do they handle that on a computer and in other areas?


It's quite easy, actually. In the case of Japanese, you just type the pronunciation of the word you would like to write using keys lettered in English/Roman script on a keyboard mostly similar to your "regular" keyboard and then hit the space bar to cycle through the viable choices. The program that handles this is pretty smart and will generally present the most likely character combination given the context, although sometimes you have to cycle through quite a few combinations or take a roundabout way and type out other, more common words with the characters you need and then delete the parts you don't when you need a character compound that isn't in the program's dictionary. For all the complaints about decreasing Chinese character knowledge, however, digital character input has been a godsend for Asian nations that use ideographic scripts. In the past, everything would have to be hand written, printed with a full moveable type press, or laboriously typed out with thousand-key typewriters. In fact, in Japan in the 1970s, the education ministry began to pare down on the number of Chinese characters learned in school because of how difficult it was to use Chinese character everyday in business and whatnot. Thanks to word processors and computers, however, the number of Chinese characters Japanese students learn through elementary, junior high school, and senior high school is once again being increased.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:10
Hebrew to English
... Aug 13, 2013

This thread reminds me of an episode of the Simpsons, where Homer got a job writing fortune cookies and he is dictating them to Lisa who is trying to type them out on a Chinese typewriter. He pauses and asks her if she got it and she replies: "I..don't...know".

Chinese typewriter

It is amazing to think of the labour involved before digital character input.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:10
English to Polish
+ ...
Same Aug 13, 2013

Tom in London wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Though even then, I think handwriting is dying slowly.


I fear you many be right- I hardly ever write anything by hand any more, and when I do, I discover that I'm seriously out of practice. So this problem is not restricted to Chinese or Japanese.

[Edited at 2013-08-13 08:22 GMT]


Same here. I had to spend four hours writing for an exam last year, and it was horrible. Close to the end of it my writing was barely legible because my hand had simply become stiff. No such problem with typing for 2-3 times the time.


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Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 21:10
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Reply: How do Asian Languages Affect Progress? Aug 14, 2013

Henry Hinds wrote:

My language knowledge is restricted to languages using the Latin alphabet (English & Spanish), which is easy to handle. All the letters we need may be found on the keyboard and there are not very many. But I just cannot imagine having to deal with the ideographic characters found in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, just to mention a few. How do they handle that on a computer and in other areas? Even reading would not be easy for a lot of people as mentioned here. It must be very complicated. If people find it difficult to read and write their own language that could be extremely negative. Is the way their languages are written hindering their progress? I would really like to see some comments because surely here we have people who are very knowledgeable on the subject. It has always intrigued me and I am totally clueless.


Matthew gave a great description of how character entry works in Japanese - it is not complicated at all. The difficulty is not in reading the languages as far as I can tell from the article, it is in writing the characters by hand, since that takes a lot longer (not to mention actually doing it properly and legibly). These languages are still evolving day by day and in my opinion do a better job of creating new words, so the languages are progressing (if you meant it in that context), but like in English, it is much easier to type something out than to write it by hand. From personal experience, it is a bit of a drag writing the characters out by hand, but great for learning purposes.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 03:10
Chinese to English
Second what Matthew says Aug 14, 2013

How is this story any different from similar schlock-horror exposes that British and American adults do badly on spelling tests?
"A majority of English speakers today find it hard to write their mother tongue!!!!!!!"

@Henry
Couple of things: 1) Korean is alphabetic.
2) Literacy is very high in Chinese and Japanese speaking countries. One might imagine that characters make it harder to learn to read and write, but in practice that doesn't seem to be the case. And from personal experience, reading Chinese doesn't *feel* any different to reading English. I'm nothing like as fluent a reader of Chinese as I am of English, but that's simply a question of practice and time. The process itself is no different. A long time ago, people used to imagine that Chinese characters somehow worked directly on the brain, because they were "ideograms" - that reading Chinese bypassed your "language" entirely. That's complete tosh. Firstly, very few Chinese characters are ideograms, and those which are are so stylised and conventionalised that they're unrecognisable. Two examples:
上 means... up or above. Now you know it, you can see it, right? But if you didn't know it, there's no way you could guess it.
人 means... person. It's a very stylised version of a pair of legs walking. Again, we can trace the etymology, but for a modern learner, you just have to learn it.

The vast majority of Chinese characters are actually representations of sound, though not as exact as in alphabetic scripts. So, for example:
河 means river. The three dots on the left suggest that the meaning of this character is something to do with water. The right hand part is a rough guide to the pronunciation.

So written Chinese is not ideographic at all. It's a representation of the (spoken) language, just as using the alphabet to represent English is.

There are a variety of ways of entering Chinese characters into the computer. Most people today do it by entering the pronunciation, as Matthew explained. You can also do it by typing keys which correspond to specific brush strokes. And of course now you can write on touchscreen phones. I expect touchscreen to lead to a bit of a resurgence in handwriting, actually.


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